Brunei, a small sultanate on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, introduced the Shariah Penal Code in 2014. The government decided to implement the legal changes in stages, with the first round including fines and jail sentences for offenses like adultery or failing to pray on Fridays.
The more severe penalties of the Shariah Penal Code include whipping and stoning to death for Muslims found guilty of adultery, sodomy and rape. After heavy international backlash, the Brunei government delayed their implementation.
Human rights organizations, however, have confirmed that the Brunei government will fully implement the laws on April 3, 2019.
This new penal code includes brutal punishments like chopping off limbs for theft or stoning people to death for homosexual activity.
Activist Matthew Woolfe from the Australian human rights group The Brunei Project spoke with DW about the consequences of strict Shariah law in Brunei and his efforts to advocate for human rights in the country.
It is among the worst in the region in terms of Shariah law, which isn’t widely enforced throughout Southeast Asia. But we do, of course, have pockets within Southeast Asia where Shariah law has been introduced and is being implemented. Some Malaysian states are an example. But these laws aren’t to the extent that they have in Brunei.
The laws do not only target the LGBT community. The laws go much wider than that. But certainly some of the penalties contained within the laws will have a big impact on the LGBT community.
I should point out that in Brunei, homosexuality has been criminalized since British colonial rule. People found guilty of sexual activity between people of the same sex face up to 10 years’ imprisonment. Although to my knowledge, this law has never been enforced.
But these new laws create a lot of fear within the LGBT community. There is also a lot of pressure from within society itself because Brunei is a strict religious and socially conservative country. Society in general expects you to be heterosexual, to get married and have a family.
I think one of the reasons is possibly that they want to fly under the radar with this. They are very aware of the reaction that implementation of the first phase of Shariah law created a few years back. There was a boycott of businesses owned by Brunei internationally. They want to avoid that scrutiny.
Additionally, the Brunei government signed the UN Convention Against Torture in 2015, but they have yet to ratify the convention. However, they have signed it, and that demonstrates that they should be upholding the principles of the convention.