Types of criminalisation

  • Criminalises LGBT people
  • Criminalises sexual activity between males
  • Criminalises sexual activity between females
  • Criminalises the gender expression of trans people
  • Imposes the death penalty

Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited under the Penal Code 1951 and the Syariah Penal Code Order 2013, which criminalise acts of ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’, ‘liwat’, and ‘musahaqah’. These provisions carry a maximum penalty of death by stoning. Both men and women are criminalised under the law. In addition to potentially being captured by laws that criminalise same-sex activity, trans people may also face prosecution under a provision criminalising ‘posing as the opposite sex’, with a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment and a fine.

Like many former British colonies, section 377 of the 1951 Penal Code was imposed upon Brunei during the colonial period. Brunei retained the provision upon independence and continues to criminalise same-sex sexual activity through section 377 today. The 2013 Penal Code Order is based upon Islamic principles and codifies a strict interpretation of Sharia into criminal law.

There is no evidence of the same-sex sexual activity laws being enforced in recent years, however reports suggest that the law criminalising expression of gender identity is occasionally enforced. In 2019, following international backlash, Brunei announced an extension of the moratorium on the use of the death penalty to cover the new provisions under the Syariah Penal Code Order 2013. There have been some reports of discrimination against LGBT people in recent years, including harassment, threats, and difficulties accessing basic rights and services.

Sexual Offence Law Assessment

We’ve also assessed Brunei’s sexual offence laws against international human rights standards. Not only does Brunei criminalise same-sex sexual activity and expression of gender identity, it also fails to properly protect other vulnerable groups, such as women and children, from sexual offences.

Find out more

Syriah Penal Code 2013

Read our legal analysis of Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code Order 2013 and how provisions that criminalise LGBT people are in violation of international human rights laws and norms.

Find out more


The US Department of State report noted that ‘transexual’ people were summoned to the office of the Ministry of Religious Affairs where it was demanded that they maintain the gender listed on their birth certificate. Reportedly no threats of punishment were made.


In March, it was reported that Brunei would be implementing the remaining provisions of the Syariah Penal Code Order 2013 on 3 April 2019, including Sections 82 and 92 which criminalise same-sex intimacy between men and between women respectively. The former will be punishable with death by stoning or whipping with 100 strokes and imprisonment for one year, while the latter will be punishable with a fine not exceeding $40,000, imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years, whipping not exceeding 40 strokes or a combination of any two of these. These provisions are applicable to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

On 3 April, Brunei fully implemented the Syariah Penal Code Order 2013, which makes provision for death by stoning for same-sex sexual between men, in addition to criminalising same-sex intimacy between women.

On 5 May, following considerable international criticism at the full implementation of the

Syariah Penal Code Order 2013 on 3 April – including a boycott campaigndiplomatic and civil society pressure, and various universities (University of AberdeenKing’s College LondonOxford University) revoking, or considering revoking, the Sultan’s various honorary degrees – the Sultan of Brunei extended a moratorium on the death penalty to the offences provided in the Syariah Penal Code, including death by stoning for ‘liwat’ (same-sex sexual intercourse between men). Nevertheless, these laws remain in place and the other draconian punishments for same-sex intimacy (whipping, imprisonment and fines) remain applicable.

For more than two decades, we have practiced a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases under the common law. This will also be applied to cases under the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).

Sultan of Brunei, 2019


It was reported in the US Department of State Human Rights report for Brunei that Section 377 of the Penal Code was primarily applied in cases of rape or child abuse when both attacker and victim were male.


Amnesty International reported that in August, a man was arrested for “cross-dressing and improper conduct.” The punishment on conviction included a fine of BN$1,000 or three months imprisonment, or both.


In March, a Bruneian civil servant was fined $1,000 under the Syariah Penal Code after he pleaded guilty to cross-dressing in a public place.

Discrimination and Violence


The US Department of State report noted that members of the LGBT community reported societal discrimination in public, employment, housing, recreation and education. The government also allegedly monitored the activities and communications of LGBT people, and their assembly and expression were restricted. Recent iterations of this report have found similar results.


In a statement made for IDAHOT in May, the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus highlighted the routine arrest and beatings of LGBT people by state forces under the pretence of “defending public morals.”


In November, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission submitted a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women stating that: “The enforcement of SPC Order 2013 is likely to result in even tighter family control and increased violence to force Bruneian lesbians, tomboys, masculine-looking women, bisexual women and transgender women to conform to social norms (and now criminal law) on sexuality and gender.”


Related Countries


Malaysia criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men and between women. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of twenty years’ imprisonment and whipping.


Singapore criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. Sentences include a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment.


Myanmar criminalises same-sex sexual activity between men. The gender expression of trans people is also criminalised. Sentences include a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment.

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