Brunei must row back on plans to implement changes to its penal code next month that could see LGBT+ people whipped or stoned to death for same-sex activity, human rights groups said on Monday.
Brunei was the first East Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law in 2014, when it announced the first of three stages of legal changes that included fines or jail for offences like pregnancy outside marriage, or failing to pray on Friday.
Previously homosexuality was illegal in Brunei, and punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, but the changes would allow whipping and stoning to death for Muslims found guilty of adultery, sodomy and rape, said human rights groups.
The country delayed implementing the final two stages of changes, after an international backlash in 2014, but now plans to go ahead with both on April 3, said Matthew Woolfe, founder of human rights group The Brunei Project.
ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, a Manila-based human rights group, confirmed the implementation of the remaining changes were due to take place on April 3, citing government documents.
Manila-based OutRight Action International also confirmed Brunei was about to implement a new stage in its sharia laws.
The Brunei Prime Minister’s Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
“We are trying to get pressure placed on the government of Brunei but realise there is a very short time frame until the laws take [e]ffect”, Woolfe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, calling on governments to step up diplomatic pressure on Brunei.
“It took us by surprise that the government has now given a date and is rushing through implementation”, said the Australia-based campaigner.
Woolfe said there had been no major public announcements on the implementation of the penal code changes, aside from a statement on attorney general’s website late December, which only came to light this week.
Socially conservative attitudes prevail across Asia, with Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei banning sexual relationships between men, while Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people in recent years.
Brunei, a former British protectorate of about 400,000, nestled between two Malaysian states on Borneo island, is the first country in east Asia to adopt the criminal component of sharia at a national level.
“The full implementation of sharia penal law will apply severe penalties against consensual same-sex relations, including death penalty via stoning”, Ryan Silverio, a coordinator at ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, said in an email.
Dede Oetomo, one of Indonesia’s most prominent LGBT+ activists, said it would be a gross violation of international human rights if the changes went ahead.
“It is horrible. Brunei is imitating the most conservative Arab states”, he said.
-Michael Taylor @MickSTaylor – Thomson Reuters Foundation