Don’t be Fooled by Brunei’s Gay Death Penalty U-Turn

Brunei has said it will not enforce it’s death penalty for Muslim men who have same-gender sexual relationships, but campaigners have said this actually changes nothing, because the law remains on the books.

Just last month, Brunei brought a law into force that allows death by stoning for men found to have had sex with someone of the same gender. The tiny nation’s sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, announced on Sunday that Brunei would not be enforcing the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).

In a nationwide address as part of commemorations for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the sultan decried what he described as  “many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation” of the new law which, among other things would also have proscribed whipping for women caught having had sex with another woman.

“As evident for more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law,” he is quoted as saying. “This will also be applied to cases under” the new Sharia law.

Brunei is an oil-rich nation, which gives it an outsized international status and pool of wealth. The Sultan owns various hotels and other businesses across the world. However, Brunei is running out of oil, and the oil reserves it does have are increasingly looking unattractive because of our current battle with climate change. As such, it has attempted to shift itself into a tourism hotspot—and for good reason, as it has some of the world’s most beautiful vistas.

Doubling down on its anti-LGBT rhetoric has put its tourism drive in jeopardy.

Celebrities like George Clooney and Elton John backed wider rights campaigners in calling for a boycott of the various hotels that the sultan owns. Meanwhile, tourist operators have felt the heat to stop selling travel packages to Brunei. Companies like JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank also directed staff to stay away from any Brunei-affiliated hotels.

Educational institutions faced pressure to revoke ties with the sultan, while international governments decried the move toward the death penalty when Brunei already had an outdated ban on homosexuality that, at its worst, would mean 10 years in prison.

The sultan has felt the sting of all of this and has now extended the nation’s existing moratorium on enforcing the maximum penalty for homosexuality.

Some people have met this news with a cautious welcome. The BBC quotes Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland saying the Commonwealth is “delighted the death penalty has been removed and that the de facto moratorium which has been in place for more than two decades, will also cover the SPCO”.

However not all commentators have been so enthused.

For one thing, the sultan did not backtrack on the actual death penalty provision. It remains on the books with the moratorium hinging on the sultan’s whims. It is true that the previous moratorium has remained in place for a number of years, but this will be little comfort for Muslim-identifying LGBT people currently living in Brunei who will now see the shadow of this “death to gays” law further eclipsing their chances at freedom.

Secondly, the Sultan also defended the new provisions, saying in his address to the nation that: ”Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country. They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the public as well as respecting the privacy of individuals.”

To be clear, this isn’t the sultan backtracking because he now understands that the law is wrong. It’s a U-turn designed to appease international condemnation.

Perhaps most critically, while death by stoning was among the most extreme provisions in the new Sharia penalties, there is plenty here that the sultan’s moratorium does not touch. Women who have sex with other women will still potentially face being whipped, while people who steal may still face having their limbs systematically removed for each offence.

What this appears to be is the sultan wanting to save face internationally.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch concurs, saying: ”The reality is this is all about trying to abate the international pressure coming on Brunei. [The sultan] is obviously realizing there is a larger opposition to this law out in the international community and the Brunei brand is taking a hard hit.”

One of the major criticisms against the hotel boycott is that it can really only be done by the rich—the Dorchester and other Brunei affiliated hotels are far too pricey for most of us.

However, there is a meaningful way we can protest the law and keep this pressure on. Booking Holdings—a company that owns well-known travel sites like Kayak, Cheapflights and Rentalcars.com—is still selling travel packages to Brunei. Other companies—like STA Travel, the world’s largest travel company for students and young people—no longer sell flights to Brunei as a result of this law.

It’s critical that Booking Holdings does the same.

Take Action!

Sign and share this petition calling on Booking Holdings to do the right thing and block tourism cash flow from going to Brunei. No country should be able to profit while LGBT people risk being stoned or whipped, while women can be stoned for adultery, and while people face the loss of limbs for something as simple as stealing a loaf of bread.

If you want to make a difference on an issue you find deeply troubling, you too can create a Care2 petition, and use this handy guide to get started. You’ll find Care2’s vibrant community of activists ready to step up and help you.

 

Photo credit: Getty Images.

46 comments

Daniel N
Daniel Nyesterday

Thanks for posting

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie2 days ago

Thank you so very much.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie2 days ago

Thank you so very much.

SEND
Veronica Danie
Veronica Danie2 days ago

Thank you so very much.

SEND
Lisa M
Lisa M6 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M6 days ago

Thanks.

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Laura R
Laura R6 days ago

Signed. Barbaric is the best you can say.

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Ben O
Ben O6 days ago

Signed!

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Graham P
Graham P6 days ago

Signed April 9 and shared.

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Debra G
Debra G7 days ago

Signed. The Sultan is a dictator, cloaking his whims in Shariah law. Bankrupt him.

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