Tourism campaign for Brunei

Brunei’s new laws are a national shame and highlight international failings

Harsh new laws based on Sharia come into force today in Brunei, despite international condemnation

  • post Type / General news
  • Date / 3 April 2019

Brunei implements today new laws including death by stoning and capital punishment for ‘crimes’ including sex between men, adultery, and “insulting the Prophet” (i.e. blasphemy).

Humanists International has been raising the issue of Brunei’s increasingly extreme penal code since 2014, when during the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review Process we explained that it would lead to “gross human rights violations” and was “We deeply regret the country’s rejection of several states’ recommendations to suspend the Code, and urge Brunei to introduce a justice system that is fully compatible with its international human rights commitments.”

Humanists, human rights groups and various United Nations member states had repeatedly warned Brunei against introducing the new penal code, calls echoed again today by the UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Even as the new laws targeting gay people and supposed ‘blasphemy’ came into force, the Sultan of Brunei promised that tourists “will have a sweet experience, and enjoy the safe and harmonious environment,” failing to make any reference to the new penal code. The Sultan, who relies to some extent on Islamic credentials to justify his autocratic rule and luxurious lifestyle, has called for the “call to prayer” to be widespread and for increased “Islamic teaching” across the country.

Humanists International president Andrew Copson comments:

Andrew Copson, president of Humanists International

Andrew Copson, president of Humanists International

“In the past few years the international pressure appeared to have caused a re-think on these new laws, with the second phase of implementation being repeatedly delayed. There are many factors in it going ahead today despite the criticism. But one factor appears to be that the currency of human rights criticism and the values of internationalism have been so devalued by rhetoric from various populist leaders, that rich states like Brunei now feel increasingly empowered to flaunt their obligations under international law.

“We call on Brunei to reverse these laws and respect human rights, and we also call on the international community to reckon with its failings and consider how we can restore and propagate the values of universal human rights and multilateralism.”

Brunei is strongly criticized in the Humanists International Freedom of Thought Report. In 2018 the country was ranked in the worst 10 states (187 out of 196) for ‘freedom of religion or belief’ violations against the non-religious, in part because of clerics’ agitating against apostates and the threat from the increasingly severe Sharia-based penal code. Today’s implementation will degrade the situation further.


Page banner image: “Where family time is as magical as the sunset” – Extracted from a tourism campaign by the Brunei state.


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