Brunei on Wednesday (3 April) introduced harsh sharia law which punishes homosexual sex with death by stoning.
The Muslim-majority nation of fewer than 500,000 people has faced widespread international condemnation since Gay Star News broke the news that Brunei was quietly rushing to implement the Sharia Penal Code.
It includes death by stoning for people convicted of sodomy, whipping for those condemned for adultery or rape, and the amputation of hands and feet for convicted thieves.
Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson on Wednesday called the penal code ‘barbaric to the core’.
‘Every day that Brunei’s penal code is in force is a multifaceted assault on human dignity,’ he said.
The United Nations this week pleaded with Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah to halt the ‘cruel and inhuman’ code.
It ‘would mark a serious setback for human rights protections for the people of Brunei if implemented’, Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s top rights official, said.
But, Sultan Hassanal last week defended the law as a ‘sovereign right’.
‘Brunei Darussalam is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws’, a statement from his office said.
Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei. It was punishable by up to 10 years in jail.
LGBTI people and organizations on the frontline of the country, such as The Brunei Project, act as some of the few support networks in the country.
Worryingly, The Brunei Project’s Facebook page was not available on Wednesday.
The US State Department criticized the move, too, but stopped short of fully condemning the law.
New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Brunei’s decision was ‘seriously regrettable’.
The new code ‘contravenes a number of international norms on human rights’, Peters said.
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 neighboring Muslim-majority nations, such as Indonesia or Malyasia.
Sharia Penal Code: In three stages
Back in 2014, Bolkiah announced the Sharia Penal Code would be implemented 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.