Brunei Won't Punish Gay People With The Death Penalty — But Homosexuality Will Remain Illegal

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In response to worldwide backlash and global boycotts, Brunei won't enforce its death penalty punishment for gay sex. According to Reuters, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended a moratorium on capital punishment on Sunday to include sections of the country's new penal code which make adultery, rape, and sexual relations between same-sex couples punishable by death, including death by stoning. Homosexuality, however, will remain illegal in the country.

"As evident for more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law," Reuters reported Bolkiah said in a speech. "This will also be applied to cases under the [Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO)], which provides a wider scope for remission."

Despite extending the country's "de facto" moratorium of enforcing the death penalty, it did not appear that the sultan had plans to either repeal legislation prohibiting and criminalizing sex between same-sex couples or officially drop language listing the death penalty as a suitable punishment. "I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the SPCO," Reuters reported the sultan said. "However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident."

In December, the country's attorney general announced it planned to roll out and begin enforcing its own version of Islamic, or sharia, laws in early April. As the date of the legislation's roll out neared, activists, celebrities, governments, and businesses worldwide pushed back on Brunei, according to CNBC. While homosexuality has always been illegal in Brunei, according to the news outlet, the new laws included legislation that would make it punishable by the death penalty.

As part of the backlash, celebrities like actor George Clooney and singer Elton John called on people and businesses to boycott hotels owned by the Brunei Investment Agency. "Let's be clear, every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery," Clooney wrote in an April op-ed for Deadline. "Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations? Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?"

On Sunday, however, the sultan of Brunei continued to defend the Syariah Penal Code Order. "Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country," Reuters reported a rare English translation of his speech issued by the sultan's office quoted him as having said. What's more, he characterized the laws as necessary for ensuring morality. "They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals," the news outlet reported he said.

According to The Hill, under Brunei law, homosexuality is already punishable by up to 10 years in prison.