Brunei’s announcement that it will not enforce the death penalty as a punishment for gay sex ‘changes very little’, the country’s leading rights group has warned.
The nation’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has faced global condemnation since he announced last month sharia laws which punish gay sex with death by stoning.
But, on Sunday (5 May) the Sultan said the country will not enforce all the punishments.
He said a de facto moratorium on the death penalty would extend to the new sharia laws.
But, the Brunei Project warned on Monday, the announcement ‘changes very little.’
‘The fact that these laws are not being repealed remains a concern’ the group said in a Facebook statement.
‘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 warned the Sultan’s pledge ‘ does nothing to address the many other human rights concerns’.
‘LGBT+ Bruneians may still be fined, whipped or jailed’ the group warned.
What’s more, the group warned other laws also curtailed free speech and freedom of religion.
What is happening in Brunei?
Brunei is a tiny, but wealthy, Muslim-majority nation in Southeast Asia.
Home to fewer than 500,000 people, Brunei is one of the world’s richest countries due to bountiful oil and gas reserves.
Last month, the country’s all-powerful Sultan introduced new sharia–or Islamic–laws.
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 had 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.
A coalition of rights groups in Southeast Asia last week protested the new laws.
Celebrities have also led a boycott of the Sultan’s business portfolio. And, in the UK, a Labour MP said the UK should chuck Brunei out of the commonwealth.
Is international pressure working?
The Sultan’s backtracking shows international pressure is working, said Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson.
But, Robertson warned, the moratorium doesn’t go far enough.
‘It’s clear the Sultan is only addressing the most horrific part of the law in the hope of blunting international criticism and anger’ he told Gay Star News.
‘The reality is LGBT persons will continue to be targeted in Brunei’ he said. ‘Even if they not immediately facing death, they could be whipped and imprisoned for daring to love someone against the law’.