April 12, 2019 at 6:41 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Brunei government again defends penal code
Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque in Brunei (Photo by Bernard Spragg via Flickr)

The government of Brunei continues to defend the country’s new penal code that includes the death penalty for anyone found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual relations.

“We reaffirm that the Syariah criminal law system focuses more on prevention than punishment. Its aim is to educate, deter, rehabilitate and nurture rather than to punish,” wrote Dato Erywan Pehin Yusof, the country’s minister of foreign affairs, in a letter it sent to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on April 7. “It seeks to strike the right balance between protecting the rights of the accused person and the rights of the victims and their families.”

The letter notes the penal code, which is based on Shariah law, “does not criminalize nor has any intention to victimize a person’s status based on sexual orientation or belief, including same-sex relations.”

“The criminalization of adultery and sodomy is to safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage of individual Muslims particularly women,” it reads. “The offenses, therefore will not apply to non-Muslims unless the act of adultery or sodomy is committed with a Muslim.”

The letter also states the “penal sentences of haad — stoning to death and amputation, imposed for offenses of theft, robbery, adultery and sodomy have extremely high evidentiary threshold.” They also require “no less than two or four men of high moral standing and piety as witnesses.”

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N.’s LGBTI rights watchdog, is among those who received the letter.

LGBTI groups urge US to sanction Brunei officials

Brunei is a small, oil-rich country on the island of Borneo that has a population of less than 500,000 people.

The country’s penal code, which also criminalizes apostasy and adultery, began to take effect in 2014. Bolkiah’s office in a statement defended the penal code before the death penalty provision took effect on April 3.

The State Department, openly gay U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet are among those who have sharply criticized the penal code. George Clooney, Ellen DeGeneres and other celebrities have called for a boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties that Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei owns.

The Beverly Hills Hotel, Los Angeles, gay news, Washington Blade
The Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles is among the properties owned by Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei. (Photo public domain).

President Trump has not publicly commented on the penal code. Equality California, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance and more than 90 other LGBTI advocacy groups and elected officials in a letter they sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday to condemn the penal code and to use the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act to sanction Bolkiah and other Bruneian officials.

“We urge you to condemn Sultan Hassanah Bolkiah’s appalling decision to begin implementing SPCO (Syariah Penal Code Order) 2013 immediately and to use all diplomatic tools and avenues — including the imposition of sanctions, barring the sultan and other senior Brunei government officials from entering the United States, and the seizure of assets — if the law is not withdrawn,” reads the letter.

The Bruneian government in its letter to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights insists the country remains committed to international human rights standards and norms.

“As a responsible member of the international community, Brunei Darussalam will continue to uphold its obligations and adhere to international covenants on human rights to which Brunei Darussalam is a party,” it reads.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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