Earlier this month, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei came under fire for enacting a strict Sharia Penal Code, which includes deadly punishments for adultery, homosexuality, etc. According to NPR, the United Nations, Humans Rights Watch and other rights groups have called the punishments in the legislation “cruel” and “barbaric.”
NPR states that Brunei’s interpretation of Islamic law allows for death by stoning as the punishment for homosexuality, adultery, and amputation of limbs for theft. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch said in a statement, “Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that should not event be crimes.”
After facing harsh backlash and criticism, Brunei released a statement of their own defending the decision, claiming that the penal code outlaws acts against the teaching of Islam and “aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.” The new laws complete the final parts of a penal code implemented by the Sultan in 2013. This decision makes Brunei the first Southeast Asian country to incorporate Sharia law at the national level, NPR reports.
As CNN states, the Sultan of Brunei was once the wealthiest man in the world for many years and knew how to spend the mass amounts of money he had as a result of the oil deposits in his country. Critics called the Sultan out for moving to this harsher interpretation of Islamic law after Sultan Bolkiah publicly spoke about his decision, pushing Brunei to become truer to Islam and grow stronger in the Islamic faith.
Still, many critics still see this as a move to cover the Sultan’s past of lavish spending and scandalous behavior. They believe the Sultan is passing these laws to leave a religious legacy and force the public to forget about his family’s past. Matthew Woolfe, the founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, highlights the hypocrisy in the laws implemented, saying “his family, in the past, could have been seen as being in violation of these laws with some of their antics.”
However, the recent controversial decision is affecting the Sultan and Brunei in unforeseen ways. A United Kingdom government agency called the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) halted their visit to Brunei after they issued the controversial law. The widespread movements against the Sultan and his actions has been heard around the world, and people are taking action against him.
The Telegraph reports that transportation companies in London removed advertisements promoting Brunei as a tourism spot, and celebrities including Elton John, George Clooney and Ellen DeGeneres have been involved in protests around the world against Brunei-owned hotels. These include the Dorchester Collection, the Beverly Hills Hotel, and the Hotel Bel-Air. In response, the Dorchester Collection recently issued a public statement clarifying their position and emphasizing equality and diversity.