BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN, Brunei -- Brunei on Thursday embraced a form of Islamic Shariah criminal law that includes harsh penalties, a move slammed by international rights group as a step backward for human rights.
The tiny Southeast Asian nation began phasing in a version of Shariah that allows for penalties such as amputation for theft and stoning for adultery and homosexuality. Most of the punishments can be applied to non-Muslims, who account for about one-third of the 440,000 people in the oil-rich country.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has introduced the law as a "great achievement" for Brunei.
"The decision to implement the (Shariah penal code) is not for fun but is to obey Allah's command as written in the Quran," he said in a speech Wednesday to announce the launch first phase of the law.
From Thursday, Brunei citizens can be fined or jailed by Islamic courts for offences like not performing Friday prayers, pregnancy out of wedlock, propagating other religions and indecent behavior.
More severe punishments such as flogging, amputation of limbs and stoning for offences such as theft, adultery and sodomy will be introduced in phases over the next two years.
The US-based Human Rights Campaign, which promotes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality, condemned the changes as "draconian," saying the death penalty for gay sex, the eighth nation in the world to have such a law, was "horrific and sickening."
Complete HRC statement:
HRC Condemns Government of Brunei’s Decision to Soon Allow Death Penalty for Same-Sex Activity
WASHINGTON –– The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) condemns today’s decision by the government of Brunei to allow a series of draconian penal code reforms to take effect that will soon include stoning as a possible punishment for engaging in same-sex activity.
“LGBT citizens in many countries around the world remain persistent targets of harassment, arrest, violence, and torture for simply being who they are,” said Ty Cobb, director of Global Engagement at the Human Rights Campaign. “The decision by the government of Brunei to soon become the 8th nation to allow the death penalty against LGBT people is horrific and sickening.”
In October 2013, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah––who is the absolute ruler of Brunei and is considered one of the world’s wealthiest people––announced that he was amending the nation’s criminal laws and introducing amputation, flogging, and stoning as possible punishments for a variety of so-called offenses.
These changes were scheduled to be implemented in three phases beginning on April 22, but were temporarily put on hold by the government of Brunei earlier this month. But according to a royal degree issued today, the first of three phases of implementation will now begin tomorrow. The second phase, which will allow amputation as a possible punishment for some crimes will take effect later this year, and the third phase, which will allow stoning as a possible punishment for same-sex activity, will begin in 2015.
In April, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights condemned the penal code reforms, saying it was "deeply concerned" and that stoning was considered to be "torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" under international law.
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.