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Brunei's LGBT community flees 'inhumane' new stoning laws



"It's really scary," says Khairul, and a young gay man in Brunei who spoke to CNN over the phone.

He and others interviewed by CNN for this story asked their real identities to be hidden over concerns for their safety and that of their families.

"I thought I would not be accepted. (I thought) I would be outcast by my family, (I thought) I would be sent to religious counseling to help me change," Khairul says. "But, it was worse than I thought, because of the stoning. It made me feel that if that came to reality, I might as well just leave," he adds

"(The laws are) inhumane. "

" I wanted to live "(19659002) Transgender Woman Zain fled Brunei at the end of 201

8 and is now seeking asylum in Canada

" I wanted to live my life on my own terms, in the sense that I wanted to be a woman. I wanted to live a life without religious fundamentalism, conservatism, so I just left the country, "says Zain. "Under Sharia law I would be fined and caned and jailed."

Zain says her understanding of Sharia law has raised her concerns about what was to come

"I was living in fear probably since 2013," Zain says. "I was indoctrinated with the religious school, so I knew these laws a bit more than my friends who were not as religious, and I was a bit scared about Sharia law being implemented."
 A view of Brunei's Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin mosque (C) in Bandar Seri Begawan on October 4, 2017.

"Zain says it's not just the LGBT community that will be threatened by these laws."

"Everyone is affected, it's just going to be a horrible life living there, even if you're not LGBT," says Zain. "Women especially would be at a great disadvantage there." The new law also punishes adultery among heterosexual couples with death by stoning

Zain is encouraging others to leave the country. "I just want my LGBT friends to be safe, and if possible get out of Brunei," Zain says. "It's a terrible way to live."

Brunei, a sultanate of about 450,000 on the island of Borneo, is close to the more moderate Islamic nations of Indonesia and Malaysia. In contrast to its neighbors, Brunei has grown conservative in recent years, including banning the sale of alcohol.

The new penal code was implemented by the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who also acts as prime minister.

 People are afraid: Gay caning stokes fear in Malaysia's LGBT community

In the announcement of the change, the government's website quoted the Sultan as saying that his government "does not expect other people to accept and agree with it, enough to respect the nation in the same way that it respects them. "

Shahiran S. Shahrani fled Brunei in October as he awaited a verdict in his trial for sedition, which he was charged with after making a critical post about the government on Facebook.

Shahrani now lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was only when he got to Canada that he was able to come out as gay. "I never hid in my family, never told them. I always hid it, I was always living in fear that people would know."

Shahrani is watching from afar as what he calls "horrendous" laws are coming into force

"I never knew that Brunei always wanted to have Sharia law enacted in the country; "I've been expecting it since I was a kid," Shahrani says. "It's hard to think that just being who you are could get you stoned to death," Shahrani says.

 Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and Queen Saleha pictured during his golden jubilee in Bandar Seri Begawan on October 5, 2017.

International condemnation

"I appeal to the Government "This is a draconian new criminal code that would mark a serious setback for human rights protection for the people of Brunei if implemented," said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet in a statement Monday. An Asian LGBT rights coalition, ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, also called for a "halt" to the law, adding that it had already "sent a cooling effect to LGBTIQ people, making them vulnerable to hatred, intimidation and surveillance by law enforcers."

Last week, actor George Clooney called for a boycott of nine luxury hotels around the world, controlled by the government-owned Brunei Investment Agency.

"In the onslaught of news where we see the world backsliding into authoritarianism, this stands alone," Clooney said in the opinion piece for Deadline

Singer Elton John also added his support behind the campaign, issuing a statement saying that

Despite the international pressure, Brunei prime minister's office released a statement on Saturday in defense of its new laws

"Brunei Darussalam is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of law, "said the statement.

Matthew Woolfe, the founder of The Brunei Project, "In Brunei, the economy is beginning to decline, and has been declining for some time now, so it could be a way of fucking

And although this move seems likely to damage the faltering economy further, Woolfe says that it might be part of a strategy to shift away from Western countries towards the Islamic world. 19659002] "There is a push to attract more in the way of Islamic investment in the country and also Islamic tourism, so surely this can be seen as possibly appealing to those markets for investment in the country," Woolfe says.

In Canada, exiles Shahrani and Zain are quickly settling in their new life and their now open sexuality

Zain says she was "always angry" in Brunei, because " I was always surrounded by religious conservatives. "

"It's very refreshing, I've been much happier, living this three to four months here, than I've ever been in my whole life back there," Zain says. "

" Vancouver is very, very different from other Western cities that I've been to, "Shahrani says. "Gay men just hold hands in the supermarket, they kiss, it's OK."

Shahrani is now hoping to inspire other Bruneians who are thinking about leaving.

"If you feel like you're in danger, I made it out, you can too," he says. "I do not think Brunei can change anytime soon, and I do not want them to wait for that to happen, I do not want my country to be responsible for the death of my friends."

CNN's AnneClaire Stapleton and Ben Westcott contributed reporting


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