A Tiny Nation's New Laws Are Jolting the World

Adultery, gay sex punishable by death in Brunei under laws set to come into force Wednesday
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2019 8:47 AM CDT
A Tiny Nation's New Laws Are Jolting the World
In this April 23, 2013, photo, Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, one of the landmarks of Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei.   (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

The official name of the tiny nation of Brunei is Negara Brunei Darussalam, with Negara meaning country and Darussalam translating to "abode of peace." Outraged people around the world might find that latter part a misnomer. Brunei was on Wednesday set to introduce the most drastic elements of its sharia penal code, a penal code the AP reports was enacted in 2014 but whose laws saw a staggered start, with the most contentious ones being delayed—until now. Adultery and sex between two men are punishable by death under the new laws. CNN reports sex between two women is punishable by 100 lashes. Those convicted of theft can have their right hand amputated; on the second offense, their left foot. More:

  • The Guardian reports Brunei now stands alone in east and southeast Asia as having a national sharia penal code.
  • As for the motivation, the AP sees it as part of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's effort to make Islam a more prominent force in the country; about two-thirds of its 430,000 people are Muslim. But the Guardian presents a different theory: that the sultan is trying to "shore up support among the country’s conservatives due to the waning fortunes of the oil-dependent economy, which has been ravaged by recession in recent years."
  • The BBC speaks with the head of human rights group the Brunei Project, who offered this take: "Connected to this is [Brunei's] interest in attracting more investment from the Muslim world, along with more Islamic tourists ... this could be seen as one way of appealing to this market."

  • The Guardian sums up some of the shock flowing through the small, underground LGBT community there: Homosexuality is already punishable by a sentence of up to 10 years, but an LGBT rights activist who has regularly visited the country described the sentiment up until now: One LGBT person said to him, "'Look at how I dress, look at how I act, am I being arrested by the police?' And then a few others said, I think we are okay as long as we don’t rock the boat, have parades and announce our sexuality."
  • What's unclear is whether anyone will actually be stoned to death. The BBC reports the last execution in Brunei happened in 1957.
  • CNN reports the announcement of the new laws on the government's website quoted the sultan as saying Brunei "does not expect other people to accept and agree with it, but that it would suffice if they just respect the nation in the same way that it also respects them." The office of the prime minister was unwavering in a statement released Saturday: "Brunei Darussalam is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of law."
  • One quote getting plenty of pick-up comes from Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch: "Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes." He called for the immediate suspension of such punishments.
  • Celebs like Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres have joined George Clooney in speaking out against the laws—and suggesting retribution. DeGeneres on Tuesday tweeted, "Tomorrow, the country of #Brunei will start stoning gay people to death. We need to do something now. Please boycott these hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Raise your voices now. Spread the word. Rise up."
(More Brunei stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.