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Human Rights Watch: Brunei's new laws are 'barbaric to the core'

By Darryl Coote
Human Rights Watch: Brunei's new laws are 'barbaric to the core'
Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah (C) is set to implement laws that would punish gay sex by stoning to death and lesbian sex with 100 lashes. Photo by EPA-EFE/STRINGER

April 3 (UPI) -- The tiny, Muslim-majority nation of Brunei was to implement new Islamic laws Wednesday that would punish gay and extramarital sex by stoning to death and lesbian sex with 100 lashes.

In 2014, the kingdom became the first country to introduce Sharia law with a plan to roll out a new penal code that reflects the country's new direction in three phases.

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The first phase was implemented in April 2014 and saw acts punishable by fines or imprisonment.

The second and third phases, consisting of upping the severity of punishments to whippings and death by stoning, was to be rolled out over the next few years, but due to international pressure was postponed.

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That is until late last year when it was quietly announced on the attorney general's website that the punishments would be instituted Wednesday, to international anger.

In a statement Wednesday, Human Rights Watch International said the rollout of Brunei's new Sharia penal code poses "grave threats to basic human rights."

"Brunei's new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn't even be crimes," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch International. "Sultan Hassanal [Bolkiah] should immediately suspend amputations, stoning, and all other rights-abusing provisions and punishments."

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Robertson said in a statement that every day Brunei's penal code is enforced is "a multifaceted assault on human dignity," calling on governments the world over to halt business with the nation.

Robertson's call comes days after human rights group Amnesty International urged the international community March 28 to raise its voice against Brunei.

Celebrities such as actor George Clooney and talk show host and comedian Ellen DeGeneres then made public declarations to boycott luxury hotel brands with links to the nation and urged others to do likewise.

Prime Minister Istana Nurul Iman said in response to the outcry March 30 that in fully implementing the Sharia penal code it will "maintain peace and order and preserve religion, life, family and individuals, regardless of gender, nationality, race and faith."

Sharia Law is not only about criminalizing "acts that are against the teachings of Islam," but to educate, respect and protect rights, he said.

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The statement from the prime minister was a move to contain global outrage, Human Rights Watch said.

On Tuesday, the United Staes also condemned Brunei's implementation as running counter to international human rights obligations.

"All governments have an obligation to ensure that all people can freely enjoy the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said. "The United States strongly opposes violence, criminalization and discrimination targeting vulnerable groups, including women at risk of violence, religious and ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons."

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