Brunei uses its anti-LGBTQ+ laws for the first time

Brunei has used its anti-LGBTQ+ laws for the first time. The anti-LGBTQ+ laws prompted criticism from London’s universities and students when it was passed last year.

Brunei, which publicises itself as an “abode of peace,” announced in March 2019 that it had changed its penal code to introduce the death penalty through stoning for men who have sex with men. Women who have sex with women would also be punished by 100 lashes from a whip under new laws.

The new penal code was met with international criticism and boycotts of Brunei. In London, students at SOAS, University of London called for the Brunei Gallery to be renamed. The Gallery is a part of the university and received a substantial donation from the country’s Sultan in 1995, when it was built.

Transport for London (TfL) removed adverts by Brunei’s airlines from its network, and large protests took place outside the Dorchester Hotel, which is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, an arm of the government.

Despite mass condemnation of the new death penalty for men who have sex with men, the Borneo Bulletin has reported that a local Malay man, Md As-Shaliheen bin Abdul Quddus Ong, is on trial for obtaining sexual services from two men in exchange for money.

The defendant allegedly promised a man payment for sexual services at Kampong Tanah Jambu on 18 December, 2019, at the same time stealing three pieces of clothing. He is also accused of obtaining sexual services, and stealing a Samsung S6 phone and three more items of clothing from a second man on 25 December.

According to the Borneo Bulletin, the theft charges each carry penalties of three years’ jail, a fine, or both. The other charges carry penalties of a year’s imprisonment, and a fine ranging between BND1,000 and BND5,000

For second or subsequent convictions of the same charges, penalties will be three years’ jail, and fines ranging between BND2,000 and BND10,000.

As the man is being tried in a Magistrate’s court, the death penalty cannot be imposed. But if the case were moved to higher court this could change to death by stoning under the country’s interpretation of Shari’a law

Brunei also said last May that it won’t enforce the death penalty for gay sex, the BBC reported.

Some human rights groups have condemned the trial of Md As-Shaliheen bin Abdul Quddus Ong as an act of violence and violation of human rights. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS said, “Brunei’s penal code disproportionately impacts women and creates barriers to accessing health information and services.”  The homophobic legislation “increases stigma and gives license to discrimination, violence and harassment.”

Photo: Will Durrant.

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