The alarming news from Brunei relating to the implementation of strict sharia law and its intention to re-introduce “medieval” punishments is a considerable step back to harsh uncivilised times. The new penal code includes death by stoning or whipping for adulterers and gay couples, thieves face amputation of a hand for a first offence and a foot for a second offence. Children are not excluded from these punishments. Brunei began to implement the Sharia Penal Code in 2014 and was met with protests and an embargo on the luxury hotels in the West that are owned by the nation, this resulted in the introduction of these brutal punishments being put on hold. In his announcement of the final phase of the new laws the Sultan of Brunei commented: “it was a great achievement”. The Sultan has said in the past that he considers sharia law to be a form of “special guidance” from God and would be “part of the great history of Brunei”.
There has been a significant outcry from around the world at the announcement, in particular, Xavier Bettel, the prime minister of Luxembourg, who was the first EU leader in a same-sex marriage. He is understandably appalled at the turn of events and took the bold step of publicly confronting the Arab leaders during a summit in Egypt between the EU and Arab states. Mr. Bettel commented afterwards that to say nothing was not an option for him and prior to the announcement by Brunei he had intended to raise the issue of the treatment of the LGBT community in a number of Arab countries where same-sex acts are illegal including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Oman, Syria, Kuwait and UAE. In Saudia Arabia, Yemen and the Sudan same-sex acts are a capital offence, however, the preferred method of execution is beheading rather than stoning.
Many human rights organisations have spoken out including Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch who said “Brunei will become the only country in Southeast Asia to punish gay sex with death if it pushes through with the law” He further pointed out that implementation of the law “will quickly drive the country towards human rights pariah status in the eyes of foreign investors, tourists, and international agencies”. Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei researcher at Amnesty International, said: “As well as imposing cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, it blatantly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, religion and belief, and codifies discrimination against women and girls. To legalise such cruel and inhuman penalties is appalling of itself.”
George Clooney lent his voice to the debate by calling for the people to boycott all the luxury hotels around the world that are owned by the Brunei Investment Agency. He pointed out that he had stayed in some of them before he found out who was the owner.