The country of Brunei will today introduce strict new laws which make gay sex an offence punishable by stoning to death.
The laws, as part of the country’s interpretation of Sharia Law, also introduce amputation of the hands or feet as punishment for robbery, according to an announcement by the country’s attorney general.
Speaking on Wednesday, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah called for “stronger” Islamic teachings in the oil-rich, Muslim-majority former British protectorate on the island of Borneo.
The laws, elements of which were first adopted in 2014, could see LGBT+ people whipped or stoned to death for same-sex activity. Some aspects of the laws will apply to non-Muslims.
To be convicted, a person will either have to confess or be seen committing the act by four witnesses.
The move has prompted fear and disbelief among the country’s LGBT+ community as well as international condemnation.
As a transgender woman growing up in Brunei, Zoe saw the country’s slide towards conservatism from an early age, so plans to introduce strict new Islamic laws this week came as no surprise.
The 19-year-old, who was born male but identified as female from early childhood, is now awaiting the outcome of her asylum application in Canada after fleeing her country late last year.
“Even before Sharia law, LGBT+ people could be prosecuted under civil law,” Zoe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which is identifying her by only one name for her protection.
“I’ve always been scared of living my life openly in Brunei. I still am. I still think about how I present myself, because I was conditioned to survive.”
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, is the world’s second-longest-reigning monarch and prime minister of oil-rich Brunei. He ranks as one of the world’s wealthiest people.
Sir Elton John and George Clooney have called for a boycott of luxury hotels owned by him.
The Sultan, through Brunei’s investment agency, owns nine exclusive hotels, three of which are in the UK.
Brunei, which neighbours two Malaysian states on Borneo island, already enforces Islamic teachings more strictly than Malaysia and Indonesia, the other majority Muslim countries in south east Asia.
Previously, homosexuality was illegal in Brunei and punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, while the sale of alcohol is banned and evangelism by other religions is forbidden.
Ging Cristobal, project coordinator at OutRight Action International in Manila, urged other Muslim countries in the region to put pressure on Brunei.
“In reality, Brunei will not succumb to pressure from countries that are not Muslim-majority countries,” said Cristobal.
“Brunei might say that other regions are imposing on Asia, so it would be good to see other Asian nations condemn these barbaric laws.”