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His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei in his address on the eve of the holy month of Ramadan on Sunday (May 5, 2019) announced that Brunei will continue the de facto moratorium on death penalty and clarified the misconceptions about Syariah Penal Code Order also.  He also added that the new law will “respect the privacy of individuals”.

This announcement has taken winds out of the sails of false and malicious propaganda launched by the western press and celebrities like George Clooney, Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres, who called for the  boycott of the hotels owned by Brunei Sultan. The most cruel joke about the entire episode is that the western press is now saying that it was the boycott threat that forced Brunei to take a U-turn on death penalty. This shows their appalling  ignorance about Brunei and its cultural ethos. People are not aware that Brunei, though have death penalty for crimes like murder and drug smuggling, it has never implemented it since it gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1984. The last hanging took place in 1957 when it was under the British rule. Whereas its next door neighbour Singapore had implemented death penalty with impunity. Late Lee Kuan Yew even defended death penalty for non-violent crimes, in spite of condemnation from international human rights groups, by saying that it is part of judicial system. Amnesty International says Singapore has the world’s highest execution rate relative to its population of just 4.2 million, including resident foreigners. About 420 prisoners were sent to the gallows between 1991 and 2004, it said.

Even for argument sake, if we accept  that the international pressure has forced Brunei to take a ‘U-turn’, then we must appreciate the pragmatism of the Sultan. Brunei is a part of comity of nations and the Sultan as its ruler took cognizance of the concerns of other nations and in all sincerity has tried to address them. The Sultan, in fact, went one step further, when he said: ” In upholding our international commitments and obligations on human rights, Brunei Darussalam will be ratifying the United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT). Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country. They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the public as well as respecting the privacy of individuals.”

In simple words, he has again reiterated the stand of the Brunei government that the Syariah Penal Code is not being implemented to specifically target a particular group of people. The Sultan’s short speech not only smashed to smithereens the malicious propaganda Brunei has been subjected to and at the same time exposed the hypocrisy and the double standards of people like Clooney, Elton, and DeGeneres who did not even open their mouth against macabre mass executions recently carried out by Saudi Arabia. Why Saudi Arabia is not subjected to similar global condemnation? It beheaded 37 of its citizens, most of them minority Shiites, in a mass execution across the country for alleged terrorism-related crimes. It also publicly pinned the executed body and severed head of a convicted to a pole as a warning to others.

Why there were no talks shows in the US, UK and France? Why such deafening silence in Hollywood? Well, as Bob Dylan had said: “The answer is blowin’ in the wind”. Saudi Arabia is the world biggest arms importer and these countries are biggest exporters. Petro dollars keep their arms factories churn more lethal and destructive weapons without bothering whether Saudi Arabia uses them against its own citizens or on poor and helpless people of Yemen.

So, Mr Geroge Clooney, Brunei is not Saudi Arabia. I told you so.

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Asif Ullah Khan

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