The tiny nation of Brunei recently caused international outrage when it enacted draconian laws making gay sex a capital crime. After several weeks of fierce condemnation by world leaders, the sultanate announced it wouldn’t enforce the death penalty for people engaging in homosexual acts.
Whether Brunei will keep its word remains to be seen, but the small country on the island of Borneo near Malaysia is not the only nation where gay men and women are being persecuted.
The sentence for the crime of being gay in some countries is rooted in the interpretation of Sharia law, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association’s (ILGA) report on state-sponsored homophobia.
Sharia, which means “path,” is not so much a legal system as a guide for helping people find life’s answers through Islam, as people understand it according to traditional and early interpretations. Those who made those interpretations of Sharia included practices from their era as well as cultural traditions from their region.These interpretations were made from about 700 to 900 A.D., after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
The death penalty for gay acts is derived from people’s interpretations of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, and the Hadith, or the accounts of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The accounts differ on the method of killing, and other accounts suggest lesser penalties for homosexual acts, depending on the circumstances.
Islamic law is based on interpretations of Sharia, which in turn is an interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith. An increasing number of Islamic scholars are re-examining what the two guides are teaching about same-sex relationships.
Some Islamic countries mete out the death penalty for crimes other than homosexuality. In April, Saudi Arabia, for example, executed 37 men who were convicted of terror-related crimes.
Same-sex sexual activity is a crime in 70 countries. Some of them, including six nations that are members of the United Nations, impose the death penalty. Another five make such punishment technically possible, even though it is rarely enforced. In 26 other countries, the maximum penalty is prison with terms varying anywhere from a few years to life imprisonment. On a more positive note, these are the countries where same sex marriage is officially legal.
To identify the countries where being gay is still legally punishable by death, 24/7 Tempo reviewed various reports on human rights and homophobia by non-profit organizations providing help and legal advice to minorities, including members of the LGBTQ community across the world.