Last week, the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei implemented harsh sharia laws.
Some of them punish homosexual sex with death by stoning.
Brunei and its sultan
Fewer than 500,000 people live in the 6,000 square kilometer country on the Island of Borneo.
But, Brunei is one of the world’s richest countries due to bountiful oil and gas reserves.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah runs the country as an absolute monarchy. He has the final say on all the nation’s laws.
He boasts a personal wealth of US$20 billion. His Brunei Investment Agency holds a portfolio of US$40 billion.
Brunei was a British protectorate from 1888 until independence in 1984.
It is still part of the Commonwealth and, importantly, Britain continues to station troops there.
It is, therefore, a crucial British military foothold in Asia.
Brunei’s nearest neighbors, Indonesia and Malaysia, are two of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nations and have also seen a backsliding in LGBTI rights.
Brunei implemented its latest sharia (or Islamic) laws last week.
They include: Death by stoning for people convicted of sodomy. Public flogging for those convicted of abortions, adultery or rape. The amputation of hands and feet for convicted thieves.
The United Nations condemned them as ‘cruel and inhuman’. The sultan has defended his ’sovereign right’.
Some argue that dwindling oil and gas reserves have forced the sultan to shore up support as a protector of Islam.
The international community, led by the UN and Western governments, has expressed outrage.
Celebrities have led a boycott of the Sultan’s business portfolio.
In the UK, a Labour MP said Brunei should be chucked out of the commonwealth.
A boycott of hotels, however, is unlikely to impact the sultan’s vast wealth.
The UK, meanwhile, is unlikely to take any real action because of Brunei’s strategic importance.
Some worry Malaysia and Indonesia could also be bolstered to implement their owner harsher penalties against LGBTI citizens.
LGBTI life in Brunei
For the most part, LGBTI Bruneians are remaining very quiet.
A bisexual man living in the nation’s capital this week said he was ‘confused’.
He described the laws as ‘polarizing’ among the general population. He accused leaders of ‘weaponizing religion’.
Another Bruneian, named Jack, said: ‘We are not happy. Not all of Bruneians are happy about this’.
He said liberal voices were being shouted down.