Brunei backtracks on laws making gay sex punishable by death. Picture: AFP
Brunei backtracks on laws making gay sex punishable by death. Picture: AFP

Brunei’s dramatic gay sex backflip

A tiny Asian nation has been forced to backtrack on laws that would allow gay men and adulterers to be stoned to death, after the news prompted global calls to boycott the country.

Brunei's leader, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, announced on Sunday that it would extend a temporary ban on the death penalty to include the new punishments for gay sex.

Brunei sparked worldwide criticism after rolling out the strict new interpretation of sharia law last month.

The laws stated that sodomy, adultery and rape would be punishable by death, with stoning named as an acceptable way of carrying out the punishment.

Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has announced a moratorium on the death penalty for gay sex. Picture: Alain Benainous/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has announced a moratorium on the death penalty for gay sex. Picture: Alain Benainous/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

The amputation of hands and feet for thieves was also introduced as part of the laws.

The introduction of these brutal punishments resulted in global backlash, with major celebrities like Elton John, George Clooney and Ellen DeGeneres calling for a boycott on all hotels around the world owned by the Sultan.

It seems that the global outrage was enough to get Sultan Bolkiah to redact the laws, making it the first time he has commented publicly on the new penal code since it was fully introduced.

In a televised speech ahead of the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the sultan said: "I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the (sharia penal code)."

"There should not be any concern on the sharia law as it is full of Allah's mercy and blessings," he said, according to an official translation of his address.

"As evident for more than two decades, we have practised a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law.

"This will also be applied to cases under the (sharia penal code), which provides a wider scope for remission."

Before the new laws were introduced homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei and punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Muslim-majority Brunei operates a dual-track legal system with civil courts operating alongside sharia courts that handle issues such as marital and inheritance cases.

Some crimes were already punishable with death by hanging under the civil code but Brunei has not executed anyone for decades, and the sultan's comments suggest this will not change with the introduction of the new sharia laws.

The plan for the sharia penal code was announced back in 2013, with the first section being introduced in 2014.

However, the full implementation was delayed until last month due to opposition from human rights groups.

When they were eventually introduced, the laws were condemned by the United Nations and resulted in a furious chain reaction.

Along with the major outcry from celebrities, several multinational companies put a ban on staff using the sultan's hotels.

Along with this, many travel companies stopped promoting Brunei as a tourist destination.


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