The small, oil-rich country of Brunei announced that as of 3rd April 2019, a new penal code would be introduced in the country. The new laws apply to all Muslims who have reached puberty (around 12-13 years old), and some aspects will apply to non-Muslims too.
Some of the main points in the code are that gay men can be punished by stoning to death and gay women will get 40 lashes. For robbery, one’s arm or leg will be amputated, and anyone found preaching any religion to children other than Islam can be fined or put in jail. For all these crimes, there is no court of justice or trial – to be convicted, the crime only needs to be ‘witnessed by a group of Muslims.’
This announcement, especially the laws applying to the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) community, has left many international groups shocked and upset. Amnesty International, a worldwide human rights group, has urged Brunei to “immediately halt” putting these very harsh penalties into practice.
The U.K. Foreign Secretary said that there was “deep UK opposition” to the new laws. Some people even felt that Brunei should be thrown out of the Commonwealth, an international organisation of countries that were former British colonies.
The hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei were targeted on many fronts. Celebrities like actor George Clooney, musician Elton John and tennis player Billie Jean King spoke out about boycotting these hotels. Ellen DeGeneres tweeted a list of the hotels and also called for a boycott.
Others soon followed. Tripadvisor has banned all reviews of the hotels. TV Choice Magazine, the Financial Times newspaper and Deutsche Bank in London, have all cancelled events at the Dorchester since it is a prominent hotel on the list. The hotels’ accounts have also been taken down or restricted across all social media. The Dorchester Collection, managers of the hotels, tried to distance themselves by saying, “We do not tolerate any form of discrimination, we never have and we never will….We’re deeply saddened by what’s happening right now and the impact it is having on our employees, guests, partners and suppliers in particular. Our values are far removed from the politics of ownership.”
But that’s not all. STA Travel which is hugely popular with students and young people has stopped selling tickets of the Royal Brunei Airlines, and are even going so far as to offer refunds for those who may want to cancel their tickets following the announcement of the new law. Virgin Airlines have ended a deal with the airline too.
The world, it seems, is outraged by Brunei’s harsh laws. It’s up to the country and its rulers now to listen to the international community or continue to face opposition worldwide.
Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant. She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.