Brunei “backs down” after backlash

The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, says his country will extend its moratorium on the death penalty to include newly enacted Sharia laws punishing homosexual acts and adultery with death by stoning, in an apparent response to weeks of criticism and a high-profile boycott by celebrities including George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John, as well as a number of multinational corporations.

A global outcry ensued after Brunei announced its interpretation of Islamic laws, or Sharia, that would take effect on April 3, which would see the punishment of sodomy, adultery and rape with execution, including death by stoning.

The announcement garnered widespread condemnation, which saw major celebrities and multinationals urging a boycott of luxury hotels owned by Brunei. Many of those properties are in Europe and the U.S., including the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles and The Dorchester in London.

According to a report from Reuters, the Sultan said in a statement that for decades Brunei had observed a moratorium on imposing the death penalty under its common law and that this will now cover cases brought under Brunei's Islamic laws.

But the Sultan defended the full implementation of sharia penalties as “crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the public as well as respecting the privacy of individuals,” The Australian reported. 

According to the same article in The Australian, Human Rights Watch Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said the sultan’s speech “shows the international campaign on Brunei is working, and now more pressure is needed”.

“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,” he said. “It’s foolhardy to believe a moratorium will mean much if the sultan decides circumstances have changed.”

According to the Reuters report, Tom Knight, a columnist for Gay Times Magazine urged caution. “The power of activism can help create change, but the fight isn’t over. These laws need to be repealed, not just unenforced,” Knight tweeted.

It isn’t over and so the fight continues.


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