Brunei is Gearing Up to Start Stoning People to Death

Brunei wants to stone more people to death, and it’s about to bring into force a new penal code provision that would allow it to do just that.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced in October of 2013 that he would move Brunei, a predominantly Muslim country, toward adopting Islamic Sharia law within the next six months. While Sharia was previously implemented for what are essentially family court disputes, the country officially had secular laws though many of those laws gave great deference to Sharia anyway.

At the time of announcing this change, the Sultan said that Sharia law would only be applied to Muslims. However, the United Nations and international human rights bodies feel that the law change will likely affect all of Brunei’s citizens, if not immediately then over time.

Making it a Crime to be Gay or to Insult Islam

The penal code change would make consensual same-sex sexual encounters a crime punishable by stoning. Homosexual “acts,” and by extension homosexuality, have long been a crime in Brunei. At the moment, though, someone convicted under the penal code can only serve a maximum of 10 years in prison.

Homosexuals are not the only group to be targeted by this law change, however. The revised penal code would proscribe the death penalty for the following (not an exhaustive list but one designed to give a good overview):

  • adultery
  • rape
  • murder
  • insulting any verses of the Quran and/or the Hadith
  • blasphemy
  • declaring that you are not a Muslim (apostasy)

While a lot of media attention has focused on how this penal code change would impact gay people, and for good reason, the penal code also seems particularly malignant to women’s rights, something that the International Commission of Jurists has already noted. Writing in commentary made back in January while the change was still being considered, the ICJ said that because of how a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam privileges men, women would therefore be “more [at] risk of receiving this penalty because they are most likely to be found guilty of adultery or having engaged in extra-marital sexual relations.”

The penal code would also stand to further marginalize different faiths. Brunei has a strong Christian minority (estimates suggest about 10 percent of the country’s 420,000 population). Non-Muslims and particularly Christians have faced increasing hostility in recent years, as well as disenfranchisement in the form of not being able to openly talk about or teach about their own faith, and even blatant and sometimes violent persecution. There is a fear that this kind of persecution could be exacerbated should the revised code be adopted.

While other eastern Asian countries do also use Sharia, such as Malaysia and Indonesia, they do so only for domestic matters like custody and marriage and at least claim to keep their national laws secular. Brunei will become the first country in the area then to adopt Sharia on a national, pervasive scale, and there are wider fears that this could start a trend.

The penal code changes are set to come into force on April 22. At this time it is unclear how strictly Brunei wishes to apply this death penalty provision as the country actually has a longstanding moratorium on using the death penalty where it is permissible in existing law. Yet the move toward further legalizing and indeed broadening religiously motivated capital punishment has concerned the United Nations enough that it has issued a strong rebuke and a call for Brunei to hold off on the changes:

“Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offenses contravenes international law,” Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), is quoted as saying. “Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited.”

The death penalty for same-sex sexual acts is also being treated as particularly egregious as it appears to draw from the same well of animus driving many African nations toward further criminalizing their LGBT populations.  The UN notes that this alone contravenes a number of human rights standards, including guarantees on privacy and equality under the law.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamiltonabout a year ago

Horrible Ignorant Man.

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson1 years ago

Unjust punishment.

Nils Anders Lunde


Elizabeth Koenig
Elizabeth Koenig1 years ago

Dave C. wrote:

....I wonder how the last one would be applied only to muslims?????

This is because it is not illegal for members of other religions--Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, etc.--to leave their faiths, but there is the death penalty in orthodox Islam for Muslims who become apostates.

Jane R.
Jane R.1 years ago

I don't understand how in todays world anyone could consider this. Terrible!

Michael T.
Michael T.1 years ago

@Selimir P.

Green Stars to you (well I can only send you one for now, but...) for a very well written piece about the truth of the matter in this piece about homophobia and religious nutjobs.

Chers to you @Selimir P. I look forward to more comments and contributions from you in the future.

Green stars to you as well Shand D and Dale O, as you both always make intelligent well thought out contributions to these threads as well. Thanks also to June B, Dave C and Jessica.

Selimir P.

homosexuality is just as natural as the opposite, but has been invisibilized by the elite, because is the ultimate contraception method, and with birth control you have no poverty, no cheap work hand, no lack in education and other opportunities, phenomenon which are the vital liquids of the big corporations and religious mafias..

not for nothing they also criminalize abortion, condoms, pills, gay adoption (which is a formidable way of overpopulation reduction and high standard education opportunities), masturbation, etc.

the philosophy behind the hatred christianity creates against gay people is rather elemental.... if youre an owner of a pig farm, your money income depends of a continuous provision of piglets, and you will not allow gay pigs there... because you know there will always be gay pigs, you must invisibilize them by terrorism or direct murder.....

Peter Camp
Peter Camp1 years ago

Many nations around the world have recently chosen to their tone laws toward either in tolerance of homosexuality or against homosexuality. Considering this it should be apparent the homosexuality's place is controversial in the minds on peoples across the world. Nations have different cultures, laws and backgrounds. Nations are different. Nations aren't equal and even though the world has become closer to "one world", it will always have different people groups, cultures, religions and ways to govern. In my own country (USA) there are many things I love, respect and regard very special. On the other hand there are things I am so ashamed of, angry about and want change. This is the life we all live. I encourage people to stand for the things they believe in. Make a difference.

Dave C.
Dave C.1 years ago

....I wonder how the last one would be applied only to muslims?????
Unbelievable this happens in the 21st century.....however, I seem to be saying that often on c2 posts....

Jessica L.
.1 years ago

They are way to punishment minded. They need a lesson in tolerance.