Stoning in the 21st Century

By William J. Furney

Of all the forms of capital punishment, stoning is surely the most brutal and howlingly grotesque, and picturing in your mind how the long, bloody and torturous spectacle might play out is sickening and makes you want to cry out for the victim. While many parts of the world have rightly done away with the death penalty — 170 countries have either scrapped it or introduced a moratorium — well over 50 nations maintain the ultimate punishment from which there is no return, should you later be found innocent of your crime.

Even the United States is wavering from its fixation on killing its citizens. Inspiring new California Governor Gavin Newsom, former two-time mayor of San Francisco, halted executions as one of his first acts when he came to office last month, and issued a reprieve to all those on death row (an astounding 730 inmates whose lives are now spared). “I do not believe that a civilized society can claim to be a leader in the world as long as its government continues to sanction the premeditated and discriminatory execution of its people,” Newsom said ahead of signing the executive order.  

Meanwhile, this week, a tiny but incredibly wealthy country in Southeast Asia brought into law a measure to kill people convicted of various crimes — some of which, adultery, gay sex, apostasy and blasphemy, cannot be considered a crime by any right-thinking person — using the ancient, pre-medieval method of stoning.

The country is oil-rich Brunei, population just under half a million, and which shares the decidedly large island of Borneo with majority-share Indonesia and two states of Malaysia. I have spent time in the Indonesian part, observing orangutans in the wild. The entire island is a wild but resource-rich region, including plantations providing environmentally destructive palm oil, which is an ingredient in practically everything you pick up in the supermarket.

The man controlling Brunei is called Hassanal Bolkiah; you may have heard of him, as he’s known as the sultan of Brunei and is famous for being outlandishly rich. He will be 73 this July. Apparently, Brunei observers say, the devout Muslim is thinking about his final days on planet Earth and he wants to do something to please his prophet. So he brought in death by stoning.

Does the billionaire sultan, who has been relishing his indulgent role since 1967, have any humanity at all? Does he not realise that stoning people to death is absolutely abhorrent to a great deal of the human population? George Clooney doesn’t think so, and has called for a boycott of Bolkiah’s many luxury properties around the world, including the prestigious Dorchester in London and Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles — which I passed by last year and was considering staying at this year. Not any more.

But the Brunei ruler is trapped in his own, suffocating, do-good Islamic bubble, and has all the money he will ever need. Like many of his ilk — Saudi Arabia and other countries across the Middle East — he views the West as decadent, sex-obsessed, overtly materialistic, atheist and downright unacceptable. They, it appears, know better. And in case you’re not aware, death by stoning is not now only peculiar to Brunei, but is a punishment in places like Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.

Today outside the Dorchester, several hundred protesters gathered to voice their revulsion at Brunei officially sanctioning stoning for homosexuality and adultery. Leading them was gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who likened Bolkiah to the beheading ISIS fanatics who also threw gay people off buildings.

“The introduction of death by stoning for homosexuality is an outrageous backward step that will damage the country’s international reputation and menace the lives of LGBT+ people. Stoning is a particularly cruel, barbaric form of punishment. It violates international human rights law,” Tatchell told me.

“Five hundred people rallied outside the Dorchester Hotel. At one point, they broke through the barriers and peacefully besieged the front doors, condemning the sultan and demanding he rescind these extreme Sharia laws,” he said.  

“Hundreds of rainbow-coloured stones were dumped on the hotel’s steps and anti-sultan slogans were scrawled on the forecourt. A rainbow flag was hoisted above the hotel’s veranda.”

Tatchell, a veteran human rights campaigner, said that Brunei should be isolated by both consumers and governments and that “[w]e need to show the sultan that his brutal, inhuman policies have a financial cost. Our goal is to hit him in the pocket where it hurts.”

He said: “The sultan is enforcing the same barbaric punishments enforced by ISIS in Syria and Iraq: enacting death by stoning for people found guilty of homosexuality, adultery and insulting the prophet Muhammad.

“He is comparable to the ISIS fanatics who executed people for these so-called crimes during their murderous caliphate. Brunei should be isolated as a pariah state, just like ISIS was.”

And he added that the UK royal family, which has close ties with the Brunei ruler, should consider their position. “The UK royal family must stop hosting the sultan and cut all ties with his despotic regime. Brunei should be suspended from the Commonwealth. These draconian laws violate the Commonwealth Charter, which Brunei has agreed to uphold.”

The United Nations, for its limp part, has already declared that Brunei’s stoning law is against fundamental human rights. Not that the impotent UN is likely to do anything about it. “The legislation approved is in clear violation with the principles expressed,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric. “So long as people face criminalisation, bias and violence based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, we must redouble our efforts to end these violations.” Just don’t expect overly paid, cosseted UN officials to take the lead anytime soon.

And how sad that most of Bolkiah’s hotels have deleted or suspended their social media accounts, such is the torrent of criticism over their despicable owner’s actions. Laughably, the Dorchester Collection, which manages the Brunei dictator’s hotels around Europe and in the US, released a statement saying that, “in light of recent events”, “it “does not tolerate any form of discrimination”.

But your barbaric boss does, and is willing to kill people for it — with rocks and stones.

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