Brunei has said it will not enforce the death penalty for gay sex. The rethink follows a global backlash led by celebrities such as Sir Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres 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. The law was created 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.
Critics of the country’s newly enacted Islamic laws said several other harsh punishments remain on the books, including whipping and amputation. They have called for continued opposition until the laws are completely revised.
The United States, Britain, France, Germany and other countries protested the law. Luxury hotels owned by the Sultan, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, faced calls for boycotts.
In a speech ahead of the start of the 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. It included fines or jail for offences like pregnancy outside marriage or failing to pray on Friday.