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Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, center. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said Sunday that the country will extend its moratorium on its sweeping new interpretation of Sharia law, which punishes homosexual people with death by stoning if found guilty of engaging in sexual intercourse, amid backlash from celebrities and human rights groups around the world, Reuter reports.

"I am aware that there are many questions and misperceptions with regard to the implementation of the [law]. 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 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 [law] which provides a wider scope for remission."

Context: Homosexuality is already illegal in Brunei, with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. And as Reuters notes, "Some crimes already command the death penalty in Brunei, including premeditated murder and drug trafficking, but no executions have been carried out since the 1990s." The interpretation of Islamic law that went into effect on April 3 prohibits sodomy, adultery and rape.

Go deeper

Storms pummel flood-hit Pacific Northwest as border river overflows

An image of the water-logged Sumas Prairie area taken last Friday. Photo: B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Twitter.

The latest ferocious storm system to hit the Pacific Northwest triggered fresh evacuation orders and at least one mudslide in flood-ravaged British Columbia, Canada, late Sunday.

Threat level: Flood sirens sounded in Washington state as the Nooksack River overflowed. Henry Braun, mayor of Abbotsford, B.C., told reporters the water flow was headed toward the Canadian border city later Sunday. "There's nothing to stop it," he said.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting aspects of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."