The UK government has faced calls to suspend Brunei from the Commonwealth over the introduction of laws that include stoning LGBTI people to death.
Opposition party Labour said it was time to draw ‘a line in the sand’ over abuses of LGBTI rights in Commonwealth countries, the Independent reported today (4 April).
They also called for ministers to intervene over the Southeast Asia nation’s implementation of the death penalty, amputation, and stoning laws.
Brunei has been a member of the Commonwealth since the resumption of the state’s independence since 1984.
Last month, Gay Star News broke the news that Brunei was quietly rushing to implement the Sharia Penal Code.
Who said this?
Foreign office minister Mark Field said the government considers it ‘appalling’ that such laws have been introduced in the 21st Century.
The minister of State for Asia and the Pacific added: ‘We consider it illegal under international human rights law.
‘We strongly support the rights of the LGBT people here and the world.’
‘Most visits are trouble free’
Moreover, Field advised MPs that official travel advice to Brunei be updated to reflect the legal changes.
The UK government provides travel guides on several countries. Advising on safety and security, entry requirements, travel warnings and health.
Last updated on 28 March and ‘still current at 4 April 2019,’ the government’s official advice is that ‘most visits are trouble free.’
But under their ‘Local laws and customs’ page, it includes the ‘introduction of a Sharia Criminal Code.’
It states: ‘The final phase will be introduced in April 2019. It specifies severe punishments, including amputation and death by stoning, for certain crimes, including some that are not illegal in the UK.’
For travellers visiting the northern tip of Borneo, the page outlines what common law prohibits there, including homosexuality.
Field’s comments come amid global outcry against the legislative imposition.
Brunei itself – a tiny, oil-rich patch of the island of Berneo – has only 430,000 people living there.
Yet, this in no way stopped the immense and continuing condemnation of their government.
While the UN denounced the laws as ‘inhuman’ and ‘draconian.’
The US State Department criticized the move, too, but stopped short of fully condemning the law.
Background of Brunei
Rulers of Brunei have long enforced strictly traditional interpretations of Islamic teachings. The country, in Southeast Asia, operates under an absolute monarchy.
In other words, the head of state, the Sultan of Brunei, is also head of government. Royalty and lawmaking are one the same.
For example, under the current 51-year-long monarch Hassanal Bolkiah, the country banned alcohol and forbade the proliferation of non-Islamic faiths.
All a stark contrast to neighbouring Muslim-majority nations, such as Indonesia or Malaysia.
Things have been this way since 1962, when a left-leaning political party, Parti Rakyat Brunei, won local elections.
But the Sultan refused to recognize this, and the party staged a failed coup. As a result, Brunei has been under emergency rule, granting the Sultan full executive decision-making power.
Sharia Penal Code: In three stages
Back in 2014, Bolkiah announced the Brunei governmental bloc would implement the Sharia Penal Code in three stages.
The first stage of legal reforms was no struggle to lawmakers, but its second and third stages experienced holdups.
However, the Bruneian Attorney General’s Chambers website officially posted plans to fast-track implementation of the SPC on 29 December 2018.