West sends Brunei into China’s arms with outrage over its anti-gay sharia laws

From celebrities to ministers, condemnation from the West has been heaped on Brunei for enacting harsh anti-gay laws that prescribe death by stoning for various offences – but the tiny oil-rich nation has showed little concern it may be making foes of its traditional friends.

Neither is it likely to fully alienate the West, observers say, despite remaining resolute on the implementation of sharia law in the face of backlash from world leaders.

Ruler Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world’s richest men, has a track record of balancing dialogue with the West – the United Kingdom and the United States are major export partners – while courting increased engagement with China, the country’s main import trading partner. …

After Brunei announced the punishments last week, celebrities such as Elton John and George Clooney lambasted the absolute monarchy for human rights violations and called for boycotts of the Sultan’s global roster of luxury five-star hotels such as the Dorchester. British royals, who have close ties with Brunei – it hosts the UK’s sole Southeast Asian military base – are also being pressured to cut ties.

The laws, first introduced in 2014 and rolled out in stages, stipulate punishments of jail and whipping for out-of-wedlock pregnancy, abortion or adultery, and even death by stoning for rapists and gay men caught having sex.

Although many Bruneians believe stoning is unlikely to be carried out – the country has not used the death penalty since the 1950s, according to Amnesty International – they say the use of religion to normalise homophobia and keep citizens in check is worrying.

“The biggest concern for me is not the punishment, it’s that religion is used as a basis for it. In my current situation, I am not afraid [of being stoned] at all. But I do wish to leave Brunei due to economic decline and the possible worsening of homophobia,” says Hilman, a 19-year-old gay Bruneian. “If it becomes dangerous for LGBT, I would consider leaving.” Read more via SCMP