Brunei bows to pressure over death penalty for gay sex


sultan of brunei death penalty
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The Sultan of Brunei says the sultanate won’t enforce the death penalty for those convicted of gay sex and adultery following a global backlash against the small South-East Asian nation.

Brunei introduced the laws as part of its new Sharia Penal Code Order (SPCO) on April 3. The laws punish sodomy and adultery with death by stoning.

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But the country’s leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said in a speech on Sunday the country would extend the current two-decade moratorium on the death penalty to cover the new laws.

The Sultan said he was “aware there were many questions and misperceptions” with regard to the new laws. He nevertheless defended the laws, saying their “merit” would become clear.

“As evident for more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law,” he said.

“This will also be applied to cases under the SPCO which provides a wider scope for remission.”

But, he added, both Brunei’s “common law and the [Sharia law] aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country.”

“They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals,” he said.

Sultan of Brunei releases English transcript of speech

In an unusual move, highlighting the concern in the sultanate over the global response to the laws, the sultan’s office released an English translation of his speech.

The new laws stipulated punishments of whipping, amputation and death by stoning for “hudud” laws. Hudud crimes include sodomy, adultery, fornication, consuming intoxicants, false accusation of fornication, theft, armed robbery, apostasy (renouncing Islam) and premeditated murder with intent to rob.

The introduction of the new laws prompted worldwide outrage with protests and boycotts of Brunei-owned businesses.

Some commentators suggested protests and boycotts would be ineffectual against the despotic sultan. They  suggested the wealth of the once richest man in the world would insulate him.

However, QN Magazine argued ahead of the first Australian protest opposite the Brunei-owned Royal of the Park Hotel in Brisbane that protests would work.

Investigations into Brunei-owned assets worldwide indicated that decades of lavish expenditure and declining oil revenues meant the Sultan has far less financial resources than commonly thought.

In Brunei to disagree with the laws meant breaking the laws

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Sources within Brunei told QN Magazine that because of the autocratic rule of the sultan there were no avenues to oppose the law within the country.

The sultan wields complete power over his small south east Asian country of 450,000 people.

There is no independent media, press freedom or even freedom of speech.

The same sources indicated the protests took immediate effect. Business people reported almost immediate cancellations of foreign business contracts following news of boycotts.

The announcement of the laws coincided with a tourist drive by the small nation. As oil revenues decline, the sultan needs alternative future revenue streams.

However, travel boycotts saw an immediate downturn in tourist arrivals and patronage of Brunei Airlines and the Sultan’s hotel chains.

LGBTIQ response

The new laws, while infringing the human rights of all Bruneians, presented specific danger to LGBTIQ people.

LGBTIQ celebrities and organisations were at the forefront of the protests against the Sultan.

This sometimes led to criticism. Nevertheless it proved that while LGBTIQ communities are minorities in every country, our combined efforts, and those of our allies, carry weight globally.

Sources within Brunei believe the government will honour the moratorium.

Brunei Government caught off-guard by world-wide response

The government showed confusion in the face of the initial protests, obviously unsure how to respond.

Overseas embassies waited weeks for talking points to be forwarded from Brunei. Brunei-owned business simply closed down their social media rather than respond to the issue.

Locals ask if the laws are not to be enforced why are they not rescinded. Probably however, the Sultan, above the law, and previously regarded as infallible, has gone as far as he politically can.

In Australia, organisers put on hold protest rallies planned as part of a national day of action on June 1.

A spokesperson for the group Boycott Brunei in Australia told QN Magazine they would monitor the situation before deciding whether to proceed with further protests.

“The people of Brunei still live under a despotic regime with entrenched legal discrimination against LGBTIQ people, stateless people, racial and religious minorities.

“However, so do people in other countries in our region.”

“We look forward to the Sultan ratifying UN conventions against torture as he promised in his speech. Our LGBTIQ family in Brunei can rest assured we will monitor the situation. We will also agitate for increased human rights in Brunei and worldwide.”

QN Magazine | For the latest lesbiangaybisexualtransgenderintersex and queer (LGBTIQ) news in Australia, visit qnews.com.au. Check out our latest magazines or find us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.