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Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei, stated that his country does not intend to execute the death penalty for homosexuals. The statement was translated into English – an unusual procedure in Brunei in the first place. Does this indicate that Bolkiah‘s announcement is in answer to worldwide protests? Hollywood star George Clooney,among others had called for a boycott of the Sultan’s hotels. European Parliament had also threatened to withdraw visas and diminish relations with Brunei.

Bolkiah might just have intended to appease upset minds. He declared: “I am aware that there are many questions and wrong assumptions about the implementation of the SPCO. However, we believe that once these have been eliminated, the benefits of this law will become apparent.”

The Sultan defends the SPCO (Syariah Penal Code Order). His efforts aim at finding a balance between tradition and modernity. Or is he just trying to save face while stopping the global campaign against his country? “As evident for more than two decades, we have practised a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law. This will also be applied to cases under the SPCO which provides a wider scope for remission,” Bolkiah explains.

Even without Sharia Law, homosexuality is illegal in Brunei – and can be punished with up to ten years in prison and 40 lashes of the whip. The Sultan added: “Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country. They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.”

Is this sufficient?

The LGBT organisation The Brunei Project has stated on Facebook that the Sultan’s announcement will not change much. While welcoming the non-implementation of the death penalty, they made clear: “The fact that these laws are not being repealed remains a concern. They should never have been implemented in the first place and there is nothing stopping the Brunei Government from lifting the moratorium at any time.“ In addition, Bolkiah did not address other human rights concerns about the SPCO. Thieves might still get their hands and feet amputated, children might still be whipped. The Brunei Project demands the Syariah Penal Code to be repealed entirely.

Our Gay Travel Index provides information on countries which are particularly LGBT- travel friendly – and those which are not or even very dangerous. In 2019, Brunei ranked 146th among other countries, including Ghana and Iraq.

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