Brunei will not enforce death penalty for adulterous and gay sex after global backlash

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei.

Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has extended a moratorium on the death penalty to upcoming legislation on punishment for gay and adulterous sex, after a widespread backlash by western leaders, businesses and celebrities.

The country sparked an outcry in the West when it introduced the death penalty by stoning for sodomy, adultery and rape on Wednesday 3 April.

Brunei has consistently defended its right to implement the laws, aspects which were initially implemented in 2014, and which have been introduced gradually since.

However, in an unexpected response to criticism targeted at the oil-rich state, Sultan Bolkiah said on Sunday that capital punishment would not be enforced in the implementation of the Sharia Penal Code Order (SPCO).

Some crimes are already punishable by the death penalty in Brunei, including premeditated murder and drug trafficking, but no executions have been carried out since the 1990s.

Sultan Bolkiah said in a speech before the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan: “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.”

Brunei’s sultan is frequently criticised by pro-LGBTQ and human rights activists who view him as a despotic monarch, but it is unusual for him to respond.

The sultan’s office released an official English translation of his speech, which is also uncommon.

In the statement Sultan Bolkiah said: “Both the common law and the sharia 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 law which was condemned by the UN, made celebrities and rights groups launch a campaign to boycott hotels owned by the sultan, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills hotel in Los Angeles.

Many multinational companies have since prohibited staff from using the sultan’s hotels, while some travel agencies have taken Brunei off their packages.

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