Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah
Brunei Phasing In Antigay Law; Will Soon Allow Death by Stoning

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com April 30 2014 6:55 PM ET

The sultan of Brunei has confirmed that a law that will eventually allow death by stoning for gay sex and other so-called offenses will go into effect on Thursday.

The new penal code, based on Islamic Sharia law, will make Brunei the first country in East Asia to adopt such law. It would be the first time since 1957 that Brunei would enforce a law with the death penalty.

"Today... I place my faith in and am grateful to Allah the almighty to announce that tomorrow, Thursday May 1, 2014, will see the enforcement of Sharia law phase one, to be followed by the other phases," Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said in a speech, Agence France-Presse reports.

Phase one of the law will allow for fines and jail terms for offenses such as “indecent behavior, failure to attend Friday prayers, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies,” according to AFP. The second phase, going into effect later this year, will cover crimes including theft and robbery, making them punishable by severing of limbs and flogging. “Late next year, punishments such as death by stoning for offenses including sodomy and adultery will be introduced,” AFP notes. The law was scheduled to go into effect April 22 but was postponed due to “unavoidable circumstances.” 

In early April the United Nations publicly condemned Brunei's government for adopting the law. “Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited,” Rupert Colville, spokesman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at a news conference in Geneva last week.

When the penal code was first announced in 2013, non-Muslim citizens of Brunei voiced their opposition to it on social media. However, the sultan, an absolute ruler, ordered an end to such messages. Nonetheless, LGBT organizations in Asia have also condemned the move.

“It may open the floodgates for further human rights violations against women, children, and other people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” leaders from the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health and Islands of South East Asian Network on Male and Transgender Sexual Health said in a joint statement last week.

Under Brunei’s constitution Bolkiah leads all areas of government. The sultan is also the owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel, which has recently been the subject of a boycott in relation to Brunei's pending law. Today the Feminist Majority Foundation announced that it is pulling its annual Global Women’s Rights Awards from the hotel. The event, scheduled for May 5, will be held at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles instead, and the foundation will hold a rally in opposition to the law that afternoon across the street from the hotel. The foundation has also launched a petition calling for repeal of the law.