Amid mounting international criticism, Brunei has moved to defend itself after the tiny Southeast Asian nation recently introduced laws that criminalised sodomy and made it punishable by stoning to death.

The government of Brunei sent a letter to European parliamentarians in which it stated that it “does not criminalise, nor has any intention, to victimise a person’s status based on sexual orientation or beliefs, including same-sex relations,” but added that, “The criminalisation of adultery and sodomy is to safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage of individual Muslims particularly women.”

The Bruneian government claims the international community’s furore stems from a “misunderstanding” that it wanted to clarify.

“The penal sentences of hadd – stoning to death and amputation – imposed for offences that include theft, robbery, adultery, and sodomy have an extremely high evidentiary threshold, requiring no less than two or four men of high moral standing and piety as witnesses, to the exclusion of every form of circumstantial evidence.”

The government of Brunei says that if the country’s sharia courts rule that flogging is a suitable alternative to being stoned to death, the punishment would be conducted by individuals who are the same gender as those convicted, though the law makes no reference to women who are involved in same-sex intercourse.

In their letter to the international community, the Bruneian government attempted to clarify the specifics of the anti-gay sex law by stating, “The offender must be clothed and the whipping must be done with moderate force without lifting his hand over his head. It shall not result in the laceration of the skin, nor the breaking of bones, and shall not be inflicted on the face, head, stomach, chest or genital areas.”

Though only now being implemented, the death penalty for homosexual acts dates back to a  2013 penal code order that called for various forms of punishment for men accused of having gay sex.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, slammed the Bruneian government, saying the law “simply has no place in the world” and reiterated that the European Union would continue to oppose the death penalty around the world.

“We believe there is no justification for this kind of punishment. No crime justifies amputation or torture, let alone the death penalty. And no person should be punished for loving someone. That can never be interpreted as a crime,” said Mogherini, who added, “These punishments – if applied – would constitute a violation of many of the international commitments undertaken by Brunei-Darussalam. These acts are prohibited by the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which was signed by Brunei in 2015.”

Mogherini also stressed that the new law must not infringe on human rights and must be fully consistent with all international human rights obligations.

“We expect that Brunei will maintain its de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty,” said Mogherini who plans to raise the issue with the EU’s ASEAN partners and at the next annual EU-ASEAN meeting in August. “These are rights that are not at the disposal of any authority or any country. They belong to all people and no State can take them away. This is about the dignity of each and every human being, and we will continue, as the European Union, to work for this dignity to be respected everywhere in the world, starting from Europe.”

Speaking to New Europe. Soraya Post, a spokesman on human rights in the European Parliament, said “The new Sharia penal code in Brunei is cruel, degrading and inhumane. It targets already vulnerable groups in society, including children, women and LGBT people and deprives them of their human rights. According to the new laws, children as young as seven years old can be punished by flogging and whipping. Consensual same-sex acts and abortion can be punished with death by stoning or by flogging and whipping,” before adding, “The punishments are ancient and evil. In civilised societies. where human rights are respected, it is not a crime to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual or to have an abortion. I demand an immediate end to this Sharia penal code. Otherwise, the EU will have no choice but to impose tough sanctions on Brunei’s government officials and the Sultan. They should face travel bans and financial sanctions, including the seizure of their assets.”

 This content is part of the ‘Religious Freedom’ section supported by the Faith and Freedom Summit Coalition.