Brunei has temporarily lifted its death penalty for same-sex relations.
During a televised speech on Sunday, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended a moratorium on the death penalty for LGBTQ people, according to Reuters. Bolkiah said he would also honor the United Nations Convention Against Torture, an international human rights treaty.
His first public comments on the new law come after the small Southeast Asian country sparked international outrage in April for making same-sex relations punishable by stoning to death.
Human rights activists, who have called the death penalty law “cruel” and “inhuman,” see the moratorium as a sign of progress, but they warn a permanent ban on the law is needed to guarantee the full protection and safety of Brunei's’ LGBTQ community.
“While this is an important step we continue to call on him to repeal this draconian law in its entirety and uphold all Brunei’s commitments under international law,” Jean Freedberg, director of global partnerships at the organization Human Rights Campaign (HRC), said in a statement issued to Global Citizen.
Sultan Bolkiah said due to “misconceptions” surrounding the law’s intentions, he’s chosen not to enforce the death penalty and urged people not to worry.
"We believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident," he said, according to CNN.
Bolkiah’s ability to reinstate the law at any time has caused further concern. Brunei’s severe form of Islamic Sharia law isn’t the first same-sex relations had already been outlawed in the country and punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The crackdown in March also punishes adultery, and robbery by stoning, whipping, and amputations –– without exceptions for children. Certain crimes have long been punishable by death in Brunei, according to Reuters, but executions haven’t taken place since 1957.
HRC is continuing to highlight the growing threat against Brunei’s LGBTQ people through the digital campaign #EyesOnBrunei. Celebrities from George Clooney to Ellen DeGeneres are using their platforms to call attention to Brunei’s inhumane law. Clooney spearheaded a boycott of Brunei-owned hotels in March, and in April, multinational banks joined in by cutting ties with the hotel group and prohibiting employees from staying with them.
The #Brunei Project warned the announcement ‘changes very little.’ ‘The fact that these laws are not being repealed remains a concern..’They should never have been implemented in the first place and there's nothing stopping the Gov from lifting moratorium at anytime #EyesonBruneihttps://t.co/JYBxCEZO2N— Planet Ally (@PlanetAllyApp) May 6, 2019
As the LGBTQ community continues to be the target of persecution, violence, and discrimination around the world, activists warn Brunei’s legislation might encourage other countries to adopt similar laws.
“The world has turned its eyes to Brunei in recent months and we urge the countless advocates, activists, and organizations who seized this moment to speak out against these human rights abuses to continue to do so,” Freedberg said.