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The Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah listens during the first executive session of the CHOGM summit at Lancaster House in London, Thursday, April 19, 2018.  © 2019 AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Brunei should immediately repeal its newly enacted penal code, which violates a range of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in an open letter to the sultan of Brunei and a report, “Brunei’s Pernicious New Penal Code.”
Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code (2013), which went into effect on April 3, 2019, imposes death by stoning for extramarital sex and anal sex; amputation of limbs for stealing; and 40 lashes with a whip for lesbian sex. The code imposes a wide range of restrictions that discriminate against women and sexual and gender minorities, and violates freedom of expression and religion.
“The Sultan holds absolute power in Brunei, so responsibility for this abhorrent penal code falls squarely on his shoulders,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Brunei’s repeated commitments to respect human rights amount to little so long as the Syariah Penal Code is in force.”
Human Rights Watch highlighted numerous provisions that infringe upon the rights to life, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, freedom of expression, privacy, freedom from discrimination, and freedom of religion. The penal code imposes punishment on conduct that discriminates against women and sexual and gender minorities. The penal code also subjects children to criminal liability and corresponding punishment, including stoning, whipping, and imprisonment.
The Brunei government’s repeated public statements expressing a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are demonstrably meaningless under this law, Human Rights Watch said. The sultan should ensure that all of Brunei’s laws comply with the country’s international human rights obligations.
In May, the sultan responded to the increasing international outcry against the new law by describing a “de facto moratorium on capital punishment” in Brunei. However, this moratorium is subject to political whim and could be lifted at any time, while leaving in place dozens of other rights-offending provisions.
During Brunei’s Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations Human Rights Council on May 10, the foreign minister claimed that the prohibition on consensual same-sex conduct “is to ensure such acts are refrained and are limited to the private space.” Yet the language of the of the law specifically criminalizes same-sex sexual acts in private, Human Rights Watch said.
“Brunei’s new penal code is a multifaceted assault on fundamental human rights,” Robertson said. “The sultan should revoke this law and fulfill his promise to respect human rights.”

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