There are fears Brunei’s shocking crackdown on gay people could have consequences beyond its borders.
Brunei’s new laws targeting gay people have shocked the world, with everyone from international governments to Hollywood celebrities publicly condemning them.
The laws, which came in on April 3, allow for gay people to be stoned to death in the South East Asian Muslim-majority country.
International human rights groups and spokespersons for the governments of Australia, the US, New Zealand and Western Europe condemned the Sultan over the laws, and a range of celebrities from Ellen DeGeneres to Elton John have also spoken out.
Australians are alsosigning a petition calling on the Minister of Transport to rescind Royal Brunei Airlines landing rights in this country.
Actor George Clooney wrote a viral opinion piece calling for a boycott of Brunei-owned major hotels, in which he warned of a potential ripple effect throughout the region.
“The most dangerous issue is Brunei’s neighbours. Indonesia has plenty of human rights issues, but they haven’t stoned anyone yet,” the actor wrote.
“But there was a law on the books, and if Brunei isn’t met with loud, forceful resistance that shakes their business establishments, then anything is possible.”
Judging by the reactions of Malaysia and Indonesia, Clooney may have a point. Neither Malaysian leader Mahathir Mohamad nor Indonesian President Joko Widodo have come out condemning the laws, in a silence that — as Clooney speculated — may fuel concerns about the rise of conservative Islam in the region.
Yet conservative politicians in each country have come out praising the Brunei Sultan in the wake of the legislation.
“Congratulations to Brunei for their bravery and political will in implementing sharia criminal law … upholding the sharia is an obligation in ensuring Allah’s rights to maintain peace for humans,” Malaysia’s Mohd Khairuddin Aman Razali wrote on his official Facebook page.
An Indonesian leader of the legislative Ulama Council in Aceh deemed it “religious freedom”, telling local media: “In my opinion, it is part of religious freedom. We are free to practice the teachings of our religion, Islam.”
He also argued the lack of protests in Brunei over the anti-LGBT legislation was a sign that the western world should accept them too.
There are reports citizens in Malaysia and Indonesia are already fearful of the potential ripple effect.
“I am very worried that Indonesia or Malaysia may follow the lead,” said a 24-year-old man from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, who wanted to be identified only by his first name, Ludwig.
He told the Associated Press: “I think people nowadays, especially the younger generation, are quite OK with LGBT, but those who are not make the loudest noise and they are the reason why it seems like everyone is against it.”
WHERE DO BRUNEI’S NEIGHBOURS STAND ON LGBT RIGHTS?
At present, neither Indonesia nor Malaysia has laws against same-sex relations on the same scale as Brunei.
But there is evidence of the rise of powerful conservative religious groups. President Widodo controversially picked Islamic scholar Ma’ruf Amin as his vice presidential candidate for the upcoming Indonesian election — a man who has previously called for “LGBT activities” to be criminalised.
Last year, Indonesian politicians launched an unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation to ban consensual same-sex relations. Indonesian speaker, Bambang Soesatyo, said that legislation was needed to curb “homosexual excesses, such as murder, HIV/AIDS and paedophilia”.
In July, a gay couple were flogged more than 80 times each in the conservative Aceh province on the northwest tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island for having gay sex in private, in a move that prompted outrage around the world.
Last month, Malaysia’s tourism minister appeared to deny gay people existed in the country.
Asked by German reporters whether Malaysia would welcome gay travellers, he replied: “I don’t think we have anything like that in our country.”
He later said Malaysia would welcome foreign tourists and would “never place any unnecessary obstacles to our guests based on their sexual orientation, religion and cultural practices”.
In August last year, a gay club in Kuala Lumpur was raided by authorities.
The following month, two women were publicly caned for attempting to have sex in a parked car in the Malaysian state of Terengganu.
Some regions in Malaysia impose sharia laws punishing same-sex relations.
Brunei is the first country in Asia to bring in the death penalty for same-sex relations. Only eight other nations — Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Middle East, and Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Mauritania in Africa — enforce the harsh capital punishment laws.
Now it’s a question of whether Brunei’s neighbours will follow suit.