As It Happens

Gay asylum seeker in Vancouver fears he would be stoned to death in Brunei

Shahiran Shahrani says he is urging his friends back home to leave the country, now that they risk being stoned to death under a new law.

Shahiran Shahrani says he's urging his friends back home to leave the country

Shahiran Shahrani now lives in Vancouver. He says he fears for his friends back home, now that this law is in place. (Refugeeincanada/Facebook)

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A gay asylum seeker from Brunei living in Vancouver says he is urging his friends back home to leave the country, now that they risk death by stoning for being gay. 

On Wednesday, the Muslim-majority country implemented a strict Sharia law that punishes sodomy, adultery and rape with the death penalty.

Under the new laws — which apply to children and foreigners, even if they are not Muslim — those found guilty of gay sex could be stoned to death or whipped.

Shahiran Shahrani, who arrived in Canada in October 2018, left the country after being charged in 2017 with sedition for a Facebook post that was critical of the government. He is currently living in Vancouver while he waits for his asylum claim to be heard.

As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Shahrani about his fears for those still in Brunei. Here is part of their conversation.

What message does this stoning law send to gay people in Brunei?

Well we've always expected this. Right. And when we were kids we were indoctrinated in religious school and we were taught that this sort of thing would happen and to welcome it at the Golden Age of Brunei.

Not everybody bought into that. Like, you know, especially people like me. But I knew it was coming. I just didn't expect it to come so soon.

Shahiran Shahrani, seen here in Vancouver, is still waiting for his asylum claim to be heard. (Refugeeincanada/Facebook)

So what does this mean for friends of yours, for gay people in Brunei whom you know?

A lot of them are obviously scared. They feel threatened.

Homosexuality has always been a crime in Brunei, but nobody has ever been charged for it. And back then the punishment was a jail sentence.

Now they've ratcheted it up. So the likelihood of them getting caught, because the scrutiny is so much higher, is going to be much higher.

They don't feel threatened in that they don't feel that they will incur the ultimate penalty of stoning, because the burden of proof for that is so high.

But then I would remind them, they don't have to prove ... all the way. As long as they could find maybe the Grindr app on your phone … that alone could land them in jail for 10 years and that is horrendous.

I'm a gay man. The fact that I've said I'm a gay man might land me in prison for 10 years, it just boggles the mind.

I'm now kind of famous here because I've spoken out on CNN and I've told everybody that I'm gay, that is enough for the burden of proof.

So if I were to go back I'd be liable to be stoned to death.

When we asked you if you wanted us to protect your identity, to not use your real name, you insisted that we use your real name and your identity.

Why is it so important that the world know who you are as you make these kinds of remarks about Brunei and its policies?

Because I remember back in 2014 when Brunei first announced the laws. There were protests all around the world. And me, as a Bruneian, when I saw it I got angry.

I got angry at Westerners. I just went, "Oh these people don't know where Brunei is. Just bring a map in and ask them to point out where Brunei is." As a Bruneian I felt offended, even though I knew that these protests were for my benefit.

Over the years I've thought about it and I realize it's because it's not a Bruneian saying it.

And if a Bruneian somewhere could see that it's not Westerners, it's not outsiders, criticizing the laws, it's another Bruneians … they could identity with that.

And that could help seed some change in the country, that there are other people out there who think like them.

But you believe if you went back you would be stoned to death.

I would, I think.

I left the country because I was charged with sedition over a Facebook post criticizing the Bruneian government.

And in that trial they've shown that they were determined to make this a show trial. They were determined to put me behind bars. And I saw that determination. I'd never experienced it.

To me Brunei is such a small place it feels like I know everybody, even the sultan. I feel like they are part of my family.

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah called for Islamic teachings in the country to be strengthened as strict new sharia punishments, including death by stoning for gay sex and adultery, came into force on April 3. (AFP/Getty Images)

You're living in Vancouver now and you're hoping to be accepted in Canada as a refugee. Do you miss your country?

Of course I do. I do. It's a beautiful country. [Begins to tear up]

I get like this when people ask me to speak about my country. It's a beautiful country … and it has some of the most ancient rainforest in the world.

My grandfather taught me … forest law. How to walk around the forest and how to relate to nature.

I do miss it. I'm sorry.

I'm so sorry.

I find that every five interviews I break down a little bit.

It's understandable. People love where they come from and I'm sure you miss your family too.

Yeah, I do.

What are you telling friends back home?  

I'm telling them that they could leave like I did. Because of these new laws coming in, they could immediately now ... seek asylum in any western nation. They can offer them safe harbor.

Written by Sarah Jackson with files from The Associated Press. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.