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2019: LGBT News

Brunei modifies penal code to
execute sexually active gays.
Moratorium declared.

Alabama Public TV
censors "Arthur" program

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2019-APR-03: About Brunei:

Brunei is a small Asian country divided into two unconnected parts with a total area of 5,765 square kilometers or 2,225 square miles. It has a population of about 430,000, and is located on the North shore of the island of Borneo. It is South-West of the Philippines, and surrounded by Indonesia, Malaysia, and the South China Sea.

Its religious makeup is: 78% Muslim, 8% Christian, 7% Buddhist, and 7% other.

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2014: Government of Brunei announces the adoption of Sharia law:

In the past, sexual activity between two men has resulted in jail sentences of up to ten years.

During 2014 Brunei became the first East Asian country to start to phase-in strict Islamic Sharia law. 1 This includes surgical amputations of a hand if a person is found guilty of theft, or removal of a foot if found guilty of a second theft.

The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the Prime Minister of the country, said at the time that his government:

"... does not expect other people to accept and agree with it, but that it would suffice if they just respect the nation in the same way that it also respects them."

During early 2014, the government of Brunei held briefing sessions to help people understand the new Islamic criminal law. About 40,000 people, one tenth of the population attended the sessions.

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2019: The Brunei government introduced capital punishment for male same-sex sexual activity. Reactions:

During early 2019, the government indicated its intent to introduce laws on APR-03 that would assign the death penalty by stoning for men convicted of same-sex sexual activity. Women convicted of the same "crime" were to be whipped.

Leaders of two LGBT advocacy groups, the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) and Islands of South East Asian Network on Male and Transgender Sexual Health (ISEAN) issued a joint statement warning, in part:

"It may open the floodgates for further human rights violations against women, children, and other people on the basis of [their] sexual orientation and gender identity."

Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights said:

"Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited. ... A number of UN studies have revealed that women are more likely to be sentenced to death by stoning, due to deeply entrenched discrimination and stereotyping against them."

He may not have been aware that women convicted of same-sex behavior are given a lesser sentence.

Ellen DeGeneres, George Clooney, and Elton John called for a boycott of U.S. and European hotels purportedly owned by the Sultan of Brunei. 2

The Brunei Project, a human rights group, posted a statement on their Facebook page, saying:

"The Brunei Project recently learnt that after years of continually delaying implementation of phases 2 and 3 of the Syariah Penal Code (SPC), the Brunei Government is now rushing through the final two phases concurrently ..." While this means that the Government is breaking its promise to implement the laws in three distinct phases, with a grace period between each phase, what is even more alarming is the secrecy with which it is doing so.

"Among the punishments will be the amputation of limbs for theft, the death penalty for apostasy, and a range of punishments for those found guilty of engaging in sexual activity with members of the same gender and adultery.”

“By implementing these laws, Brunei is clearly in violation of its obligations under the CAT,” the organization added. “The Brunei Project calls on the Brunei Government to stop being so secretive with the implementation of these laws and to be open and transparent with the Brunei people.” 3,6

The group also highlighted that Brunei signed the UN's 2006 Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). However, it has not yet been ratified by the Brunei Government.

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George Clooney wrote:

"... this April 3rd will hold its own place in history. On this particular April 3rd the nation of Brunei will begin stoning and whipping to death any of its citizens that are proved to be gay. Let that sink in. In the onslaught of news where we see the world backsliding into authoritarianism this stands alone." 4

Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a researcher for Amnesty International, wrote:

"Brunei’s Penal Code is a deeply flawed piece of legislation containing a range of provisions that violate human rights, as well as imposing cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments, it blatantly restricts the rights to freedom of expression, religion and belief, and codifies discrimination against women and girls." 7

On MAR-29, The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued a warning to individuals in or traveling to Brunei. It said that the new laws in Brunei specifies:

"... severe punishments, including amputation and death by stoning, for certain crimes, including some that are not illegal in the UK.

Most laws under Common Law and the Sharia Criminal Code apply to all people in Brunei, regardless of nationality or religion.

Adultery (involving a Muslim), and close proximity between the sexes, is illegal.

Possession of pornographic material is illegal.

Homosexual activity is illegal. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.

It is an offence to criticize Islam, and for any person to consume food, drink or tobacco in public during the fasting hours of the holy month of Ramadan. ..."

