Brunei has written to the United Nations (UN) explaining that the country’s barbaric new Sharia law, which would see anybody convicted of gay sex stoned to death, is aimed at prevention rather than punishment.
The letter comes in response to the UN calling the new legislation ‘cruel and inhuman’.
In Brunei’s letter, the country’s minister of foreign affairs, Erywan Yusof, explained that the law’s aim is ‘to educate, deter, rehabilitate and nurture rather than to punish’.
Yusof also said that the criminalisation of ‘adultery and sodomy is to safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage of individual Muslims, particularly women’, and that Sharia law does not criminalise based on sexual orientation or belief, including same-sex relations.
Brunei has experienced a serious global backlash since introducing the new law earlier this month. Its nine worldwide hotels, including London’s Dorchester, have been the subject of numerous boycotts and last week took the decision to delete their social media accounts.
The hotels had come under fire from George Clooney. Writing for website Deadline Hollywood, the actor called for a boycott: “Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels, we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”
Clooney was supported in his stance by Sir Elton John, who wrote on Twitter: “I commend my friend, #GeorgeClooney, for taking a stand against the anti-gay discrimination and bigotry taking place in the nation of #Brunei - a place where gay people are brutalised, or worse - by boycotting the Sultan’s hotels.”
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres also spoke out on Twitter: "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.”
Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan called on gay people to “buy up every room” in Brunei-owned hotels and have a “non-stop orgy of fun and frivolity”.
Writing in his column in the Daily Mail, Morgan said: “Imagine how humiliated and small he [the sultan] would feel if his hotels became the very epicentre of gay pride and culture; if every place he owns from London to Paris to LA reverberated with joyous celebration of living, breathing, fornicating homosexuality.”
Morgan went on to suggest that the sultan may be so ashamed to have gay people staying in his hotels that he might “end up stoning himself to death”.
Brunei’s new death-by-stoning penalty for gay sex came into effect on Wednesday - along with a number of other similarly shocking laws - after its sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, called for "stronger" Islamic teachings.
Under the new laws, individuals will be convicted of gay sex if they confess, or are seen committing the act by four witnesses. Lesbian sex will be punishable by 40 strokes of the cane and/or a maximum of 10 years in jail.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Brunei, with the punishment prior to today's introduction of the new laws being up to 10 years imprisonment.
The new laws are coming into effect despite an international outcry. Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of non-governmental organisation Human Rights Watch, said: “Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes.”
Amnesty International’s Rachel Chhoa-Howard said that the country “must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments, and revise its penal code in compliance with its human rights obligations.”
Adding her voice to the show of outrage, Michelle Bachelet, the high commissioner for human rights for the United Nations, said: “In reality, no judiciary in the world can claim to be mistake-free, and evidence shows that the death penalty is disproportionately applied against people who are already vulnerable, with a high risk of miscarriages of justice.”
Britain’s international development minister, Penny Mordaunt, wrote on Twitter: “No one should face the death penalty because of who they love. Brunei’s decision is barbaric.”
Meanwhile, UNAIDS - the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV &AIDS - fears that Brunei’s new death-penalty law will drive the country’s LGBT community underground, making it difficult for them to access life-saving HIV treatment and prevention services.
Speaking on Friday, the organisation’s Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, said: I strongly urge Brunei Darussalam to suspend or repeal the amendments to the Syariah Penal Code, and I offer UNAIDS’ support to ensure that laws are grounded in human rights, based on evidence, and protect the most vulnerable.”
He also said: “These extreme and unjustified punishments will drive people underground and out of reach of life-saving HIV treatment and prevention services.”
Evidence shows that where gay communities are criminalised, they are more vulnerable to violence, less likely to access necessary HIV and other health services, and less able to protect themselves against HIV infection.
Despite the introduction of the new laws, the perceived wisdom within Brunei seems to be that they are unlikely to actually be applied, given the high burden of proof required, with four people needing to have witnessed the act of gay sex. Speaking to BBC Radio Four, Bill Hayton, associate fellow with the Asia Pacific programme at Chatham House, said: “The way it is being explained to me is that this is a way for the sultan to look religious but make sure that none of these punishments will actually be carried out.”
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