2019 was looking increasingly hopeful for LGBTQ+ rights, with the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Austria, the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Angola and laws banning conversion therapy in several US states. However, this liberalisation in attitudes appeared short-lived.
Recently, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the ruler of Brunei, a small kingdom on the island of Borneo, declared that stoning would be used as punishment in situations where two men were caught having sex. With the implementation of such laws, Brunei now has the most regressive attitudes towards homosexuality in Asia.
Brunei criminalised homophobia long before this, however, with anyone caught in the act facing up to ten years in prison. The Sultans’ prior attempt at implementing Sharia law in 2014 was widely condemned, yet Brunei’s LGBTQ+ community continued to thrive, and the Islamisation of the state appeared unlikely.
This time, however, penalties have intensified. Stoning to death is a permissible punishment for those convicted of adultery or gay sex, while lesbian sex is punishable by forty lashes. The death penalty is not only applied in these cases, but for other offences too, including blasphemy, abortion and insulting the Prophet Mohammed. While the majority of such laws only apply to Muslims who have passed puberty, some laws are also applicable to non-Muslims.
Human Rights activists have condemned the island state’s interpretation of Sharia, labelling punishments archaic and barbaric, for actions which should not be criminalised. Human Rights Watch has stated that Brunei’s interpretation of Sharia law violates international prohibitions against torture, and international law protects homosexuality from the death penalty. The UN’s High Commissioner has suggested that the death penalty is disproportionately applied to those most vulnerable in society and is likely to lead to miscarriages of justice.
KCL is set to review an honorary doctorate given to the Sultan, following student outrage against the endorsement. Celebrities including George Clooney and Ellen DeGeneres have called for a boycott of nine luxury hotels with links to Brunei, including The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane in London. By refusing to stay in these hotels, the Sultan’s investment revenue will fall. British citizens can also write to their local MPs, calling them to condemn Brunei’s action, and limit Britain’s trade to the southeast Asian nation.
Questions must be raised about the two thousand British soldiers stationed in Brunei to support a repressive monarchy, and protests should be conducted to raise awareness about the human rights abuses. In 2019, no one should have to fear death based on who they love.
Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor