Ellen DeGeneres Joins Elton John In Boycotting Brunei’s Hotels

Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John and Billie Jean King are among celebrities to follow George Clooney's lead in calling for a boycott of hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who on Wednesday introduced strict new laws in his country including sentences of stoning to death for adultery and homosexual sex.

The tough penal code in the tiny country on tropical Borneo island, a Muslim-majority former British protectorate with a population of around 400,000, is fully coming into force following years of delays.

"Anyone who comes to visit this country will have a sweet experience, and enjoy the safe and harmonious environment", the sultan said on Wednesday, according to the AFP news agency, apparently without referring directly to the new laws.

I am disappointed that hudud punishments under the Sharia Penal Code were introduced in Brunei today.

Oscar-winning actor George Clooney has called for a boycott of luxury hotels owned by Brunei, including the Beverly Hills Hotel, because of the country's plans to impose the punishments.

Hassanal, who has reigned since 1967, has previously said the Penal Code should be regarded as a form of "special guidance" from God and would be "part of the great history" of Brunei.

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it has updated its travel advice for Brunei to more explicitly outline the possible use of the death penalty and physical punishments for a range of offences.

"Brunei [is] the only country with laws that allow for the execution of LGBT people to have landing rights in Australia", the group said in a statement. Shariah law applies to Muslims, non-Muslims, and foreigners, and penalties can be very severe, including physical punishment and the death penalty, it adds.

There has been global condemnation of the legal revisions pushed by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the world's richest men who has wielded power in the tiny tropical nation for almost five decades.

Sex between men was already illegal in Brunei and punishable with up to 10 years in jail.

Gays and lesbians have long faced discrimination in Brunei.

Zulhelmi bin Mohamad, a transgender woman who fled Brunei previous year and is seeking asylum in Canada, told AFP that the environment will be more terrifying for the country´s LGBT community, who were already leading "very secretive" lives.

Meanwhile, the USA government joined a swathe of foreign powers in condemning the changes to Brunei's legal system.

Virgin Australia has ended a deal with Royal Brunei Airlines over its new anti-gay laws while the Australian government is being urged to ban the airline completely.

Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director for Human Rights Watch, said: "This kind of law doesn't belong in the 21st century". Brunei Darussalam has always been practising a dual legal system, one that is based on the Syariah Law and the other on Common Law.

  • Joey Payne