Brunei scandal: What its controversial anti-gay laws mean | World News

The nation of Brunei has been thrust into the spotlight this week after implementing sharia law, meaning those guilty of gay sex could be stoned to death.

The small nation is no stranger to controversy, and homosexuality has been punishable by a jail sentence for more than five years.

:: Where is Brunei?

The nation of Brunei – full name the Abode of Peace – is in southeast Asia.

It is on the northeast coast of Borneo and is surrounded by Malaysia.

Brunei is the only sovereign state on the island of Borneo, with the rest of the land divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Brunei, shown in dark red, is in southeast Asia

:: When was sharia law implemented?

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah first introduced the sharia penal code in 2013, saying it should be seen as “special guidance” and would ensure the duty to Allah was fulfilled.

He intended to implement the penal code in three stages and initially was intended to only apply to the Muslim population.

The second and third stages were delayed until this year, when the sultan announced the full sharia penal code would be implemented.

While the death penalty has existed in law, the last execution was 1957.

Before 2014, homosexuality was punishable by 10 years in prison.

The sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah
The sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah

:: What do these new laws entail?

The United Nations released a statement on 1 April when the new laws were about to come into force.

It said the laws “stipulate the death penalty for offences such as rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, robbery, and insult or defamation of the Prophet Mohammad, among others.

“It introduces public flogging as a punishment for abortion, and amputation for theft. It also criminalises exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion other than Islam.”

:: How many people live there and how is it ruled?

There are about 430,000 people living in Brunei. About two-thirds of them are Muslims.

It is ruled by a monarchy and the current sultan has been on the throne since 1967.

He is both prime minister and king and is the world’s second-longest reigning ruler.

Brunei has a parliament but the last elections were in 1962.

Its political system is based on the tradition of Malay Islamic Monarchy. Its legal system is English common law, but sharia law overtakes this sometimes.

The UK government looked after its foreign affairs until 1979, and Brunei gained independence in 1984.

:: How wealthy is Brunei?

Brunei is oil rich – and its reserves account for 90% of its GDP. Its the fourth-largest producer in southeast Asia, making about 167,000 barrels a day.

It’s also the ninth-largest producer in the world of natural gas, producing 25.3 million cubic metres a day.

The Dorchester is one of the hotels celebrities are urging people to boycott
The Dorchester is one of the hotels owned by the BIA

The GDP per capita in 2010 was $51,600 (£39,500), making it the eighth wealthiest nation.

It is a mixture of foreign and domestic wealth.

The Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) is a state-owned corporation which reports to the government ministry of finance. Its assets are not reported to the public, and the sultan’s assets are bound up to a certain, unknown degree.

The Sovereign Wealth Centre estimates that the BIA has $39bn (£29.9bn) in assets.

The BIA owns several luxury hotels, including The Dorchester in London and the Beverly Hills Hotel in California.

It also has diverse investments in bonds, gold, currency and real estate.

In 2013, The Times reported the sultan of Brunei had bought most of Queensway, a part of West London running north from Kensington Gardens.

According to the Independent in 1994, the sultan has a home in Osterley near Heathrow, a mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens and a house in Southall, west London, set in 47 acres. He apparently once answered “I don’t know” when asked if he owned Harrod’s.

They also own Asprey, a jeweller to the Queen.

:: Brunei and scandal

The sultan’s brother Prince Jefri is no stranger to controversy. He has five wives, two of whom he has divorced, and 18 children.

He was involved in the most costly legal battle in the world from 2000, but appeared to have settled matters and be back with the royal family by 2008. He was accused of embezzling £8bn over a period of 13 years while working as a finance minister for the state.

He claimed it happened with his brother’s knowledge and gave up assets in an attempt of settlement. He was then accused of taking money from frozen accounts, which amounted to contempt of court.

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