From today, Brunei will implement a strict new law that will see LGBTQ people killed for same-sex relations.
The law is part of the Sharia Penal Code (SPC) and was first confirmed to come into place last week, immediately receiving widespread condemnation from the international community.
The Islamic law makes sex between men an offence punishable by stoning to death, while also covering other crimes including the punishment for theft by amputation.
Brunei’s sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, has called for “stronger” Islamic teachings in the small south-east Asian nation.
Naturally, this new law has left LGBTQ people in the region fearing for their lives.
“The gay community in Brunei has never been open but when Grindr (a gay dating app) came that helped people meet in secret. But now, what I’ve heard is that hardly anyone is using Grindr anymore,” Shahiran S Shahrani Md told the BBC.
“They’re afraid that they might talk to a police officer pretending to be gay. It hasn’t happened yet but because of the new laws, people are afraid.”
One gay citizen of Brunei, who has kept his identity anonymous due to safety concerns, added: “You wake up and realise that your neighbours, your family or even that nice old lady that sells prawn fritters by the side of the road doesn’t think you’re human, or is okay with stoning.”
Sex acts between women are not punishable by death under Sharia Law, but does carry a penalty of 40 strokes of the cane along with a possible maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
What’s more, women who are caught having an abortion would be punished by public flogging.
Brunei has attempted to defend the new laws. In a statement, the government said: “Brunei Darussalam is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws.
“Brunei Darussalam has always been practising a dual legal system, one that is based on the Syariah Law and the other on Common Law.
“In fully implementing the Syariah Penal Code Order 2013 from 3rd April 2019, both systems will continue to run in parallel to maintain peace and order and preserve religion, life, family and individuals regardless of gender, nationality, race and faith.
“The Syariah Law, apart from criminalising and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam, it also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”
Plans to implement the SPC first came in 2014, however it created such an international backlash because of its measures that the government put a hold on implementing the rest of the laws.
“Implementation of the first phase was met with such an uproar internationally that I think Brunei wanted to delay further implementation until everyone had pretty much forgotten about these laws,” said Matthew Woolfe, the founder and director of The Brunei Project.
“‘Implementing these laws is really going to tarnish the image of Brunei as a peaceful and harmonious society and also as a country that can be trusted to stand by the commitments it makes to upholding international law.”
Hollywood star George Clooney has urged for a boycott of hotels owned by Brunei.
In an op-ed for Deadline, he wrote: “Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.
“Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations? Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?”
His campaign received the backing of Sir Elton John, who wrote on Twitter: “I believe that love is love and being able to love as we choose is a basic human right.
“Wherever we go, my husband David and I deserve to be treated with dignity and respect – as do each and every one of the millions of LGBTQ+ people around the world.
“I commend my friend, #GeorgeClooney, for taking a stand against the anti-gay discrimination and bigotry taking place in the nation of #Brunei – a place where gay people are brutalized, or worse – by boycotting the Sultan’s hotels.”