Brunei’s LGBT community lives in fear

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah leaves after speaking at an event in Bandar Seri Begawan on April 3, 2019   | Photo Credit: AFP

Transgender woman Zoella Zayce fled her native Brunei last year as the country shifted towards hard-line Islam, and thinks more of the LGBT community will follow after the death penalty for gay sex was introduced.

The absolute monarchy on tropical Borneo island, ruled by a sultan who has been on the throne five decades, implemented tough new Islamic laws on Wednesday, including death by stoning for sex between men, and adultery.

‘Violation of rights’

The country’s tiny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, who already had to be discreet about their sexual identities in the highly conservative Muslim country, have been left terrified. “What Brunei is adopting is a violation of basic human rights,” said a 33-year-old gay man in the country, who spoke anonymously. Ms. Zayce fled Brunei last year due to the increasingly conservative climate and is now seeking asylum in Canada.

Plans to implement sharia law were announced in 2013 and the first phase, with less stringent punishments, came into effect the following year, before the entire penal code was implemented this week.

Analysts say the new code may be symbolic as Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah seeks to burnish his Islamic credentials with conservatives, and note that though Brunei has long had the death penalty, the last known execution was in 1957.

Some members of the LGBT community believe the changes may in reality make little difference in a country where most gay people were already secretive about their sexualities.

A 23-year-old transgender woman in Brunei said the new laws had caused concern but added: “I think just as long as we remain discreet, it will be fine.”

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 11:31:50 AM |

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