Brunei yesterday introduced harsh new sharia laws, including death by stoning for adultery and gay s*x, despite a storm of global criticism from politicians, celebrities and rights groups.
The tough penal code in the tiny country on tropical Borneo island ruled by the all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, fully came into force following years of delays.
The laws, which also include amputation of hands and feet for thieves, make Brunei the first place in East or Southeast Asia to have a sharia penal code at the national level, joining several mostly Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia.
Rape and robbery are also punishable by death under the code and many of the new laws, such as capital punishment for insulting the Prophet Mohammed, apply to non-Muslims as well as Muslims.
The decision to push ahead with the punishments has sparked alarm around the world, with the United Nations labelling them “cruel and inhumane” and celebrities, led by actor George Clooney and pop star Elton John, calling for Brunei-owned hotels to be boycotted.
In a public address to mark a special date in the Muslim calendar, the sultan called for stronger Islamic teachings but did not mention the new penal code.
“I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger,” he said in the nationally televised speech at a convention centre near the capital Bandar Seri Begawan.
The sultan, who has been on the throne for over five decades, also insisted that Brunei was a “fair” country and the environment for visitors was “safe and harmonious”.
Government officials later confirmed the laws had entered into force.
The sharia laws have triggered worldwide condemnation, and Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, described the code as “barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes”.
The European Union said in a statement that some of the new punishments “amount to torture, acts of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment”.