Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (imagemaker / Shutterstock.com)
The ruler of Brunei, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, has announced that his country will not execute citizens who are found ‘guilty’ of homosexuality.
The kingdom’s amended Syariah penal code, which includes punishing homosexuality and adultery with stoning to death, came into force recently. The religious-based laws also allow for the amputation of limbs for stealing and 100 lashes with a whip for lesbian sex.
The laws, described as “barbaric” by Human Rights Watch, have sparked protests and calls for boycotts of Brunei owned businesses, including the sultan’s luxury hotels.
On Sunday, in the face of growing international outrage, Sultan Bolkiah said in a speech that the penal code had led to “misconceptions” and “apprehension.” He then announced that the government would extend its moratorium on the death penalty to include the new laws.
“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 Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO),” Sultan Bolkiah said.
The move does not repeal the laws or the death penalty, which could be put back in place at any time. Homosexuality will remain illegal and LGBTQ people could still face various punishments including fines, whipping or jail.
The Sultan also made it clear that despite the moratorium, he still stood by the new penal code. “Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country. They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the public as well as respecting the privacy of individuals,” he said.
Local human rights group, The Brunei Project, welcomed the news but said that it changed very little.
“The fact that these laws are not being repealed remains a concern. 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,” said the organisation.
“Those found guilty of theft may still be punished with the amputation of limbs. LGBT+ Bruneians may still be fined, whipped or jailed. Children may still be whipped or imprisoned if found guilty of an offence under the SPC and there remains many restrictions on religious freedom and free speech, to name just a few of our concerns.”
The Brunei Project added: “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.”