The small island nation of Brunei has backtracked on its plan to punish those convicted of gay sex with death by stoning, but only after Hollywood celebrities (including George Clooney) and large companies protested the leader’s hotels.
We posted in March that the sovereign country — on the island of Borneo — would punish “crimes” like sodomy and adultery with death, including for children. The minor conservative Islamic monarchy also said it would enforce amputation for robbery.
But after the announcement, there was international backlash against staying in expensive hotels owned by the sultan. That caused him to change his tune.
Brunei will not impose the death penalty on those convicted of having gay sex, in an apparent bid to temper international condemnation following its roll out of strict new Islamic laws last month.
In a televised speech on Sunday, the country’s ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, said he would extend a moratorium on capital punishment and ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
In a high profile campaign, celebrities, including George Clooney and Elton John, joined rights groups in seeking to boycott hotels owned by the sultan, while large companies including JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank told their staff to avoid using Brunei-owned hotels in the wake of new laws.
It’s important to note that Brunei is a rich country with tons of oil and that they have been trying to fully implement “Sharia law” for years. So it’s no surprise that they wanted to punish so-called “sins” with death, nor is it shocking that they reversed course when people hit them where it hurts: right in the sultan’s wallet.
Of course, now Brunei’s leadership is trying to minimize what they almost did.
The country initially defended its new legal code, claiming it focused “more on prevention and punishment,” but the growing backlash appears to have forced the kingdom’s hand.
In his speech on Sunday, the sultan said there had been a number of “misconceptions” about the laws which he acknowledged may have caused “apprehension.”
“However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident,” he said.
To be clear, LGBTQ+ people in Brunei aren’t safe now. The country still has laws against gay sex. While they have promised not to invoke the death penalty for those “crimes,” severe punishments are still on the books. Keep in mind that the sultan could also pull another 180 at any given time. The people of Brunei won’t be safe until these laws are eradicated and the culture around them changes.