The new law against the LGBTQ community: The small and oil-rich kingdom of Brunei, a British colony until 1984 with a population of just 450,000 people, is rarely discussed in the news. Unfortunately, the country located on the island of Borneo is now at the center of a human rights crisis. The first week of April 2019, a law that will punish homosexual relations, adultery, sodomy and rape with death by stoning will be implemented and the punishment is said to be ''witnessed by a group of Muslims". The new penal code was announced in May 2014 by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who also acts as the country's prime minister. In announcing the change, government's website quoted the Sultan saying that his kingdom ''does not expect other people to accept and agree with it, but that it would suffice if they just respect the nation in the same way that it also respects them''. The Sultan, who is one of the world’s richest leaders with a personal wealth of about $20bn and has held the throne since 1967, described the implementation of the new penal code as ''a great achievement'', as a form of ''special guidance'' from God and as ''part of the great history'' of Brunei. 

Demonstrators protest the punishment of women and LGBT people announced by the Sultan of Brunei near the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan (David McNew/Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest the punishment of women and LGBT people announced by the Sultan of Brunei near the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan (David McNew/Getty Images)

The reaction of the international community: There has been no vocal opposition to the law in Brunei, where public criticism of state’s policies is extremely rare. However, the news sparked horror and shock all over the world. ''Brunei must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its Penal Code in compliance with its human rights obligations. The international community must urgently condemn Brunei's move to put these cruel penalties into practice.'' This is the statement by Rachel Choa-Howard, Brunei Researcher at Amnesty International, who continued: ''as well as imposing cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, it [the law] blatantly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, religion and belief, and codifies discrimination against women and girls.'' She added that some of the potential offences ''should not even be deemed crimes at all, including consensual sex between adults of the same gender''. The Human Rights Campaign Global Director, Ty Cobb, stated from the US that "we are facing a dangerous crisis as Brunei is close to implementing laws that impose state-sponsored torture and murder of LGBTQ people,'' and that ''it's absolutely crucial that the international community speaks out now and demand that the Sultan of Brunei stops these barbaric changes that threaten the lives of Brunei citizens. The Trump-Pence Administration must also immediately make clear that these outrageous human rights abuses will not be tolerated''. Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said Brunei will become the only country in Southeast Asia to punish gay sex with death if it pushes through with the law. He warned that implementation of the law ''will quickly drive the country towards human rights pariah status in the eyes of foreign investors, tourists, and international agencies''. Dede Oetomo, one of Indonesia's most prominent LGBTQ activists, stated: ''it is horrible. Brunei is imitating the most conservative Arab states''. The UK’s international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, said: ''no one should face the death penalty because of who they love. Brunei’s decision is barbaric and the UK stands with the LGBT community and those who defend their rights. LGBT rights are human rights''.

Homosexuality has been illegal in Brunei since British colonial rule, with a punishment of up to 10 years in prison, and the country has had the death penalty on the books since it was a British protectorate, but in practice executions are not typically carried out. The new laws also introduce amputation of hands or feet as a punishment for robbery. Alcohol is already banned, as are showy Christmas celebrations, and there are fines and jail sentences for having children out of wedlock and failing to pray on a Friday. Moreover, Brunei already prescribes caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offences, for which convicts can be flogged with a rattan cane. 

Giulia Mizzon 



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