On April 3, the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, one of the world’s richest men who is also the small oil-rich country’s prime minister, starts implementation of a penal code change he announced in May 2014. The new law, which mandates public death by stoning or whipping for gay sex and adultery, as well as amputation as a punishment for theft, has been decried by human rights advocates—including out Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin at a news conference on Tuesday.
“The Syariah Law, apart from criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam, it also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race,” reads a statement from the Sultan/prime minister’s website.
Though numerous governments and human rights groups have expressed horror at the prospect of brutal public murders, it took a March 28 op-ed in Deadline by actor George Clooney —who was quickly joined by singer Elton John and others—to draw attention to the potential human catastrophe about to unfold. Clooney and John called for a boycott of the nine Dorchester hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, including the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel-Air in Los Angeles.
“[T]his 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…..
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.”
World leaders who’ve denounced the law include Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the United Kingdom’s Secretary of State for International Development Penny Mordaunt, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet , former Vice President Joe Biden, and on the eve of implementation, the US State Department issued a statement noting the new law “ “runs counter to its international human rights obligations.”
On April 2, Galperin, LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz, Equality California Executive Director Rick Zbur, and Karina Samala, Chair of the Transgender Advisory Council, called for a total boycott of the Hotel Bel-Air and Beverly Hills Hotel by people with a conscience in response to the Sultan’s cruelty.
“As a citywide elected official, I represent a diverse community of Angelenos, and I call on everyone to boycott the hotels owned by Brunei’s royal family,” said Galperin who finds the law “sickening” and unacceptable. “I will not set foot in these establishments so long as they are owned and controlled by a regime that is willing to kill LGBTQ people. While I feel bad for the many hard-working employees of these local hotels, no one should support or attend any events there while lives are on the line. I urge all people of conscience to join me in standing up to hate and brutality.”
“The Beverly Hills Hotel in Beverly Hills and Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles have a long romantic history in Southern California and have been luxurious destinations for tourists and locals for decades,” said Koretz, who represents LA’s District 5. “But as long as Brunei enforces these barbaric laws, we have to do everything we can to publicly condemn their actions and, if that means marring their reputation and fabled history, then so be it. We can’t allow the Sultan of Brunei and the country’s financial institutions to comfortably profit, while their new laws make being gay and adultery capital offenses and theft and abortions are met with degrading brutal punishments as well.”
“We cannot sit idly by as a murderous regime profits off our friends’ and neighbors’ patronage, just because they’re nice hotels,” said Zbur, who broadened the scope of the issue. “But it’s also important to remember that the Sultan is not alone. To this day, there are eight United Nations member states in which the death penalty is imposed as a punishment for consensual activity between people of the same sex.”
“The City of Los Angeles and the United States and world should place severe sanctions on Brunei for taking LGBTQ rights back to the Stone Age,” said Samala. “We are all human beings with a right to live in freedom.”
Koretz introduced a resolution to the Los Angeles City Council asking for the city to support the boycott. Protests and boycotts in 2014 and 2015 worked for a while, then collapsed as people flouted the boycott to return to the famed Polo Lounge.