The British government and European Union politicians called on Brunei on Friday to abandon plans to impose the death penalty for gay sex or adultery, while actor, George Clooney, urged a boycott of hotels owned by the Southeast Asian country.
Brunei in 2014 introduced Islamic criminal law, with fines or jail for offences like pregnancy outside marriage, or not praying on Friday, but held off on more extreme changes after a global outcry.
But the former British protectorate has now unveiled plans to roll out sharia law further from April 3, with a new penal code that imposes death by stoning or whipping for sodomy, adultery or rape, and amputation of a hand or foot for theft.
The announcement, and particularly the targeting of LGBT+ people, has sparked international outrage, with politicians and celebrities calling on Brunei to immediately halt its plans.
“The Minister for Asia and High Commissioner have raised their concerns in person”, a British foreign office spokeswoman said in an emailed statement on Friday.
“Corporal and capital punishment goes against our national values”.
The United States and Britain updated their travel advisories, to caution people about the changes in the Muslim-majority country of 400,000 people, where Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has a firm grip on power.
The world’s second-longest reigning monarch, the sultan holds the key portfolios of prime minister, defence minister, finance minister, and the minister of foreign affairs and trade in Brunei, which does not hold elections.
The changes come at a time when 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.
European Union politicians called for Brunei to withdraw the law.
Antonio Panzeri, the chairman of the European Parliament subcommittee on human rights, said the country should “bring its penal code into full compliance with human rights obligations”.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity are in essence individual choices, which should, under no circumstances, be subject to punishment, legal codification or discriminatory practices”, Panzeri said in a statement on Friday.
The European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBTI Rights would send a letter to the Sultan of Brunei next Monday, its secretary Juliette Sanchez-Lambert told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Actor, George Clooney, and filmmaker, Dustin Lance Black, were among the celebrities who called for a boycott of hotels owned by the government-owned Brunei Investment Agency, including The Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles and The Dorchester in London.
“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 said in an article on Deadline, a news website.
“If you continue to stay at or frequent the Beverly Hills Hotel, you are guilty of financially supporting these murderers”, Black, an Oscar-winning screenwriter, wrote on Twitter, adding the hashtag #BoycottBrunei.
“Inclusion and diversity remain core beliefs as we do not tolerate any form of discrimination”, she said in an email.
ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, a Manila-based human rights group, voiced concerns that the new penal code had already “sent a chilling effect to LGBTIQ persons as it made them vulnerable to harassment, intimidation and surveillance by law enforcers”.
“Brunei must be a society that recognizes difference and treat marginalized groups with respect. We appeal: govern the nation with compassion and humanity”, the group said in a statement.
-Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage – Thomson Reuters Foundation