(CNSNews.com) – Facing criticism and boycott calls by Western celebrities, the small Southeast Asian Sultanate of Brunei on Sunday defended its sovereign right to introduce a penal code providing for stoning to death, limb amputation, flogging and lengthy prison terms for actions that contravene Islamic law.
The U.S. Embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan issued a security alert, warning citizens about the implementation, beginning Wednesday, of the controversial Syariah Penal Code (SPC), some of which applies not just to Muslims or Brunei citizens, but to individuals of any religious or nationality.
“The full SPC introduces new judicial procedures and punishments, including, for certain offenses and under certain evidentiary circumstances, amputation of hands or feet and death by stoning,” the embassy said. “The SPC applies regardless of an individual’s religion or nationality, although some sections of the law have specific applicability to Muslims.”
The shari’a-based punishments, first agreed upon five years ago but only to be fully implemented now, include death by stoning for adultery and sodomy, applicable to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Apostasy-related offenses also carry the death penalty.
In a statement Sunday, the prime minister’s office said, “Brunei Darussalam is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws.”
“Brunei Darussalam has always been practicing a dual legal system, one that is based on the Syariah Law and the other on Common Law.”
The statement said both systems would continue to run in parallel, “to maintain peace and order and preserve religion, life, family and individuals regardless of gender, nationality, race and faith.”
“[A]part from criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam, [the SPC] also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”
(Syariah is an alternative spelling for shari’a. Brunei Darussalam, the sultanate’s formal name, incorporates a phrase meaning “Abode of Peace.”)
Hands and feet
According to the code, any Muslim convicted of displaying contempt towards Mohammad, the Muslim prophet, or any Muslim declaring him- or herself to be a non-Muslims, will be sentenced to death.
Other punishments include:
--“Propagating” a religion other than Islam to a Muslim – or even to a person who professes no religious belief: fine of up to $14,700 (20,000 Brunei dollars), imprisonment up to five years
--Theft: right hand amputated at the wrist for first offense; left foot amputated at the ankle for second offense.
--Drinking alcohol (Muslims): 40 lashes for a first offense, 80 lashes for second, 80 lashes plus imprisonment of up to two years for third offense
--Attempting suicide: imprisonment of up to one year and fine of about $2,950
--Men dressing as a woman in public, or vice versa, “without reasonable excuse”: up to three months’ imprisonment and fine of up to $740
--“Failure to perform Friday prayer” (men): fines ranging from $148 to $740.
Hollywood actor George Clooney is calling for a boycott of a group of Brunei-owned luxury hotels in the U.S. and Europe. Similar boycotts were called for in 2014, when the shari’a-based punishments were first agreed upon.
The hotels, popular with celebrities, include the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, the Dorchester in London, and others in Paris, Milan, London, Ascot, Geneva and Rome.
“[E]very single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels, we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery,” Clooney wrote in a column for Deadline Hollywood.
British pop singer Elton John tweeted his support.
“I commend my friend, George Clooney, for taking a stand against the anti-gay discrimination and bigotry taking place in the nation of Brunei – a place where gay people are brutalized, or worse – by boycotting the Sultan’s hotels.”
Some prominent liberals were unimpressed. On HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, host Bill Maher called Clooney’s stance “chickensh*t tokenism.”
“What about Saudi Arabia? If you really want to get back at them, stop driving,” he said. “Don’t use oil.”
A guest on the show, CNN’s S.E. Cupp, added, “It’s not just Saudi Arabia. It’s UAE, where Hollywood does a ton of business.”
“It’s shari’a law,” said Maher, “which in some form is in the law of most Muslim-majority countries, and if you want to be against that, you know, speak openly and honestly about standing up for liberal principles.”
The 11 countries where the death penalty for homosexual acts is applied or codified in law are all Islamic, as are the 12 countries where apostasy (leaving Islam) is punishable by death. Blasphemy is a capital offense in Pakistan.
Brunei, which is located on the island of Borneo, is smaller than Delaware, and has a population of just 450,000. It is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Brunei has been ruled by the same family for more than six centuries and the current ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, has been on the throne for 51 years and is one of the world’s richest royals. Brunei has the world’s ninth highest GDP per capita.