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Brunei Claims it Will Not Enforce Death Penalty for Gays

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There has seemingly been no change to the actual law.

After heavy international backlash from activists, celebrities, and government agencies, the Sultan of Brunei said his government would not stone those convicted of adultery or gay sex. The announcement comes one month after the law went into effect.

"As evident for more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under common law," Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said according to the New York Times in a statement on Sunday. Brunei is governed by a common law penal code, as well as Shariah law. This moratorium will now be extended to the latter code.

There has been no indication that the law will be removed from the new penal code, which was first implemented in April. There has also been no change to laws that could result in the amputation of those convicted of theft -- including children -- or the whipping of those convicted of being a lesbian. Also, all persons convicted of homosexual acts can be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

The news of the initial Shariah law implementation was first surfaced by The Brunei Project, an independent human rights initiative working in Brunei since May 2015. In a story first reported by Gay Star News, the organization said the government was working covertly to implement the new laws as a part of a protracted three-part process that began in 2014.

Once organizations like Amnesty International and the Human Rights Campaign spoke out about the issue, celebrities like Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, George Clooney, and Bobby Berk joined in with calls for a boycott of the Dorchester Collection hotels, as the group is owned by Brunei, originally bought by the sultan and transferred to the country's investment agency. Activists staged in-hotel protests and other events to stand in solidarity. Virgin Australia ended a deal it had with Brunei Airlines over the laws. In Thailand, 30 activists protested at the Brunei embassy where they presented a statement signed by 130 civil society groups across Southeast Asia including countries like Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia. In the United States, three dozen members of Congress wrote a letter to the Secretary of State to take a more aggressive stance on the issue while the openly gay US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, condemned the laws outright.

The Secretary-General of the British commonwealth, of which Brunei is a part, "strongly urged" the government to reconsider the code. It is under all of this international pressure, that this new announcement has come. But it could lack permanence.

"It was never explained why he came out with this law, it was never explained why they were needed," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch told the New York Times. "He says there's a moratorium today but he could change his mind tomorrow. When lawmaking is done in this way, the pledges of an authoritarian leader whose word is essentially law need to be taken with a grain of salt."


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