Wed, May 08, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Brunei halts gay sex death penalty; groups doubtful

Thomson Reuters Foundation, KUALA LUMPUR

Diplomatic pressure on Brunei should not be eased until anti-LGBT laws are completely repealed, human rights advocates said on Monday, dismissing the Southeast Asian country’s move to extend a moratorium on the death penalty.

Brunei sparked a global outcry when it rolled out its interpretation of Islamic, or Shariah, laws on April 3, allowing whipping and stoning to death for those found guilty of adultery, sodomy and rape.

Seeking to temper a backlash led by celebrities such as actor George Clooney and singer Elton John, Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Sunday extended a moratorium on the death penalty to include its new Islamic laws.

“On the surface it seems like good news,” said Matthew Woolfe, founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, but added: “The fact that these laws are not being repealed is still of concern to us. There is nothing stopping the Brunei government from lifting the moratorium at any time.”

Brunei was the first country in East Asia to adopt the criminal component of Shariah law at a national level in 2014.

Previously, homosexuality was illegal in Brunei and punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, but the April penal code changes allowed whipping and stoning to death for those found guilty of adultery, sodomy and rape.

In a surprise response to criticism aimed at the oil-rich state, the sultan on Sunday said that the death penalty would not be imposed in the implementation of the penal code changes.

Some crimes already command the death penalty in Brunei, including premeditated murder and drug trafficking, but no executions have been carried out since 1957.

“The entire law should be scrapped because it’s a rights abusing monstrosity reminiscent of a medieval yesteryear that has no place in the modern age,” Human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said.

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