Brunei’s gay community ‘lives in fear’

The sultan of Brunei last week announced a moratorium on his sharia law death penalty for gay sex but members of the sultanate’s LGBT community say they still live in fear.

An unnamed gay man said the sultan’s apparent U-turn, declared after an international backlash, was “for appearances only” and would only be temporary. It was only a reprieve adopted partly for Ramadan, the man told the Daily Telegraph.

He predicted the death penalty would be reinstated after the religious festivities and, regardless, “it’s a living hell here either way”.

The sharia penal code introduced death by stoning for sex outside marriage and gay sex, amputation of limbs for theft and 40 lashes for lesbian sex. Pre-pubescent child “offenders” would be lashed rather than stoned to death.

George Clooney and Elton John led calls to boycott Brunei’s luxury hotels owned by until Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said a moratorium on the death penalty would be applied to the new laws.

US television talkshow host Andy Cohen has suggested gay porn filmmakers should make movies in Brunei’s Dorchester Collection luxury hotels.

Cohen added: “I said on my show that I think the gay porn companies should start making gay porn at those hotels and making sure that you can tell where it’s being made. I think that would really piss the sultan of Brunei off.”

The sultan’s statement this month, which was accompanied by a rare English translation as an apparent concession to international pressure, was a “cynical attempt to reassure critics”, said Neela Ghoshal of Human Rights Watch.

“The sultan could reverse his decision on a whim, and the punishments of amputation and whipping could still be used,” the LGBT campaigner said.

One young lesbian in Brunei said she was ostracised and fired from her job after a friend exposed her sexuality. The anonymous source said an influential man blackmailed her into working as his prostitute, saying he would stop her getting another job. The woman purportedly said she was “already living a prison sentence”.

The sultan has been accused of hypocrisy given his personal life.
Bolkiah, according to a 2011 Vanity Fair article, sought “constant companions in hedonism” as he and his brother, Prince Jefri, are alleged to have spent the 1980s and 1990s enjoying opulent parties and a giant “harem” at their near 2,000-room palace.

In 1997, the former Miss USA Shannon Marketic tried to sue Bolkiah for US$90 million, claiming she had been held hostage, drugged and used as a “sex slave”. The case failed after Bolkiah claimed sovereign immunity.

Brunei’s unelected head of state, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Picture credit: YouTube