Sunday, 5 May 2019

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said he won't enforce the penalty announced on April 3

Brunei has said it will not enforce the death penalty for gay sex following a global backlash led by celebrities such as Sir Elton John and George Clooney.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has reacted to the outcry which was sparked when he rolled out an interpretation of Sharia law on April 3 to punish sodomy, adultery and rape with death.

The small South East Asian country had consistently defended its right to implement the laws - elements of which were first adopted in 2014 and was being rolled out in phases.
Just last week, the country sent a letter to the European Parliament to urge politicians to show 'tolerance and understanding' towards its decision to bring in the punishment after the UN previously condemned the laws as 'cruel and inhuman'.

But in a rare response to criticism, the sultan said the law would not feature in the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).

In a speech ahead of the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the sultan said: 'I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the SPCO.

'However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident.'

'As evident for more than two decades, we have practised 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 SPCO which provides a wider scope for remission.'

Crimes including premeditated murder and drug trafficking already carry the death penalty in Brunei but none have been carried out since the 1990s. 

Brunei was the first East Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law in 2014 when it announced the first of three stages of legal changes that included fines or jail for offences like pregnancy outside marriage or failing to pray on Friday.

Previously, homosexuality was illegal in Brunei and punishable by up to ten years imprisonment.

But the changes would allow whipping and stoning to death for Muslims found guilty of adultery, sodomy and rape.

The wealthy sultan, who once piloted his own 747 airliner to meet former US president Barack Obama, often faces criticism from activists who view his absolute monarchy as despotic.

In a rare move today, the sultan's office released an official English translation of his speech.

'Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country.'

He added: 'They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.'

The law's implementation last month prompted celebrities and rights groups to seek a boycott on hotels owned by the sultan, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Dorchester had been the focus of UK-based protests.

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