Is life difficult in Brunei

Homosexuals in Brunei: "They write: you will go to hell"

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Brunei has long been an extraordinary country. The small Southeast Asian state with a population of just half a million is very wealthy because of its oil and gas reserves. The sultanate is known for its generous social policy: there is free education and health care, subsidized housing. Those who work in Brunei do not have to pay income tax.

In April, Brunei made headlines for its human rights situation: the government of the monarch Hassanal Bolkiah, who has ruled for five decades, introduced the final stage of Sharia legislation. In future, thieves can have their right hand amputated - and in the event of repetition, the left foot too. Homosexuals are particularly hard hit. Same-sex sex had been criminalized since British colonial times. But now, in extreme cases, there is a risk of death by stoning. How do you live with such laws?

ZEIT ONLINE spoke to three homosexual men - via Skype, WhatsApp and the dating app Grindr. Two of them want to remain anonymous because they continue to live in Brunei.

"Fear that my family will throw stones at me"

A trustworthy mediator established contact with Khairul. This is what the young man calls himself when he gives telephone interviews. He does not reveal his real name. In his home country he only tells close friends about his homosexuality.

I am 19 years old and am currently preparing for my studies. My country is different from Europe. You don't see homosexuality here in everyday life. Nor is it an issue that one would bring up in conversation with a religious person. I'm gay, but it would be impossible for me to openly admit it. If you do, you face considerable discrimination and hatred. Sometimes it happens that people come out on Facebook. They then get a lot of messages saying that they should undergo therapy in order to become heterosexual. Or they just write: You will go to hell.

I am afraid that the laws have now been tightened to such an extent that same-sex sex is even threatened with the death penalty by stoning. I'm not so scared of dying as I'm scared of the idea that my family will watch me die. Or that my family would even throw stones at me themselves. This makes me angry. Such a punishment is just inhuman.

I cannot talk to my family about my fears. Most of my family members are religious, it is difficult to find someone who is open to the world and tolerant. I have a few friends to talk to. I told them I was gay and most of them had no problem with it. Younger people are more open than the older ones.

Still, I don't think that it will ever be possible for me to openly have a man as a partner. At least not as long as I live in this country. I would love to emigrate. If I stay here I feel like I have to suppress myself. I can already see that I'm getting depressed. I would like to leave the country just because of my health.

There aren't really any activists who want to change the situation here in Brunei. It is difficult to debate because it is easy to get in trouble if you criticize the government or the royal family. I don't know if the government will actually apply the penalties under the new laws. But the danger is there. I will keep going to school and studying. Otherwise I will hold back in public life.

"If you play with fire, you get burned"

We get into conversation with a man in Brunei on the dating app Grindr. He doesn't want to give his name either. Like many homosexuals in the country, the man on the dating app is out and about without a picture and without his real name in order to maintain his anonymity. He says he is in his early 30s and of Muslim faith.

Nobody around me knows that I'm gay. It's not that I feel oppressed or afraid. It is my free choice to keep my sexual orientation to myself. I think this is a private matter that is nobody's business. I've had a girlfriend before and then didn't talk to everyone about it right away.

I cannot really understand the international criticism of the new penalties. The focus is always on the possible death penalty for homosexuals. But the criteria for actually being convicted are extremely strict. Several witnesses are needed. It's not that you only have to have sex once and then you'll be convicted. You just have to know the limits. You mustn't play with fire, otherwise you will get burned.

I am religious and occasionally go to the mosque to pray. I think most religions are against homosexuality. I cannot comment on what God really thinks of gays. But I say: I am proud of my country and support the laws. They help us to live in harmony.

I myself sometimes meet other men through Grindr. We usually meet in a café to talk. I haven't had sex in years. I am looking for friends. I'm not interested in a relationship.