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Lawmakers, LGBT groups urge U.S. trade action on Brunei criminal laws

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - More than 100 U.S. lawmakers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups on Thursday urged the Obama administration to stop trade talks with Brunei unless the country revokes Islamic criminal laws they say jeopardize human rights.

Brunei, the first East Asian country to introduce Islamic criminal law, has announced laws that will impose fines or jail terms for offenses such as pregnancy outside marriage and failure to perform Friday prayers. The laws will ultimately punish sodomy and adultery with the death penalty, including by stoning.

One hundred nineteen members of the House of Representatives signed a letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to shun Brunei in talks on a Pacific free trade zone unless the code is repealed.

The United States and Brunei are among 12 countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, which aims to set common standards on issues from labor to intellectual property and cut tariffs on traded goods.

Pride at Work, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality said in a letter to President Barack Obama that Brunei's new laws placed the country outside the bounds of international standards for human rights.

"It would be inconsistent with U.S. human rights policy to enter into a preferential trade agreement with a nation that so vagrantly violates the human rights of its citizens," they said.

State Department officials have said the United States has "very serious concerns" about the Brunei laws criminalizing freedom of religion and increasingly threatening human rights.

Brunei, a tiny former British protectorate of about 400,000 nestled between two Malaysian states on Borneo island, relies on oil and gas exports for its prosperity, with annual per capita income of nearly $50,000.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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