By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
The Beverly Hills Hotel is in for another round of picketing and inveighing against the world-famous hotel of the stars on top of a celebrity boycott – because its Muslim owner, the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, who also acts as his tiny country’s prime minister in this Islamic absolute monarchy, enshrined parts of Sharia law for many sexual acts this week.
Those new laws first going into effect include fines or jail sentences for people found guilty of “crimes” such as like out of wedlock pregnancy and missing Friday prayers.
A second stage introduces corporal punishments such as flogging and the severing of limbs for crimes of theft and robbery. These will see implementation in months to come.
Scheduled to go into effect by the end of next year are a harsher set of penal rules and punishments.
Sodomy, consensual gay acts and adultery will be punishable by death by stoning.
Consensual gay sex has been illegal, but punishable by imprisonment.
The Sultan’s government says that the punishments will be meted out to Muslims only; westerners will be tried in a separate judicial system. Critics say the Sharia laws as planned by the Sultan are the most extreme and harsh in the region.
Activists from women’s and gay groups have been raising the call to action, and will protest at the Beverly Hills Hotel tomorrow, Monday, May 5, 2014 from noon to 1:00 pm at the Will Rogers Memorial Park.
The boycott of the Pink Palace, which also includes the entire Dorchester chain, a high end set of hotels including the Hotel Bel-Air here in Southern California and eight in Europe, came into being when Gill Action Foundation became aware of the new laws and, in a costly move, took their May 1-5 Gill Action‘s Political Outgiving 5.0 conference away from the hotel and went elsewhere.
Kirk Fordham, executive director of Gill Action, said those plans were changed due to incidents in Brunei.
“In light of the horrific anti-gay policy approved by the Government of Brunei, Gill Action made the decision earlier today to relocate its conference from the Beverly Hills Hotel to another property,” Fordham said in an email to Metro Weekly.
“We are seeking a return of all deposits.”
It took only days before celebs and vocal women’s and gay groups jumped on the bandwagon; Feminist Majority Foundation pulled its Global Women’s Rights Awards, co-chaired by Jay and Mavis Leno, from the Beverly Hills Hotel and launched a petition drive and social media campaign calling on the government of Brunei to immediately rescind the new code - and asking the United Nations to take action if these laws go into effect as planned.
“‘Kill-a-gay’ laws, or laws that allow the flogging of women for abortion, violate international law and have no place in civilized society,” said Feminist Majority Foundation Board Member Mavis Leno.
According to the FMF website, “The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed deep concern about the new penal code and stated that such draconian punishments would contravene international law and international human rights.”
The Human Rights Campaign has written every progressive group in its rolodex to encourage them to bypass Dorchester hotels until the laws are rescinded.
Amnesty International said that imposing these punishments would, “take the country back to the dark ages. The law, “makes a mockery of the country’s international human rights commitments and must be revoked immediately,” Amnesty’s regional deputy director Rupert Abbott said in a statement.
“It may open the floodgates for further human rights violations against women, children and other people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” officials from the Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health (APCOM) and Islands of South East Asian Network on Male and Transgender Sexual Health (ISEAN), said in a joint statement released last week.
The Feminist Majority Foundation president also weighed in, saying, “We cannot hold a human rights and women’s rights event at a hotel whose owner would institute a penal code that fundamentally violates women’s rights and human rights,” Eleanor Smeal said in a statement.
The staid, cloistered and public relations conscious City Council of Beverly Hills responded to the call for boycotts against the Beverly Hills Hotel by agendizing a resolution “condemning the government of Brunei for laws that impose harsh penalties, including death by stoning, for homosexuality and other behaviors.”
The resolution also “encourages the government of Brunei to divest itself of The Beverly Hills Hotel,” which would break any connection between stoning people to death and the swankiest hotel in Beverly Hills.
The tiny state of Brunei, about the size of Rhode Island, regained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984. Its phenomenal economic growth - 56 percent per year between 1999 to 2008 – comes from its vast oil and gas reserves.
With only about 400,000 residents, in 2012 Forbes ranked Brunei as the fifth-richest nation based on its petroleum and natural gas fields.
According to East Asian news reports, the new law appears to enjoy broad support, especially among Muslim ethnic Malays, who make up about 70 per cent of the population.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports, “Attorney-General Hayati Salleh late on Wednesday sought to ease concerns over the code’s implementation, stressing that sharia cases will face high burdens of proof before the tough penalties are imposed.
“It is crucial that we, and the international community, understand these distinctions and not focus solely on the punishments but rather, on the evidence-gathering process that is complicated and strict,” she said.
In response to the boycott movement, a spokeswoman for the Dorchester Collection told Women’s Wear Daily:
“We are sensitive to the fact that any such potential withdrawal of business directly impacts our employees, who represent the full diversity of society.
“Our loyal and dedicated employees have no involvement in this religious and political issue …
“We continue to abide by the laws of the countries we operate in and do not tolerate any form of discrimination of any kind.
T”he laws that exist in other countries outside of where Dorchester Collection operates do not affect the policies that govern how we run our hotels.
“Dorchester Collection’s code, endorsed by the company’s ownership, emphasizes equality, respect and integrity in all areas of our operation, and strongly values people and cultural diversity among our guests and employees.”