In a shift to a harsh Islamic penal code, the leader of the southeast Asian country of Brunei has mandated the death penalty for a wide variety of offenses, including homosexuality.
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights expressed its concern over the new laws.
"We are deeply concerned about the revised penal code in Brunei Darussalam, due to come into force later this month, which stipulates the death penalty for numerous offences," said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.
Colville said that punishable offenses include rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, and also crimes such as robbery, murder, defamation of the Prophet Muhammad, and declaring oneself a non-Muslim.
"Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law," Colville said.
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Despite assurances from Brunei officials that prosecutors would require a high burden of proof to enforce capital punishment, Colville said that stoning is banned under global human rights treaties as it constitutes "torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
There have been no executions in Brunei since 1957. But the country’s all-powerful sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, announced last October that his sultanate would be phasing in Islamic sharia law, which dictates punishments like flogging and stoning, the Times of India reports.
Brunei’s brand of Islam has always been more conservative than that of Malaysia and Indonesia, its neighbors. The sale and public consumption of alcohol is illegal, and other religions are tightly restricted. The sultan recently referred to his country as a “firewall” against globalization.
While the punishment for same-sex relations was previously 10 years in prison in Brunei, those found guilty will now be subjected to death by stoning.
“The provisions of the revised penal code may encourage further violence and discrimination against women and also against people on the basis of sexual orientation,” Colville said.
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The code is expected to go into effect April 22.