Brunei backtracks on laws imposing death penalty

6 May 2019

Written by: Taylor Dawson

Strict Sharia Law imposing the death penalty for offences like gay sex put on hold.

Brunei have rethought the strict Sharia laws that were introduced last month following the global outcry and backlash from celebrities.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended a moratorium on the death penalty legislation prohibiting gay sex, after there were calls to boycott hotels of the Sultan from celebrities such as George Clooney.

“Are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations? Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?” Clooney wrote for Deadline

The moratorium is a delay imposed on the introduction on the new laws and will cover the death penalty on gay sex and adultery.

The initial laws were set to impose the death penalty for gay sex, adultery, sodomy, rape, robbery and for insulting or defaming the Prophet Mohammad.

However, the small South East Asian country continues to defend its right to implement its laws.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced the extension of the moratorium in a speech on Sunday, the start of Ramadan.

“I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the SPCO [Syariah Penal Code Order]. However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident,” he said.

“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.”

Last week, Brunei sent a letter to the European Parliament defending their codes.

“The criminalisation of adultery and sodomy is to safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage to individual Muslims, particularly women,” the letter said.

“The penal sentences of hadd – stoning to death and amputation – imposed for offences of theft, robbery, adultery and sodomy, have extremely high evidentiary threshold, requiring no less than two or four men of high moral standing and piety as witnesses, to the exclusion of every form of circumstantial evidence.”

The UN condemned the new laws as “cruel and inhuman” prior to their enforcement, creating more backlash from human rights groups, warning the country that their laws breach international human rights standards set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Homosexuality was and remains illegal in Brunei, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment.

Other offences including premeditated murder and drug trafficking still carry the death penalty in Brunei, however no executions have been carried out since 1957.

Brunei was the first East Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law in 2014. The first stage was announcing fines or jail for offences like pregnancy out of marriage, failing to pray on Friday and indecent behaviour.


Photo: Sultan of Brunei By @ming17 available on and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.