Brunei: More Selectivity and Double Standards
New Islamic criminal laws took effect in Brunei on Wednesday 3 April, one of which punishes gay sex and adultery by stoning offenders to death under new sections of Brunei’s Shariah Penal Code. Thieves face amputation of a right hand on their first offense and a left foot on their second. The new laws also apply to children and foreigners, even if they are not Muslim.
There was a strong international backlash especially from Hollywood celebrities and the travel industry who shunned Brunei owned hotels and Royal Brunei Airlines. International organizations too reacted swiftly to this. "These abusive provisions received widespread condemnation when plans were first discussed five years ago," said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei researcher at Amnesty International. "Brunei's penal code is a deeply flawed piece of legislation containing a range of provisions that violate human rights." The United Nations echoed the statement, calling the legislation "cruel, inhuman and degrading", and saying it marked a "serious setback" for human rights protection.
There are several theories, but Matthew Woolfe, founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, said it could be linked to Brunei's weakening economy. "One theory is that it is a way for the government to strengthen its hold on power in the face of a declining economy that could potentially lead to some unrest in future," Mr Woolfe told the BBC.
"Connected to this is [Brunei's] interest in attracting more investment from the Muslim world, along with more Islamic tourists… this could be seen as one way of appealing to this market."
Mr Woolfe also added that the government might have hoped to get away with the latest roll-out without anyone realising. "I think that the government did want to ensure that the international uproar that followed implementation of the first phase in 2014 had well and truly died down before further [implementation], in the hope it would just quietly [do so] without anyone realising," he said. "It wasn't until increasing international attention that it finally came out and confirmed [this]."
The penal code changes were posted on the attorney general's website in December but only came to public attention in late March. There was no public announcement.
Regardless of the fact that whether or not these new rules in Brunei are in accordance with international human rights and even compatible with Islamic sharia, there are some points worth mentioning here.
In the news coverage by the media outlets, other countries are also listed as having Sharia laws, i.e. Iran, Sudan and Somalia. With regards to Iran one very important development that the international community and media fail to mention or note is that stoning is no longer used in Iran as punishment in accordance with the amended Islamic penal Code. The execution is the alternative but again what they fail to mention is that the Iranian Penal Code has clearly set a number of conditions all of which have to have been fulfilled before any of those kind of punishments can be applied. For example in the case of adultery, there must be four male witnesses who are of sound mind and body, honest and true and religious and never have committed great sins. So even if there are only 3 witnesses who fall under the aforementioned criteria the crime is not proven and punishment does not apply.
With regards to amputation of limbs punishment for thieves, there are 16 conditions, all of which must be met before the amputation punishment is applied. In result, the proof and affirmation of the crime is too hard.
Now what is so astonishing is the way Saudi Arabia’s name is missing from the “other” examples of countries who practice Sharia laws (Wahhabi law) from the news outlets coverages, especially the mainstream media, even from outlets such as the BBC and CNN. The oil-rich Kingdom has been applying its strict interpretation of Sharia Law for decades, and we shall not mention no other religion but Wahhabism is allowed to be practiced publically. So what has the international community, celebrity world and news media had to say about this? Has there ever been any outrage over this?
Where is the same international outrage over Saudi-led coalition’s war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Yemen? Where are these same celebrities and corporations who call for boycotting Sultan of Brunei owned or affiliated businesses, on Saudi Arabia? Or the UAE? Or Bahrain? Or Israel due to its killings and war crimes? It took the horrific death of Jamal Khashoggi for the international community and the journalism community to raise a hue and cry. But what Saudi Arabia did to Khashoggi is nothing new about the Kingdom.
Where is the same international outrage over the US Embassy move to Jerusalem, despite lots of resolutions by the Security Council and general assembly on the issue? Or Trump’s recognition of the occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel?
What all of this comes down to is two factors: Saudi endless Petro-dollars and Israel’s strong lobby in Washington DC’s Congress hallways, AIPAC for one.
Yes, cruel and inhuman punishments must be condemned, but let us all be fair and be as equally vocal and outraged towards atrocities committed by the West’s so-called allies.