Brunei is expected to enact a series of violent new punishments for a range of actions on April 3, including stoning people to death for engaging in same-sex relations, according to Amnesty International.
The development was recently spotted by human rights groups in a document from December by the country’s attorney general, in which he described how new punishments would be implemented as part of the country’s adoption of Sharia law.
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Same-sex relations are already outlawed in the country, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and the government has long sought to more harshly criminalize the act.
In 2014, Brunei introduced an initial form of Sharia law that outlawed pregnancy outside of marriage and failing to pray on Fridays, according to ABC Australia. International outrage over the government’s actions delayed its full implementation, but now the government appears to be quietly going forward with its plan.
Brunei has a population of around 400,000, 67% of whom are Muslim, and it’s ruled by a Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, according to the New York Times.
The new measures expand the range of offenses considered illegal and dramatically increase the type of punishments available for them. In addition to same-sex relations, the new law also punishes adultery and robbery with stonings, whippings, and amputations.
“To legalize such cruel and inhuman penalties is appalling of itself,” Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Brunei researcher at Amnesty International, said in a statement. “Some of the potential ‘offenses’ should not even be deemed crimes at all, including consensual sex between adults of the same gender.
“These abusive provisions received widespread condemnation when plans were first discussed five years ago,” she added.
Globally, more than 73 countries outlaw homosexuality. LGBTQ people in eight countries can face death for engaging in same-sex relations, and multiple other countries with Sharia law on the books could in theory implement similar punishments, according to the World Economic Forum.
More broadly, LGBTQ people face discrimination, harassment, violence, arbitrary imprisonment, and torture all around the world. In recent years, a war on gay men has been underway in Chechnya, LGBTQ refugees have been attacked in Kenya, and violence against LGBTQ people in countries like Egypt and Russia has surged.
“LGBTI rights remain under attack internationally,” Chhoa-Howard told Global Citizen via email. “Criminalisation of any kind of LGBTI people creates a climate that legitimizes discrimination, harassment, and violence against anyone perceived to be gay or lesbian.
“In the face of attempts to dehumanize and demonize LGBTI people, we must stand up to defend their rights, wherever we are,” she added.
At the same time, LGBTQ rights have improved in some countries. Twenty-four countries currently recognize same-sex marriage as legal, and 43 countries consider homophobic attacks a hate crime, according to Amnesty International.
Although Brunei is a small country, the legalization of murderous homophobia would a dangerous step backward for the world, according to Amnesty International.
The country backed down from these violent measures in the face international pressure in 2014, and activists hope another global campaign could be similarly effective.
“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 in a statement. “The international community must urgently condemn Brunei’s move to put these cruel penalties into practice.”