George Clooney has welcomed the Sultan of Brunei’s backdown on its death penalty for gay sex but vowed to keep up pressure on the country until the laws are repealed completely.
The actor led calls to boycott Brunei-owned hotels and properties after the small southeast Asian nation introduced the death penalty for homosexuality as part of its strict new Sharia Penal Code.
Following intense global backlash, Brunei leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said on Sunday the country would not enforce the death penalty and extend a decades-long moratorium on executions to cover the new laws.
Responding to the Sultan’s backtrack, Clooney said the move was “a huge step forward after a giant leap backwards.”
“It promises that the citizens of Brunei won’t be executed for being gay,” he said.
“Having said that, the law to stone their citizens is still in place. Meaning that as soon as the pressure dies down they could simply start the process of carrying out executions.
“So in reference to the boycott everyone should do what they feel is correct. For my family and me, we simply can’t walk away until this draconian law is no longer on the books.”
But Clooney said the international backlash sends a “very crucial” message to neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia that “there is a cost for enacting these laws.”
“And the cost isn’t folks boycotting their hotels. The cost is that corporations and big banks won’t do business with you,” he said.
“The financial institutions stepping up had a huge impact.”
Penal code ‘must be repealed’
Brunei’s recently-introduced 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.
Local human rights group The Brunei Project said the fact the laws remain on the country’s books was concerning
“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 group said.
“This announcement does nothing to address the many other human rights concerns about the [Sharia Penal Code].
“LGBT+ Bruneians may still be fined, whipped or jailed.”
The group said the Sultan’s stated commitment to ratifying the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture would be difficult given the government would still be “imposing laws that sanction torture as punishment.”
“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.”