After Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam announced in April that his country would be imposing the penalty of death by stoning for sex between men, the world reacted with widespread criticism.
The international backlash focused on the harsh penalty for gay sex under the Islamic penal code, which went into effect in Brunei in April. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres assailed the new Islamic laws as a violation of human rights. Civil rights groups and world celebrities, among them George Clooney and Ellen Degeneres, called for a boycott of Brunei-controlled hotels around the world. Several multinational companies ordered a ban on their employees using the sultan’s hotels, while some travel companies stopped promoting Brunei as a travel destination.
It was in the middle of the Lenten Season and Christians recalled the story in the Bible of Christ refusing to condemn a woman caught in adultery by Jewish Scribes and Pharisees, saying, “He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.”
Last Sunday, Sultan Bolkiah announced the death penalty would not be imposed on crimes in the Shariah Penal Code Order (SPCO). He noted that the death penalty has not been applied in cases under the Brunei’s common law for more than two decades. It will also not be applied for cases under the new Shariah penal code.
The sultan’s response to the world reaction to Brunei’s harsh new law was described as unusual, as he has usually ignored any criticism of his actions. He explained in his speech to the nation last Sunday that “Both the common law and the Shariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country. They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.”
The Shariah law with its harsh penalty of stoning to death for men having sex with other men thus remains part of Brunei’s system of laws. There is a de facto moratorium on the death penalty in Brunei, so no one will be stoned to death at this time.
The sultan’s announcement was welcomed around the world. Brunei has not been carrying out any death penalty for two decades now, but the penalty remains in the law. Sultan Bolkiah could order enforcement of the death penalty at any time and so the worldwide condemnation of the harsh law continues.