LONDON   -   Brunei has said it will not enforce the death penalty for gay sex following a global backlash led by celebrities such as Elton John and George Clooney.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has reacted to the outcry which was sparked when he rolled out an interpretation of sharia law on April 3 to punish sodomy, adultery and rape with death.

The small South East Asian country had consistently defended its right to implement the laws - elements of which were first adopted in 2014 and rolled out in phases since. But in a rare response to criticism, the sultan said the punishment would not be imposed in the implementation of the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO).

In a speech ahead of the start of Ramazan, the sultan said: ‘I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the SPCO.

‘However, we believe that once these have been cleared, the merit of the law will be evident.’

‘As evident for more than two decades, we have practised 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 SPCO which provides a wider scope for remission.’

Crimes including premeditated murder and drug trafficking already carry the death penalty but none have been carried out since the 1990s.

The vastly wealthy sultan, who once piloted his own 747 airliner to meet former US president Barack Obama, often faces criticism from activists who view his absolute monarchy as despotic.

In a rare move on Sunday, the sultan’s office released an official English translation of his speech. ‘Both the common law and the Syariah law aim to ensure peace and harmony of the country.’

He added: ‘They are also crucial in protecting the morality and decency of the country as well as the privacy of individuals.’

The law’s implementation, which the United Nations condemned, prompted celebrities and rights groups to seek a boycott on hotels owned by the sultan, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Dorchester had been the focus of UK-based protests since the law was announced last month. LGBT protesters broke through a barricade outside the hotel as they rallied against the sultan on April 6.

Around 500 people turned out to take part in the protest in Park Lane, central London.

It came after the sultan had decided to start whipping or stoning gay people to death when strict new laws were to be introduced.

Several multinational companies have since put a ban on staff using the sultan’s hotels, while some travel companies have stopped promoting Brunei as a tourist destination.