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Clooney’s letter spurs stoning-to-death travel protests

April 5, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Actor George Clooney, Virgin Australia, Royal Brunei Airlines, travel agents and a string of luxury hotels and celebrities have been caught up in worldwide protests against Brunei’s imposition on Wednesday of ferocious Islamic Sharia laws that could see adulterers and homosexual men stoned to death.

Virgin Australia has cancelled a deal with Royal Brunei Airlines over the issue – although the latest update by Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in light of the new laws says only that Australian travellers should “exercise normal safety precautions” when visiting the country.

There are calls for boycotts of Brunei-owned hotels and protest action against Royal Brunei Airlines. Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, and Billie Jean King have lent support to the cause. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, confirmed that the London Underground would be removing some Brunei tourist advertisements from its network.

Virgin Australia has severed its myID (staff travel) agreement with the Bruneian airline over the new anti-gay laws, “given the harsh (including death) penalties being introduced for activity that is legal and acceptable in Australia”.

The Sultanate of Brunei is located on the Island of Borneo. It’s the only independent country on the island, which is otherwise divided between Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah

DFAT stated this week:

“From 3 April 2019 the full sharia penal code (law) takes effect in Brunei. It applies to Muslims, non-Muslims and foreigners even when on Brunei registered aircraft and vessels. Under this code some offences can attract physical punishment while others attract executions. Offences that attract the death penalty include blasphemy, sodomy, adultery, rape and murder. We haven’t changed our level of advice – ‘Exercise normal safety precautions’ in Brunei Darussalam.”

The Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby wants travel agents immediately to stop selling Royal Brunei flights. The group is also urging Melbourne Airport to no longer accept flights from the carrier. Melbourne is the only Australian airport with regular Royal Brunei flights, though flights to Brisbane start in June.

Below: the word from Ellen DeGeneres:

Brunei’s harsh interpretation of Islamic law now imposes death by stoning as a punishment for adultery and for sex between men, as well as amputation of limbs for theft.

Lesbian sex will carry a penalty of 40 strokes of the cane and/or a maximum of 10 years in jail, while those who “persuade, tell or encourage” Muslim children under the age of 18 “to accept the teachings of religions other than Islam” are liable for a fine or jail. Homosexuality was already illegal in the country.

National Public Radio in the US reports that the punishments can in some cases even be applied to children. The new laws stipulate the death penalty for offences such as rape, adultery and the defamation of the Prophet Muhammad, though the death penalty was already on the books in Brunei and the country has not carried out an execution since 1957, according to the United Nations.

George Clooney

The United Nations, Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have called the punishments in the legislation “cruel” and “barbaric.”

Ellen DeGeneres, George Clooney and other high-profile celebrities are calling for people to reconsider their patronage of Brunei-owned hotels in protest. DeGeneres is openly calling for a boycott; Clooney has strongly condemned the new laws, listed nine hotels and said: “It’s up to each of us what we want to do.”

Calls for action against Royal Brunei Airlines have so far been less widespread. The airline is set resume flights between Brunei and Brisbane this June (they will be nonstop), with view to taking travellers between London and Australia.

The airline already operates a daily non-stop route between London Heathrow and Brunei (launched in October 2018) and a one-stop flight to Melbourne. The inaugural flight to Brisbane will depart from Brunei on 11 June 2019, for the first time since 2011.

Royal Brunei Airlines chief executive, Karam Chand, says Royal Brunei’s one-stop route from London to Melbourne has already proved very popular.

“Thanks to our non-stop route between London and Brunei, UK passengers will be able to travel to Australia in less than 22 hours, with a minimum stopover time in Brunei of just one hour and 55 minutes. Throughout their journey, our guests will experience our unparalleled customer service, a wide range of entertainment options and the comfort of the Boeing-787 Dreamliner and A320neo aircraft.”

 Meanwhile, George Clooney’s open letter on Brunei’s anti-gay laws runs as follows:

 The date April 3rd has held a unique place in our history over the years. Theologians and astronomers will tell you that Christ was crucified on that date. On April 3rd Harry Truman signed the Marshall Plan, arguably the greatest postwar intervention in the history of man. The first portable cellphone call was made on April 3rd. Marlon Brando was born on that day.

 But this April 3rd will hold its own place in history. On this particular April 3rd the nation of Brunei will begin stoning and whipping to death any of its citizens that are proved to be gay. Let that sink in. In the onslaught of news where we see the world backsliding into authoritarianism this stands alone.

 Brunei isn’t a significant country. Its population is less than 500,000 people, pretty small in relation to most of its neighbours, The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia. But Brunei has oil. This year it was ranked as the 5th richest nation by Forbes. Good for them. Of course they haven’t had an election since 1962 and have adopted the most extreme version of Sharia law so, not so good for them. At the head of it all is the Sultan of Brunei who is one of the richest men in the world. The Big Kahuna. He owns the Brunei Investment Agency and they in turn own some pretty spectacular hotels.

 A couple of years ago two of those hotels in Los Angeles, The Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel were boycotted by many of us for Brunei’s treatment of the gay community. It was effective to a point. We cancelled a big fundraiser for the Motion Picture Retirement Home that we’d hosted at the Beverly Hills Hotel for years. Lots of individuals and companies did the same. But like all good intentions when the white heat of outrage moves on to the hundred other reasons to be outraged, the focus dies down and slowly these hotels get back to the business of business. And the Brunei Investment Agency counts on that. They own nine of the most exclusive hotels in the world. Full disclosure: I’ve stayed at many of them, a couple of them recently, because I hadn’t done my homework and didn’t know who owned them.

 They’re nice hotels. The people who work there are kind and helpful and have no part in the ownership of these properties. But let’s be clear, every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery. Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations? Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens? I’ve learned over years of dealing with murderous regimes that you can’t shame them. But you can shame the banks, the financiers and the institutions that do business with them and choose to look the other way.

 Below I’ve listed the nine hotels. It’s up to each of us what we want to do.

 George Clooney 

The Dorchester, London

45 Park Lane, London

Coworth Park, UK

The Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills

Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles

Le Meurice, Paris

Hotel Plaza Athenee, Paris

Hotel Eden, Rome

Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan

Written by Peter Needham

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