Brunei sultan’s backpedalling on Sharia Laws against Homosexuality

ASEAN, Brunei, shariah, news

Without cancelling the sharia law over homosexuality, the outcry around the world has forced the Sultan of Brunei to tell that no death penalty will be implemented towards LGBT people if caught. A victory for human rights but above all, a way to take the Sultanate out of the limelight…

The international outcry over the implementation of a very strict sharia law -including death by stoning- to anyone caught having illicit sex -from adultery to homosexuality- suddenly put the Sultanate of Brunei= a rather ignored country by the world majority- into the limelight. And a negative one which started to have damaging effects on Brunei.

The strict shariah law implemented by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah was followed by multiplying calls from Hollywood celebrities to boycott Brunei business=owned hotels and institutions. And it has been rather efficient!

Business companies such as international banks also decided to join the boycott putting further pressure on the tiny Borneo sultanate. However, no official Asian institution such as the ASEAN Secretariat or even the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) condemned or disapproved the implementation of the new Shariah laws…

Despite its incredible wealth -which would totally help Brunei weathering a potential economic and political isolation-, the Sultanate is indeed to small to sustain a loss of face, a very important element of Asia psyche. Exposed to negative headlines around the world every week, Brunei had finally no other choice than backtracking over its decision.

On Sunday, although defending the new laws, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah finally extended a moratorium on the death penalty to cover the new legislation. In his speech, the Sultan acknowledged that he was aware there had been “many questions and misperceptions” regarding the implementation of the legislation, called Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO). The announcement was a surprise as it was also the first time that Brunei’s ruler had publicly spoken over the legislation that he himself introduced a month ago.

While still on the statute books for some crimes, it is true that no executions have been carried out in Brunei since 1957. However, punishments have been implemented including jail sentences.

In an unusual move, Brunei Sultan speech was officially translated by the government’s press office in English. Tourism authorities might take a deep breath. Brunei is due to host the ASEAN Travel Forum in January 2020 and they were already many indications of companies boycotting the event.