Brunei rolls back gay death penalty

Bandar Seri Begawan: Brunei will not impose the death penalty on those convicted of having gay sex, in an apparent bid to temper international condemnation following its roll out of strict new Islamic laws last month.

In a televised speech on Sunday, the country’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, said he would extend a moratorium on capital punishment and ratify the UN Convention Against Torture, CNN reported.

The announcement follows a global backlash to the country’s announcement in April that it would impose draconian new punishments, including death by stoning, for those convicted of gay sex, adultery and rape.

In a high profile campaign, celebrities, including George Clooney and Elton John, joined rights groups in seeking to boycott hotels owned by the sultan, while large companies including JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank told their staff to avoid using Brunei-owned hotels in the wake of new laws.

In his speech on Sunday, the Sultan said there had been a number of “misconceptions” about the laws which he acknowledged may have caused “apprehension”.

“However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident,” he said.

The Sultan announced the kingdom’s long-term moratorium on the death penalty would also extend to the new penal code, although he did not elaborate whether this was a new decision.

“For more than two decades, we have practiced 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 Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).”

Despite his announcement on the death penalty, Brunei’s leader said on Sunday that he stood by his new penal code overall, CNN reported.

“Both the common law and the Shariah 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.”

The tiny oil-rich Asian kingdom became the first East Asian country to introduce Sharia law at a national level in 2014, launching the legislation and associated penalties in stages.

In response to the announcement, Human Rights Campaign Director of Global Partnership Jean Freedberg said it was an important step but added the law itself needed to go.

“The world has turned its eyes to Brunei in recent months and we urge the countless advocates, activists and organisations who seized this moment to speak out against these human rights abuses to continue to do so.”