Harsh new sharia laws – including death by stoning for gay sex and adultery – were enforced in Brunei on Wednesday.
The expanded list of crimes punishable by death in the small sultanate on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo also includes rape, robbery and insulting the Prophet Mohammed.
The laws, which also call for the amputation of limbs for thieves, make Brunei the first country in East or Southeast Asia to implement the harsh Islamic legal code at the national level. Sharia is practiced to varying degrees in some countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.
Experts say the draconian death by stoning laws for sex between men and adultery, which can also be punished by caning, are unlikely to be carried out due to the high bar of proof. Brunei has not executed anyone for decades.
The previous law called for a maximum punishment of ten years in prison for gay sex. Under the new law, women convicted of having sexual relations with other women could face caning or a maximum ten-year prison term.
There has been international condemnation of the legal revisions pushed by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s richest men who has wielded power in the tiny tropical nation for nearly five decades.
Germany, France and the US have condemned the new laws as incompatible with Brunei’s human rights commitments and called for the sultan to reverse implementation.
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.”
Celebrities including actor George Clooney, pop star Elton John and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres have led calls for a boycott of Brunei-owned hotels.
‘Fair and happy’ country
In a public address to the nation to mark a date on the Islamic calendar, the sultan on Wednesday said he wanted Islamic practices in the country to become stronger.
“I would like to emphasise that the country of Brunei is a… country that always devotes its worship to Allah,” he said.
He also said he wanted the call to prayer in all public places, not just in mosques, to remind the country of 400,000 people of their Islamic duties.
He went on to call Brunei a “fair and happy” country.
“Anyone who comes to visit this country will have a sweet experience, and enjoy the safe and harmonious environment,” he said.