Playing with our lives

Brunei says it won’t enforce its law stoning gay people to death, but that’s not good enough

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei
Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

Yesterday, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei announced that his country won’t enforce its newly implemented law punishing gay sex with death by stoning. But while this might sound like good news, it really isn’t nearly enough.

In his statement yesterday, the Sultan said “many questions and misperceptions” remain about the law (uh-huh) and added that his country hasn’t executed anyone for violating common laws in over two decades. How nice.

It seemed unlikely that any gay people would actually be stoned to death under the law because it had a “high burden of proof, requiring a confession, or at least four credible witnesses to a criminalized act, [meaning] it won’t be easy to prosecute.”

But the law still remains on the books and will do so until it’s formally repealed. As long as it remains, it’s basically a government statement that homosexuality is evil and should be punished by death. Its existence also emboldens conservative homophobes who point to it as proof of their right to discriminate and commit violence against LGBTQ people — after all, the Sultan himself said the law was “crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.”

So, wanna protect the “morality and decency of the country”? Kill a queer. God’s will be done.

By the way, before you go and start blaming Islam, Islamic scholars have called the laws a gross, extremist distortion of Islamic law.

The Sultan’s announcement yesterday is merely an attempt to avoid more bad press after a month full of celebrity outcry, LGBTQ protests, a coordinated boycott of his worldwide hotel properties, a few world leaders speaking out about it (though not Trump) and a handful of businesses and governments refusing to do business with the country.

Related: Sultan of Brunei’s hotels delete social media accounts following anti-gay stoning law

As such, it’s important to keep watching politics as they unfold in the small country. In a statement released yesterday, Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Director of Global Partnerships Jean Freedberg wrote:

“HRC notes reports that the Sultan of Brunei has declared a moratorium on the death penalty, and while this is an important step we continue to call on him to repeal this draconian law in its entirety and uphold all Brunei’s commitments under international law. 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. The Trump-Pence administration has so far been silent and must finally join the chorus of voices calling for repeal.”

The HRC added that it plans to continually watch Brunei’s queer politics with its #EyesOnBrunei digital campaign.

But the HRC and others are potentially overlooking something that a regional LGBTQ activist pointed out: Brunei’s other anti-democratic laws punishing any criticism and public protest against the government endanger the country’s queer citizens and other peace-seekers a lot more than its antigay stoning law ever did.

We’re also a little curious how the Sultan’s allegedly gay son feels about all this…