The Sultan of Brunei says the country WON'T enforce the death penalty for gay sex after an international backlash.
The dramatic U-turn on the plans to introduce the hard-line punishment for same-sex unions will be hailed as a victory by LGBT rights campaigners and celebrities fighting Brunei's incoming legislation.
The tiny south-east Asian country today extended its moratorium on introducing the internationally-criticised interpretation of Islamic Sharia laws.
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah rethink comes after its plans were thrust into the global spotlight in the backlash led by celebrities including George Clooney and Elton John.
The protests included boycotts of the sultan's own hotels and threated the country's tourism industry.
The country sparked an outcry when it rolled out its latest interpretation of Islamic laws, known as Sharia, on April 3.
It would have seen Brunei punish sodomy, adultery and rape with death – including by stoning.
The country also planned to introduced a separate penalty for lesbian sex, with punishment including 40 strokes of the cane and up to 10 years in jail.
Brunei has consistently defended its right to implement the laws, which began to kick in from 2014.
However, in a rare response to criticism aimed at the oil-rich state, the sultan said the death penalty would not be imposed when Brunei implements its Syariah (Sharia) Penal Code Order (SPCO).
“I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the SPCO," the sultan said in a speech ahead of the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
"However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident.
“As evident for more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law. "
Crimes including murder and drug trafficking already attract the death penalty in Brunei.
However no executions have been carried out since the 1990s.
The vastly wealthy sultan, who once piloted his own 747 airliner to meet former US president Barack Obama, often faces criticism from activists who view his absolute monarchy as despotic.
However, it is unusual for the leader to respond, and even more so for the sultan’s office to release an official English translation of his speech as it did today.
“Both the common law and the Syariah (Sharia) law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country,” the sultan continued in today's speech.
“They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.”
The law’s implementation, which the United Nations condemned, prompted celebrities and rights groups to seek a boycott on hotels owned by the sultan, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.
Several multinational companies have since put a ban on staff using the sultan’s hotels, while some travel companies have stopped promoting Brunei as a tourist destination.
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