Post submitted by Saurav Jung Thapa, former Associate Director, HRC Global
Matthew Woolfe, founder of The Brunei Project, and an unnamed Bruneian free speech advocate visited Washington, D.C. to participate in a series of events on the state of LGBTQ rights in the Southeast Asian country.
At an HRC-organized roundtable, Woolfe spoke about The Brunei Project, which is an Australian-based initiative working to protect the rights of LGBTQ people in Brunei. He described the organization’s social media-based work to raise awareness about LGBTQ and other human rights in Brunei. Member organizations of the Council for Global Equality attended the event. Woolfe is presently banned from entry into Brunei because of his activism.
The advocates discussed the phased introduction of the controversial Sharia Penal Code in Brunei, starting with the first phase in May 2014. The second and third phases of this code seek to increase criminal penalties for same-sex acts. Same-sex acts are already punishable by a prison term of up to 10 years under the existing Penal Code inherited from British colonial rule at independence in 1984.
If the second phase of the Sharia Penal Code comes into force, it would mandate penalties such as floggings and prison for those convicted of engaging in same-sex acts. Woolfe explained that international pressure may have played a pivotal role in dissuading the government from enacting the second phase of the code, which was originally scheduled to be introduced in 2015.
The third phase would include the possibility of death by stoning. This would make Brunei one of 10 countries in the world that might impose the death penalty for same-sex acts.
The advocates also met with State Department officials during their visit. These engagements were part of a two-week trip to facilitate connections between Bruneian activists and U.S.-based activists and organizations.
A small country with half a million people, Brunei is a wealthy state with its riches deriving from oil production. Some two-thirds of its population is Muslim. LGBTQ life in Brunei is severely restricted due to constraints imposed by conservative religious and social values, similar to neighboring countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. Civil society organizations regularly overlook LGBTQ rights.
Read more about HRC’s work in Brunei and around the world here.