Brunei Introduces Death by Stoning for Gay Sex and Adultery, Despite International Outcry

A harsh new criminal law in Brunei — which includes death by stoning for sex between men or for adultery, and amputation of limbs for theft — went into effect on Wednesday, despite an international outcry from other countries, rights groups, celebrities, and students.

Brunei, a tiny monarchy on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, based its new penal code on Shariah, Islamic law based on the Quran and other writings, though interpretations of Shariah can vary widely.

“Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization, said in a statement on Wednesday.

He called on the nation’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, to “immediately suspend amputations, stoning, and all other rights-abusing provisions and punishments.”

Brunei has a population of just 430,000 but tremendous oil wealth, which has made the sultan, ruler since 1967, one of the wealthiest people on earth, said to own the world’s largest home and the biggest collection of rare cars.

The sultan, 72, is also the prime minister and holds several other titles. He first introduced the draconian version of Shariah in 2013, as part of a long-term project to impose a restrictive form of Islam on his country, which is majority Muslim.

International protest delayed its implementation at the time, but in deciding recently to put the law into effect, with some revisions, Brunei has stood defiant.

Brunei “is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement on Saturday.

Shariah, “apart from criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam,” the statement added, “also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement that the country “must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its penal code in compliance with its human rights obligations.”

Beginning on Wednesday, extramarital sex, anal sex, and abortion are to be punished by death by stoning. The death penalty will also be required for some other offenses, including rape and some forms of blasphemy or heresy, like ridiculing the Quran or insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

The law requires amputation of a hand or foot for some crimes, and whipping for others. The punishment for lesbian sex, previously imprisonment and a fine, is now to be 40 lashes.

In some cases, the harshest penalties apply only to Muslims; in other cases, they apply regardless of faith.

The punishments apply to many people who would be considered minors in the West. Anyone who has reached puberty is treated as an adult — while younger children who are old enough to understand right and wrong may be flogged.

Human Rights Watch suggested on Wednesday that Brunei’s new penal code violated global prohibitions against torture and other mistreatment, adding that adultery and homosexuality were protected against the death penalty by international law.

Michelle Bachelet, the high commissioner for human rights for the United Nations, also weighed in.

“In reality, no judiciary in the world can claim to be mistake-free, and evidence shows that the death penalty is disproportionately applied against people who are already vulnerable, with a high risk of miscarriages of justice,” she said in a statement on Monday. She urged Brunei to “maintain its de facto moratorium on the use of capital punishment.”

The death penalty is a legal form of punishment in Brunei, but the last execution was carried out in 1957. However, a defendant was sentenced to death in 2017, according to Amnesty International.

On Tuesday, the United States joined other countries including Britain, France and Germany in condemning the new penalties.

“The United States strongly opposes violence, criminalization, and discrimination targeting vulnerable groups, including women at risk of violence, religious and ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons,” Robert Palladino, deputy spokesman for the State Department, said in a statement.

High-profile celebrities such as George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres, and Elton John have called for a boycott of luxury hotels owned by Brunei, including the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, and the Dorchester in London.

“On this particular April 3rd, the nation of Brunei will begin stoning and whipping to death any of its citizens that are proved to be gay,” Mr. Clooney wrote in an opinion piece published by Deadline last week. “Let that sink in.”




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