Celebs Boycott Brunei-Owned Luxury Hotels in L.A. Area over Sultan's “Barbaric” New Laws

Wednesday, May 07, 2014
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, who is worth an estimated $20 billion, counts among his holdings the famous Beverly Hills Hotel and the equally posh Bel-Air Hotel, where celebrities and the One Percent gather to luxuriate in their fabulously-appointed lodgings.

They are not as crazy about spending time in a place owned by a guy whose country just legalized stoning adulterers and homosexuals to death.

The UN’s human rights office and an array of international human rights organizations vehemently oppose the new penal code and now so do Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, Richard Branson, Sharon Osbourne, Stephen Fry and a host of other celebs. They are encouraging a boycott of the hotels and vocal opposition to a new Brunei penal code going into effect that codifies the most extreme elements of Sharia law by 2015.

The new law makes oil-rich Brunei the first country outside of the Middle East to implement a Sharia penal code nationwide, joining Saudi Arabia and Iran. Brunei is on the north coast of Borneo in Southeast Asia.

Last week, Leno and his wife, Mavis, protested by moving the Global Women's Rights Awards that they co-chair out of the Beverly Hills Hotel to the Hammer Museum. “This is 2014, not 1814,” Leno told dozens of demonstrators there on Monday.

The Hollywood Reporter said that it would not be holding its annual Women in Entertainment breakfast at the hotel and the Motion Picture & Television Fund announced it would take its “Night Before the Oscars” gathering in 2015 elsewhere. Teen Line is taking its annual fundraiser to Culver City and one unnamed entertainment executive told the New York Times that he expected a whispering campaign among the elite would shame those who continue to frequent the hotel and its equally famous Polo Lounge.

The first phase of the Brunei law includes fines or jail terms for offenses such as indecent behavior, failure to attend Friday prayers and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Phase two later this year involves severing of limbs and flogging for crimes such as theft and robbery. Anti-sodomy and anti-adultery enthusiasts will have to wait until late next year for death by stoning to be the law of the land.

The U.S. government has been officially silent on the matter, but a State Department spokesman told reporters its “serious concerns” have been privately conveyed to Brunei. The city of Beverly Hills passed a resolution Tuesday night condemning Brunei and asking the Sultan to sell the hotel. But it stopped short of endorsing the boycott. “These new Brunei laws are so barbaric that the city felt compelled to add to the growing international outrage,” Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse said.

A true boycott by the rich and famous would narrow their choices of fine establishments to stay in around the world. The Sultan owns the Dorchester Collection, 10 five-star hotels in eight cities on the Continent and in the United States.

The Sultan has weathered greater storms than a boycott of its hotels. His net worth did not change from 2008 to the present despite the worldwide economic downturn. If the boycott did force the hotels from his control, he would still have a mighty fine place to lay his head. The Sultan owns the world's largest palace, according to TheRichest.com—larger than the Vatican. It has 1,788 rooms and 257 bathrooms spread across 2,152,782 square feet.

That almost certainly won't happen.

Christopher Cowdray, the hotel group’s chief executive, told the Los Angeles Times that the protests will have no effect other than, perhaps, to put the hotel workers out of jobs and cost the city of Beverly Hills some tax money.     

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Hotel Boycott Grows over Brunei Penal Code (by Michael Cieply, New York Times)

LA Official Joins Boycott of Brunei-Owned Sites (by Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service)

Brunei Law on Gays, Women Sparks Beverly Hills Hotel Boycott (by Martha Groves and Nabih Bulos, Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Has “Serious Concerns” over New Brunei Penal Code (by Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade)

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