The tiny nation of Brunei has decided to backtrack on its policy of introducing capital punishment on individuals found ‘guilty’ of homosexuality.
Announcing the watering-down of his policy change, the nation’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, confirmed that his country will not execute its people who are found to be homosexual.
The kingdom’s initial amendment Syariah penal code, which included punishing homosexuality and adultery with stoning to death, came into force recently, with the religious-based laws also allowing for the amputation of limbs for theft, and up to 100 lashes with a whip for lesbian sex.
Following the law’s introduction the nation and it’s ruler, has faced widespread international condemnation, including boycotts and sanctions.
However, in the face of the growing international outrage, Sultan Bolkiah said in a speech that the penal code had led to “misconceptions” and “apprehension,” before announcing that the government would extend its moratorium on the death penalty to include the new laws.
“For more than two decades, we have practised a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law. This will also be applied to cases under the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO),” Sultan Bolkiah explained.
Officially while the Sultan’s move does not repeal the laws or the death penalty, which could be put back in place at any time, his actions do however indicate that the mounting global resistance has forced the ruler to backtrack on his stance, ultimately leaving the Sultan red-faced.
Homosexuality still remains illegal in Brunei and LGBTI people may still face various punishments including fines, whipping or jail.
The Sultan also confirmed that despite the moratorium, he would still stand by the new penal code. “Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country. They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the public as well as respecting the privacy of individuals,” he stated.
A local human rights group, The Brunei Project, welcomed the news however said that the backtrack changed very little for LGBTI people living within the nation.
“The fact that these laws are not being repealed remains a concern. They should never have been implemented in the first place and there is nothing stopping the Brunei Government from lifting the moratorium at any time,” the organisation stated.
“Those found guilty of theft may still be punished with the amputation of limbs. LGBT+ Bruneians may still be fined, whipped or jailed. Children may still be whipped or imprisoned if found guilty of an offence under the SPC and there remain many restrictions on religious freedom and free speech, to name just a few of our concerns.”
The Brunei Project added that, “If Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah and his Government are truly committed to upholding Brunei’s international commitments and obligations on human rights as the Sultan stated in his speech, then the Syariah Penal Code must be repealed and all of the country’s laws reviewed to ensure that they are brought into line with international norms on human rights.”