Beverly Hills council, celebrities campaign against Brunei over anti-gay laws
New Islamic laws punish adultery and gay relationships with stoning
Comedian Jay Leno speaks during a rally protesting against Brunei’s new strict sharia law penal code outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, in Beverly Hills, California. Photograph: Reuters
Beverly Hills City Council has joined celebrities including comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno in a public campaign against the Sultan of Brunei over new Islamic laws imposed in his country making adultery and same-sex relationships punishable with flogging or death by stoning.
The council voted unanimously on Tuesday to push the government of Brunei, the small Islamic country in southeast Asia, to sell its ownership in the Beverly Hills Hotel, a popular haunt for Hollywood’s stars for more than a century, because of Sharia law introduced late last month.
US celebrities along with British businessman Richard Branson are boycotting the Beverly Hills Hotel, Hotel Bel-Air, also in Los Angeles, and the Dorchester in London because they are owned by the Sultan, ruler of Brunei, the oil-rich kingdom and former British colony with a population of about 400,000.
“We’re just making people aware,” Mr Leno told news channel CNN. “It’s not a political issue. This is not something that’s debatable . . . It’s people being stoned to death.”
Ms DeGeneres said in a message posted on social media website Twitter to her 29 million followers: “I won’t be visiting the Hotel Bel-Air or the Beverly Hills Hotel until this is resolved.”
Beverly Hills council members voted five to zero in favour of a resolution compelling the Sultan either to sell the famous Beverly Hills Hotel or denounce the new Islamic laws in his country.
“The laws are shocking, inhumane and must be met with a strong statement of support for human rights,” said Beverly Hills mayor Lili Bosse who did not go as far as calling for a boycott of the hotels.
Organisations such as the Motion Picture and Television Fund and the Feminist Majority Foundation have cancelled events at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Protesters demonstrated at the hotel on Monday.
Hotel management and employees have spoken against the protests. Christopher Cowdray, chief executive of the Dorchester Collection, the group behind the Sultan’s hotels, said demonstrators should concentrate their efforts on the US government, not the hotels.
‘Not their fight’
“It is going to hurt our employees and this has nothing to do with them whatsoever. It is not their fight,” he said, urging the campaigners to lobby the US State Department to use its influence instead.
Asked about the controversy, a State Department spokeswoman said the US secretary of state John Kerry had not spoken to the Sultan since the introduction of the laws but that the US ambassador to Brunei had “relayed our concerns privately to the government of Brunei”.
She described the boycott as “an acceptable way for private citizens to express themselves”, but said the State Department had no restrictions on staff staying at hotels owned by the Sultan.