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Brunei to make same-sex sexual acts punishable by death by stoning

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Sultan of Brunei Haji Hassanal Bolkiah (L) is accompanied by his son Prince Abdul Mateen as he arrives for a Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) at the European Council in Brussels, Oct. 18, 2018. Getty

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- Amnesty International on Wednesday slammed plans by Brunei to implement what the rights group called "vicious" Islamic criminal laws such as stoning to death for gay sex and amputation for theft. Amnesty said in a statement that the new penalties, which also apply to children, are provided for in new sections under Brunei's Sharia Penal Code and will come into effect April 3.

The legal changes were announced in a discreet notice on the attorney general's website, it said.

"To legalize such cruel and inhuman penalties is appalling of itself," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Brunei researcher at Amnesty International. She said some of the potential offenses "should not even be deemed crimes at all, including consensual sex between adults of the same gender."

"Brunei must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments and revise its penal code in compliance with its human rights obligations," Chhoa-Howard said. "The international community must urgently condemn Brunei's move to put these cruel penalties into practice."

Brunei's sultan instituted the Sharia Penal Code in 2014 to bolster the influence of Islam in the tiny, oil-rich monarchy, which has long been known for conservative policies such as banning the public sale of liquor. The first stage of the law included fines or jail for offenses such as pregnancy out of wedlock or failing to pray on Friday.

Amnesty labeled the Penal Code as a "deeply flawed piece of legislation" with a range of provisions that violate human rights.

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An image from Google Maps shows the location of Brunei. Google Maps

There has been no vocal opposition to the law in Brunei, where Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah rules as head of state with full executive authority. Public criticism of his policies is extremely rare in Brunei.

Brunei is a tiny nation surrounded on all sides by Malaysian territory on the island of Borneo, in the South China Sea. In 2017 it had a registered population of less than half a million people.

The Sultan, who has reigned since 1967, has previously said the Shariah Penal Code should be regarded as a form of "special guidance" from God and would be "part of the great history" of Brunei. Under secular laws, Brunei already prescribes caning as a penalty for crimes including immigration offenses, for which convicts can be flogged with a rattan cane.

Persecution of same-sex acts

According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association's 2019 roundup, consensual same-sex sex acts are still officially or unofficially criminalized in 70 U.N. member nations. The same report said the death penalty could be implemented for consensual same-sex sexual acts in at least 10 nations. That did not include Brunei, as the law has not yet come into effect.

Indonesian court sentences gay couple to public caning

In neighboring Indonesia, Shariah law is officially implemented in the predominantly Muslim Aceh province, but not nationally. People have been caned for homosexual acts, and even attempted acts, in Aceh.

Under increasing pressure from Amnesty International and other rights groups, Aceh decided last year to move the canings out of the public eye and conduct them behind closed doors. For years large crowds had gathered in public to witness the spectacle. 

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