There are severe penalties for drug offences in Brunei including, in some cases, the death penalty. Other crimes may attract caning and lengthy prison sentences.

The sale of alcohol and tobacco in Brunei is prohibited. Non-Muslims over 17 years of age may import a limited amount of alcohol, but must declare it to the customs authorities on arrival, and must consume it in private. A list of other prohibited and restricted items is available on the Royal Customs and Excise Department’s website.

Smoking is prohibited in certain public places, including shopping and eating areas, bus stops and stations, car parks and near buildings." 5

On APR-03, Yvette Tan quoted a gay man who, understandably, wished to remain anonymous. He said:

"You wake up and realize that your neighbors, your family or even that nice old lady that sells prawn fritters by the side of the road doesn't think you're human, or is okay with stoning."

Bill Hayton, associate fellow with the Asia Pacific programme at Chatham House (a.k.a. the Royal Institute of International Affairs) told BBC Radio Four:

"What I'm hearing from people in Brunei is that this is very, very unlikely to ever happen," 8

He noted that Sharia law stipulates that there must be four Muslim witnesses to the act of anal sex or adultery before it can be prosecuted.

He continued:

"The way it is being explained to me is that this is a way for the sultan to look religious but make sure that none of these punishments will actually be carried out."8

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2019-MAY: Moratorium on death penalty for active gays declared:

In reaction to the implementation of the new law, the United Nations condemned passage of the new law. Boycotts have been organized against the hotels owned by the Sultan, and several multinational companies have forbidden their employees from using his hotels. Some travel companies have stopped promoting Brunei as a tourist destination.

Apparently in response to pressure from around the world, Brunei's Sultan -- Hassanal Bolkiah -- has extended a moratorium on the death penalty in the incoming Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).

There have been long-standing laws in the country that call for the death penalty for such crimes as premeditated murder and drug trafficking. However, nobody has been executed there since the 1990's.

The Sultan said:

"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."

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2019-MAY-13: Alabama Public TV censors episode of the cartoon "Arthur:"

Mike McKenzie, director of programming, said that the "Arthur" episode was not shown because it did not match the values that Alabama Public Television (APT)wanted to expose potentially unsupervised children to. He wrote:

"Parents have trusted Alabama Public Television for more than 50 years to provide children's programs that entertain, educate and inspire. More importantly -- although we strongly encourage parents to watch television with their children and talk about what they have learned afterwards -- parents trust that their children can watch APT without their supervision. We also know that children who are younger than the 'target' audience for Arthur also watch the program."

The episode, titled "Mr. Ratburn and the Special Someone," was censored because it included a marriage between two leading characters in the cartoon who are both male. It can be viewed, but only from the U.S., on the APT web site at: https://pbskids.org/.

Similarly, back in 2005, they did not show an episode that included a character visiting a friend who has two mothers. 9

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Brunei country profile, BBC News, 2018-JAN-09, at: https://www.bbc.com/
  2. Dan Macguill, "Did Brunei Announce a Law to Punish ‘Gay Sex’ with Death By Stoning?" Snopes, 2019-APR-03. at: https://www.snopes.com/
  3. Lydia Smith, "Brunei to bring in stoning to death under new anti-LGBT laws," Pink News, 2019-MAR-25, at: https://www.pinknews.co.uk/
  4. George Clooney, "Boycott Sultan Of Brunei’s Hotels Over Cruel Anti-Gay Laws," Dateline Hollywood (archived), 2019-MAR-28, at: https://archive.is/
  5. "Foreign travel advice: Brunei," UK Government, undated, at: https://www.gov.uk/
  6. The Brunei Project's Facebook page is at: https://www.facebook.com/
  7. Austin Ramzy, "Brunei to Punish Adultery and Gay Sex With Death by Stoning," The New York Times, 2019-MAR-28, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
  8. Yvette Tan, "Brunei implements stoning to death under anti-LGBT laws," BBC News, 2019-APR-03, at: https://www.bbc.com/
  9. Aaron Colen, "Alabama Public Television pulled 'Arthur' episode over gay wedding plot," The Blaze, 2019-MAY-20, at: https://www.theblaze.com/

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Copyright 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2019-APR-04
Latest update: 2019-MAY-21
Author: B.A. Robinson
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