Brutal hudud (sharia) punishments including stoning to death for sodomy, rape and adultery; amputation of hands and feet for thieves; and public flogging for abortion were due to go into full effect April 3, 2019.
In March, an international outcry ensued — from UN condemnation to various boycotts to opposition from Twitter. Marking the beginning of the Islamic month of Ramadan, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced on television that he was “aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation” of the new penal code.
“As evident for more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law,” he said. “This will also be applied to cases under the [sharia penal code], which provides a wider scope for remission.”
It was Bolkiah’s first public statement since the penal code went into effect. An official English translation of his speech was also released, which, according to Al Jazeera, is not usually done.
The penal code was rolled out in phases beginning in 2014. At the time, Hollywood star and others protested. However, the current phase, which was to see full implementation, drew widespread opposition.
Boycotts of the sultan’s hotels – from London to Beverly Hills — were called for and observed by a number of multinational companies; travel companies stopped promoting Brunei as a tourist destination.
In an article in Deadline Hollywood, Oscar-winning actor George Clooney called for a boycott of the nine super-luxury hotels owned by the sultan. Interestingly, Left-wing icon Bill Maher blasted Clooney for calling for the boycott, labeling it “chicken s**t tokenism” and “virtue signaling.”
Maher’s objection to Clooney’s call for a boycott was, in part, that it wouldn’t make any difference. “This idea that the Sultan of Brunei is going over the receipts from the Polo Lounge. ‘Oh no, we only sold two soups today’,” Maher said sarcastically at the time.
Agreeing with Maher was CNN host S.E. Cupp, who joined him on the show and pointedly called Clooney “hypocritical.”
Maher and Cupp have been proven wrong. Activism works. Anyone who doubts it should keep a copy of the headlines making the news today.
Pressure should be kept up on the sultan of Brunei to extend the moratorium on the other hudud punishments. This first announcement is a great start.