Brunei has announced that it will not be stoning gay people to death, after global backlash over a harsh new penal code that was implemented in April.
Under the South East Asian nation’s new laws, men convicted of sodomy with another man would be sentenced to death by stoning — as would those convicted of rape, adultery, robbery, or insulting or defaming the prophet Muhammad.
But Brunei’s sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, has now backtracked on the death penalty, the Independent reports.
In a speech released before the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the sultan tried to defuse backlash against Brunei by saying there would be a “de facto moratorium” on usage of the death penalty.
However, he stopped short of revoking the laws altogether.
“I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the [penal code],” the sultan said. “However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident.
“As evident for more than two decades, we have practised a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law. This will also be applied to cases under the [penal code], which provides a wider scope for remission.”
The Human Rights Campaign, which has been pressing the Trump administration to respond to Brunei’s new laws through its #EyesOnBrunei campaign, urged the sultan to fully repeal the “draconian law.”
“HRC notes reports that the Sultan of Brunei has declared a moratorium on the death penalty, and 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,” HRC Director of Global Partnerships Jean Freedberg said in a statement. “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. The Trump-Pence administration has so far been silent and must finally join the chorus of voices calling for repeal.”
Brunei had previously defended executing gay people in a letter to the European Union, calling for “respect and understanding” of its right to execute gay people.
The letter said that the penal code was part of an effort to “safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage.”
Brunei justified the law by arguing a conviction requires an “extremely high evidentiary threshold, requiring no less than two or four men of high moral standing and piety as witnesses,” in addition to “a very high standard of proof of ‘no doubt at all’ for all aspects, which goes further than the common law standard of ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’”
Unfortunately, attempts to sugar coat the death penalty fell on deaf ears in the European parliament, where lawmakers backed a resolution condemning the South East Asian nation for “the entry into force of the retrograde sharia penal code.”
Lawmakers also urged the wider European Union to freeze Brunei’s assets, ban visas, and blacklist nine hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei’s investment agency — including the Beverly Hills Hotel and The Bel Air in Los Angeles.
Boycotts of the hotels, and others in the Brunei-owned Dorchester Collection Group, have been backed by major Wall Street financial organizations and celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, and George Clooney.
“The new laws introduced by Brunei breach the most basic human rights, and we believe it is our duty as a firm to take action against them,” Stuart Lewis, chief risk officer at Deutsche Bank, said in a statement. “We are proud to support LGBTIQ rights around the world, and as part of this we regularly review our business partnerships to ensure that they are aligned with this principle.”
And in a column for Deadline, Clooney argued that a boycott of the hotels is important in order to keep money from flowing “directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to include comment from HRC.