Sharia penal code poses grave threats to basic rights for people living in Brunei

“The Brunei government’s introduction of a new Sharia penal code poses grave threats to basic rights, especially for the country’s most vulnerable people”, Human Rights Watch said today.

Brunei, officially the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. On 29th December 2018, Brunei’s attorney general quietly issued a notification that a law would be enacted in full on April 3 2019.

Human rights advocates warn that the law will see the introduction of death penalty by stoning, for men who engage in same sex relations/activities with other men; and 100 lashes with a whip for lesbian sex.

Amnesty labelled the Penal Code as a “deeply flawed piece of legislation” with a range of provisions that violate human rights.

“To legalize such cruel and inhuman penalties is appalling of itself,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Brunei researcher at Amnesty International. She said some of the potential offenses “should not even be deemed crimes at all, including consensual sex between adults of the same gender.”

The world agrees, the decision caused an international outcry over the severity of the punishments, so on 30th December the government delayed further implementation of the law; issuing a statement that the code aims to “respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals.”

But, does this penal code also protect our youth who have reached puberty or who might/might not be confused about their sexuality or gender identity? Does this mean that – if a youth is convicted; they will receive the same punishments as adults found guilty of the same crime?

In sharia law, punishments include the amputation of limbs for those found guilty of theft and anyone found guilty of apostasy (the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle) is handed a death sentence.

Public criticism of law or policies (as you can understand) is extremely rare in Brunei. So, there has been no vocal opposition to the law out of fear of the consequences of doing so.  Under secular laws, Brunei already prescribes caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offenses, convicts are flogged with a rattan cane. The public sale of alcohol is also banned and those who miss Friday prayers or are found to have had children outside marriage are liable to being fined or sent to prison.

The Sultan, who has reigned since 1967, has previously said the Shariah Penal Code should be regarded as a form of “special guidance” from God and would be “part of the great history” of Brunei. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah rules as head of state with full executive authority.

Matthew Woolfe, founder and director of The Brunei Project said, ”I am extremely concerned by this move. Some of the laws that we are about to see implemented are horrendous and unjustifiable,”

The Brunei Project is an independent initiative that seeks to provide a platform for the promotion of a broad range of human rights. With no active civil society groups engaged in human rights advocacy in Brunei, we aim to be a voice for marginalised groups and to raise awareness about human rights related issues. Key focus areas include, but are not limited to, LGBT+ issues, free speech and cultural and religious freedom.

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