Despite international condemnation, Brunei enacted new Islamic criminal laws Wednesday, including harsh anti-LGBT measures that make gay sex punishable by stoning to death. The implementation of the draconian penal code is part of the predominantly Muslim country’s rollout of Sharia law.
The country’s sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, first announced that the Southeast Asian nation of about 450,000 people would practice Sharia law in October, 2013. The first phase, which related to crimes punishable by fines or imprisonment, was enacted in 2014.
The latter phases, which cover offenses punishable by amputation or death, were delayed amid global censure. But this week, Brunei defied critics and enacted legislation that allows ruthless punishments, some of which apply to children and non-Muslim foreigners.
As Brunei’s new laws take effect, here’s what to know:
Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei, but it was previously punishable with prison time. The new legislation mandates death by stoning for gay sex and a number of other acts, including rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sex and insulting the Prophet Muhammed.
The new penal code also punishes lesbian sex through whipping and theft with amputation, and criminalizes teaching children about any religion except Islam.
Who do the new laws affect?
Though the impact of the new penal code on the LGBT community has garnered worldwide attention, other Bruneians will also be affected by the ruthless penalties.
Women’s rights in particular will also suffer, as the code “introduces public flogging as a punishment for abortion, for example, which again would disproportionately affect [women] who are already vulnerable,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet told VOA News.
And for women tying to escape violent marriages, the code “sets up serious barriers,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) says in a statement. Anyone seen as “enticing” a Muslim woman to leave her husband or parents can face criminal repercussions.
Not all of the new punishments can be meted out to non-Muslims. “Articles 82 and 84, punishing liwat, or anal sex between two men or a woman and a man, applies to both Muslims and non-Muslims,” says HRW. But other rules, for example, extramarital sex and sexual relations between women, apply only if one or both people are Muslim.
How is the world reacting?
Countries and rights organizations around the world have condemned Brunei’s new laws.
The U.N. human rights chief called the changes “cruel and inhuman punishments that seriously breach international human rights law.”
The U.S. has called on Brunei not to enact the violent punishments.
The new Shariah penal code “runs counter to its international human rights obligations, including with respect to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino said in a statement.
Australia, the U.K., France and Germany have also voiced objections.
But Brunei has doubled down. “The Syariah Law, apart from criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam, it also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race,” says a statement released by the Prime Minster’s Office.
How is the campaign to boycott Brunei’s hotels related?
In response to the new harsh laws, Hollywood actor George Clooney called for a boycott of hotels connected to the ruler of Brunei.
The nation’s sovereign wealth fund, which is run by the 72-year-old sultan, owns nine luxury hotels through the Dorchester Collection, including the well-known Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. The group owns seven other high-end hotels in the U.K., France and Italy.
Other celebrities have joined Clooney’s call for blacklisting Brunei-linked accommodations. Ellen DeGeneres urged people to support the boycott on Twitter: