May 5, 2014 at 3:59 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
U.S. has ‘serious concerns’ over new Brunei penal code

Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, sharia, anti-gay, gay news, Washington Blade

The Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah (Photo by the Presidential Press and Information Office of; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A State Department spokesperson on Monday said the U.S. has “serious concerns” over a new Brunei penal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death.

“We have very serious concerns regarding certain provisions of what you just mentioned,” Marie Harf told the Washington Blade during the State Department’s daily press briefing. “We’re watching how the law will be implemented.”

Harf said specific concerns over the Bruneian code, which is based on Islamic Shariah law that began to take effect on May 1, include the criminalization of apostasy. Others include freedoms of religion and expression that she said “are fundamental to human rights.”

“Also [there are] some concerns over the punishments — as you noted — prescribed in the code, which would include stoning,” Harf told the Blade.

The U.N. and the Human Rights Campaign are among those that have criticized the new penal code in the oil-rich Southeast Asian country on the island of Borneo in which slightly more than 400,000 people live.

The Gill Action Fund cancelled a conference that had been scheduled to take place at the Beverly Hills Hotel — which Bruneian Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah owns — this past weekend. Ellen DeGeneres, Sharon Osbourne, Richard Branson and other celebrities have joined a boycott of the property, the Hotel Bel-Air and other hotels the Dorchester Collection, a London-based company the Bruneian government owns and operates.

“There are a number of hotels and venues in the Los Angeles area that aren’t owned by foreign leaders and governments that allow for the execution of its LGBT citizens,” said HRC President Chad Griffin in a May 2 letter to organizations that are scheduled to hold events at the two Los Angeles hotels. “We’re encouraging members of the LGBT community and our allies to consider those options instead of the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air — which are part of the sultan’s Dorchester Collection. In addition, we’re calling on organizations that have upcoming events scheduled at these hotels to move them to other locations.”

HRC has also urged the two Los Angeles hotels to stop offering wedding-related services to same-sex couples.

“The sultan is offering free strawberries to LGBT couples in L.A. and death by stoning to those in Brunei,” said Griffin. “This is the height of hypocrisy, and we must ensure that profits from LGBT weddings in the U.S. stop going to a regime that could soon start executing its LGBT citizens.”

Harf told the Blade she could not immediately say whether any State Department personnel stay in hotels owned by the Bruneian government while on travel.

The Associated Press reported the penalties for same-sex sexual activities, adultery, rape, extramarital sex and apostasy under the new penal code will go into effect next year.

Brunei is slated to join Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran and portions of Nigeria and Somalia in which homosexuality is punishable by death.

“The decision to implement the (Shariah penal code) is not for fun, but to obey Allah’s command as written in the Quran,” said Bolkiah in an April 30 speech as the AP reported.

The Blade’s efforts to reach Bruneian LGBT rights advocates and their counterparts in neighboring Malaysia for comment have thus far been unsuccessful.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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