11 April 2019, The Tablet

Let he who is without sin…


Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who rules the small south east Asian state of Brunei, has offended the entire civilised world by imposing the barbaric punishment of stoning to death for homosexuality. He claims this is required by Sharia law. Jesus Christ’s response when asked if a woman caught in adultery should be stoned to death, under a similar provision of Mosaic law, replied: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Compassion and humanity, in other words, take precedence over the letter of the law. But, better still – change the law.

Brunei had been a British protectorate before independence in 1984, and it shares with many other post-colonial states a legacy of harsh legislation against homosexuality. Many formerly British Empire countries in Africa and the Caribbean still have remnants on their statute book of Section 61 of the Offences Against the Person Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1861 and automatically applied to the colonies. The section which imposed severe criminal penalties for homosexual acts has long been repealed in Britain but remains in force in at least 30 of the 53 states of the Commonwealth.

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