Top Stories
Top Stories
World News

Brunei faces global outcry as death penalty for gay sex, adultery comes into force

Key Points
  • Brunei currently retains the death penalty in law but the last execution was carried out in 1957.
  • Homosexuality has always been illegal in Brunei but the stricter Islamic laws now make it punishable by stoning to death.
  • To be found guilty, an individual would have to either confess their involvement or be condemned by four witnesses.
Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (C) attends an event in Bandar Seri Begawan on April 3, 2019. Brunei's sultan called for Islamic teachings in the country to be strengthened as strict new sharia punishments, including death by stoning for gay sex and adultery, were due to come into force on April 3.
AFP | Getty Images

A growing list of officials, celebrities and human rights groups have criticized the billionaire Sultan of Brunei after the government introduced a draconian penal code that includes death by stoning for gay sex, amputation for theft and public flogging for abortion.

The government of Brunei introduced revisions to its penal code on Wednesday which stipulates the death penalty for rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, robbery, and insult or defamation of the Prophet Muhammad.

The United Nations has condemned the new measures with the Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet calling them cruel and inhuman punishments that seriously breach international human rights law.

Undeterred, Brunei's leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah called on Wednesday for "stronger" Islamic teachings in the small, oil rich Southeast Asian nation where two thirds of the population are Muslims.

"I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger," he said in the nationally-televised speech at a convention center near the capital Bandar Seri Begawan, according to the AFP news agency. He did not mention the new penal code specifically, however.

Brunei currently retains the death penalty in law but the last execution was carried out in 1957. Homosexuality has always been illegal in Brunei but the stricter Islamic laws now make it punishable by stoning to death. To be found guilty, an individual would have to either confess their involvement or be condemned by four witnesses.

The provisions of the revised penal code may also encourage violence and discrimination against women, on the basis of sexual orientation, and against religious minorities in Brunei, the UN said Monday.

In a statement, Bachelet urged Brunei "to maintain its de facto moratorium on the use of capital punishment." The European Union echoed that statement and said in a statement Wednesday that "some of the punishments foreseen in the criminal code amount to torture, acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

Needless to say, the move has also provoked international condemnation from celebrities and gay rights' groups. Actor George Clooney, TV show host Ellen DeGeneres and singer Elton John have led calls for nine luxury hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who has an estimated $20 billion fortune, to be boycotted.

The sultan, who has been in power since 1967, owns Le Plaza Athenee and Le Meurice in Paris, The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane hotels in London, the Hotel Bel-Air in L.A. and the Beverley Hills Hotel among others.

A spokesperson for the The Dorchester told CNBC that the company's code emphasizes "equality, respect and integrity" in all areas of it operation, "and strongly values people and cultural diversity amongst our guests and employees."

"Inclusion and diversity remain core beliefs as we do not tolerate any form of discrimination," they added.