Brunei has said it will not enforce the death penalty for gay sex following a global backlash led by celebrities such as Elton John and George Clooney.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has reacted to the outcry sparked when he rolled out an interpretation of sharia law, on April 3, to punish sodomy, adultery and rape with death.
The small south-east Asian country has consistently defended its right to implement the laws – elements of which were first adopted in 2014 and rolled out in phases since.
Sultan of Brunei Haji Hassanal Bolkiah has been at the centre of the storm over the introduction of the brutal Sharia laws
But in a rare response to criticism, the sultan said the punishment would not be imposed in the implementation of the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).
Crimes including premeditated murder and drug trafficking already carry the death penalty but none have been carried out since the 1990s.
In a speech ahead of the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the sultan said: ‘I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the SPCO.
‘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 practised 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 SPCO which provides a wider scope for remission.’
The vastly wealthy sultan, who once piloted his own 747 airliner to meet former U.S. president Barack Obama, often faces criticism from activists who view his absolute monarchy as despotic, but it is unusual for him to respond.
The sultan’s office released an official English translation of his speech, which is not common practice.
‘Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country,’ he said.
‘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.