New sharia laws that punish homosexual relationships, gay sex and adultery with death by stoning came into force as the Sultan of Brunei has called for ‘Islamic teachings to grow stronger.
The penal code came into force after ‘years of delays’, and it is ruled by the all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
The laws make Brunei the first country in East or Southeast Asia to have a sharia law at the national level, joining some Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia. The penal code includes amputation of feet and hands for thieves.
Robbery and rape are also punishable by death under penal code. Many of the new laws, such as severe punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed, apply not only to Muslims but also to non-Muslims.
The country’s decision to push ahead with such punishments triggered alarm around the world. The UN labeled the country inhumane and cruel, and celebrities including Elton John and George Clooney called for Brunei-owned hotels to be boycotted.
The sultan, who has been on the throne for more than 50 years, has called for stronger Islamic teachings in a public address to mark a special date in the Muslim calendar.
“I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger,” he said. The sultan also insisted that Brunei was a ‘fair’ nation and the environment for tourists and visitors was harmonious and safe.
The new sharia laws have sparked worldwide condemnation. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the code was ‘barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes.’
The European Union also said in a statement that some of the punishments “amount to torture, acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”
The new code stipulates death by stoning as punishment for gay sex. Women convicted of having sexual relations with other women face a maximum 10-year jail term or 40 strokes of the cane.
A 33-year-old gay man from Brunei said the new laws were “unfair, cruel and should not happen.”
“It really takes away my happiness and freedom to express myself, and depresses me so much,” he said.
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