Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah said he extended the moratorium on the death penalty for homosexuality and adultery. Photo by Stringer/EPA-EFE
May 6 (UPI) -- Brunei's sultan said the country will not execute homosexuals after it received horrible backlash for its interpretation of Islamic law.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said the country will extend its moratorium on capital punishment and ratify the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Much of the world responded in horror to Brunei's plans to stone people to death who have been convicted of gay sex, adultery or rape.
Celebrities George Clooney, Ellen Degeneres, Elton John and human rights groups and corporations such as JPMorgan and Deutsche Bank urged people to boycott hotels owned by the sultan and the country itself. The United States, Britain, France, Germany and other countries protested the use of Sharia law. The tiny oil-rich Asian country introduced Sharia law at the national level in 2014 and started adding penalties in stages.
The country initially said its new legal code is more about prevention and punishment.
In his speech Sunday, the sultan said there have been misconceptions about the laws that caused apprehension.
"However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident," Bolkiah said. "For more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law. This will also be applied to cases under the Syaria Penal Code Order."
Human Rights Campaign Director of Global Partnership Jean Freedberg said extending the moratorium on the death penalty was an important step. But the group continues to push for Shariah law itself to go away.
"The world has turned its eyes to Brunei in recent months and we urge the countless advocates, activists and organizations who seized this moment to speak out against these human rights abuses to continue to do so," Freedberg said.
Bolkiah, who has ruled the country since 1972, said he stands by the Islamic penal code overall.
"Both the common law and the Sharia law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country," Bolkiah said. "They are also crucial in protecting the morality of decency of the public as well as respecting the privacy of individuals."
Deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said the laws are still on the books so there's still fear among LGBT communities.
"It was never explained why he came out with this law, it was never explained why they were needed," Robertson said. "He says there's a moratorium today but he could change his mind tomorrow. When lawmaking is done in this way, the pledges of an authoritarian leader whose word is essentially law need to be taken with a grain of salt."