Brunei drops death penalty for gay citizens following boycott call

Brunei’s Sultan has announced that the country will not impose the death penalty for those convicted of having anal sex.

The announcement follows international condemnation of the country’s decision to roll out strict laws making anal sex, adultery and rape punishable by stoning to death. Celebrities such as Elton John and George Clooney had called for a boycott of the Dorchester Collection, a chain of hotels owned by the Sultan of the country.

Brunei, an absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, first introduced an Islamic legal system in 2014, creating a dual system with common law, and becoming the first East Asian country to apply such a penal code. 

In April 2019, the country announced that it would roll out harsh new sentences under the legal system including stoning and amputation.

“Brunei’s penal code is a deeply flawed piece of legislation containing a range of provisions that violate human rights,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei researcher at Amnesty International. The UN also called the legislation “cruel, inhuman and degrading” and stated that it marked a “serious setback” for human rights protection.

The decision marks a partial success for those calling a boycott of hotels owned by Brunei’s sovereign wealth fund, which includes The Dorchester and 45 Park Lane in London.

Several large companies including JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank followed the celebrities leading the boycott call in telling their staff to avoid Brunei-owned hotels in the wake of the new laws.

However, human rights groups have expressed concern that the laws themselves remain, despite the moratorium on the harshest sentences. Matthew Woolfe, founder of the human rights group The Brunei Project, stated that LGBTQ+ citizens could still face fines, whipping or jail.

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