Global Backlash Forces Brunei to Pause Death Penalty for Gay Sex, Adultery

Two woman walk past portraits of Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (L) and Queen Saleha (R) at the prime minister's complex in Bandar Seri Begawan on April 24, 2013 ahead of the start of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. Southeast Asian leaders are meeting in Brunei hoping to …
ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty

Brunei on Sunday paused implementation of harsh new Islamic sharia laws, including death by stoning for adultery and gay sex, after a storm of global criticism.

All-powerful ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended a moratorium on the penalties in the Muslim majority nation, addressing concerns from a variety of lobby groups, celebrities and the United Nations.

As Breitbart News reported, the laws, which also include amputation of hands and feet for thieves, would have made Brunei the first country in East or Southeast Asia to have a sharia penal code at the national level, joining several mostly Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia.

In a speech, the sultan said he was aware there had been “many questions and misperceptions” regarding the implementation of the legislation, called Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).

While saying that a moratorium on the death penalty would be applied to the SPCO he also defended the new rules, saying their “merit” would become clear. The sultan said in a speech ahead of the start of the Islamic month of Ramadan:

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.

The speech marks the first time the country’s ruler has spoken publicly about the laws since their introduction.

Under the now suspended legislation:

  • Offences such as rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery and insult or defamation of the Muhammad carry the maximum penalty of death
  • Lesbian sex carries a different penalty of 40 strokes of the cane and/or a maximum of 10 years in jail
  • The punishment for theft is amputation
  • Those who “persuade, tell or encourage” Muslim children under the age of 18 “to accept the teachings of religions other than Islam” are liable to a fine or jail
  • Individuals who have not reached puberty but are convicted of certain offences may be instead subjected to whipping.

The vastly wealthy sultan, who once piloted his own 747 airliner to meet former United States president Barack Obama, often faces criticism from activists who view his absolute monarchy as despotic. But it is unusual for him to respond.

Homosexuality is punishable by execution in several other Muslim-majority countries, including death by stoning in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania.

Under secular laws, Brunei already proscribes caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offenses, for which convicts can be flogged with a rattan cane.

In 2015 the Sultan banned the celebration of Christmas in any form, warning residents of his country that if they plan on celebrating the Christian festival, they could face up to five years in jail.

Follow Simon Kent on Twitter: or e-mail to: skent@breitbart.com

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