On April 3, 2019, the country of Brunei put into effect a law first proposed in 2013, that includes stoning to death for gay sex and adultery; causing controversy. As of May 2019, the Sultan has announced a clarification- after pressure from many countries and organizations- that Brunei will not impose the death by stoning for gay sex or adultery, but will continue enforcing forms of punishments for other offenses included in the law.
Homosexuality has been illegal since Brunei gained independence from Britain in 1964 and since then has imposed a radical interpretation of Sharia law. The last time an execution was carried out was in 1957, as the punishments are not meant to occur regularly.
The law criminalizes theft, adultery, robbery and sodomy with amputation, caning and/or imprisonment for lesbian relationships, death by stoning for gay sex, whipping for cross-dressing, sex reassignment surgery and gender marker changes with imprisonment, and public flogging for abortion. It also includes the “death penalty for rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, and insulting or defamation of the Prophet Muhammad.
“I think that that interpretation that includes stoning people and all of that that they’re doing is just so barbaric and unnecessary. Nobody should be subjected to that no matter what they do; it’s like the Middle Ages,” says an anonymous student.
In a recent letter to the European Parliament, Brunei has stated that “The penal sentences of hadd – stoning to death and amputation – imposed for offenses of theft, robbery, adultery, and sodomy, have extremely high evidentiary threshold, requiring no less than two or four men of high moral standing and piety as witnesses, to the exclusion of every form of circumstantial evidence.”
To protest, celebrities such as George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John have proposed that people boycott the hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei located on the west coast and in the UK. It has also been proposed that people boycott the oil company, Shell Fuel, as that company is connected to the Sultan.
“As evident 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 [Islamic penal code], which provides a wider scope for remission,” said the Sultan.
The announcement is more of a clarification than a change to the law, but it has brought temporary relief to those living in Brunei and advocates for the change.