- Celebrities including George Clooney, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, and Aria Grande have called for a boycott of hotels owned by Brunei following the implementation of the new law that punishes gay sex by stoning people to death publicly.
- The law goes into effect April 3 and has garnered massive backlash from the international community and human rights organizations.
- Some have criticized the boycott as “tokenism” and “tantamount to Islamophobia,” while the Trump administration has refused to condemn Brunei, only expressing “concern.”
Brunei’s New Law
Numerous celebrities have called for boycotts of nine international hotels owned by Brunei in protest of a new law that punishes gay sex and adultery with death by public stonings.
The law, which is part of the country’s new Sharia Penal Code, is set to go into effect on April 3. The law also has a provision that punishes theft with amputation. The law applies to Brunei’s Muslim majority, as well as non-Muslims, foreigners visiting the country, and even children.
Brunei’s leader Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who has full executive power, has been gradually implementing the Penal Code since 2014. When Bolkiah first started enacting the Code, he was met with a wide array of international backlash.
In addition to criticism from international human rights organizations, there was also boycotts and calls for divestment from some of Brunei’s sovereign wealth fund investments. This included the upscale Beverly Hills Hotel, which attracted protests and celebrity boycotts.
The backlash actually did delay the sultan from carrying out some of the most extreme measures for a while, but once the outrage died down and people started forgetting about it, the sultan quietly continued to push ahead with these provisions.
The sultan enacted the measures so quietly that barely anyone noticed when Brunei’s attorney general released an announcement back in December, saying the law allowing death by stoning will go into effect on April 3.
Nearly four months later, the international community had just started to pick up on the story. Since then, it has spread and spread.
Celebrities Call for #BoycottBrunei
Leading up to April 3, there was a massive response from celebrities and others criticizing Brunei, and calling for people to boycott all the hotels owned by the sultan.
On Thursday, George Clooney published an op-ed in Deadline, asking people to boycott the nine hotels owned by the sultan all over the world, writing:
“Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery.”
“Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws. But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations?” Continued Clooney, “Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?”
Following the publication of the op-ed, Elton John commended Clooney in a series of tweets.
On the eve of the law taking effect, Ellen DeGeneres also called for boycotts in a tweet, writing, “We need to do something now.”
Ellen also made the same post on her Instagram, which was picked up and shared by others, including Ariana Grande, who posted the list of hotels to boycott on her Instagram story.
Unfortunately, the boycott has not stopped Brunei.
On Saturday, Brunei released a statement defending the Penal Code, saying the purpose of sharia law is for “criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam,” Continuing, “it also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”
Additionally, not everyone is on board with the boycott.
“The people of Brunei are not backwards,” said Mustafa Izzuddin, a fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, a think tank in Singapore, “They would see these boycotts [by Clooney and others] as tantamount to Islamophobia. If you polled right now, Clooney wouldn’t be very popular in Brunei. They might boycott his movies.”
Bill Maher also criticized Clooney on Real Time on Friday night, describing the boycott as “chickenshit tokenism.”
“What about Saudi Arabia? If you really want to get back at them, stop driving. Don’t use oil.” Said Maher, “It’s Sharia Law, which is some version of the law in most Muslim-majority countries. And if you want to be against that, you know, speak openly and honestly about standing up for liberal principles.”
Clooney indirectly responded to Maher’s comments and others who have been critical of the boycott in a second op-ed published on Monday.
“For those that want to play ‘what-about-isms,’ what about Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Somalia? There’s a long list. Well then, get to it. We all do what we can.” Wrote Clooney, “And we do it by chasing their finances and confronting the establishments that they’re laundering money through.”
Clooney also made the argument that speaking out against Brunei sends an important message to other countries.
“The most dangerous issue is Brunei’s neighbors.” He wrote, “And if Brunei isn’t met with loud, forceful resistance that shakes their business establishments, then anything is possible.”
LA City Officials Call for Boycotts
To Clooney’s credit, the push from celebrities has already made an impact on the outside world.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles City leaders called for a boycott of both the hotels located in LA. City Councilman Paul Koretz, LA Controller Ron Galperin, and the head of Equality California Rick Zbur said in a news conference on Tuesday that they will discourage residents and tourists from staying at the hotels through formal measures.
Councilman Koretz also said he would introduce a resolution at an upcoming LA City Council meeting.
The three leaders added that they would look for other ways to combat Brunei’s Penal Code, like discouraging people from holding meetings and events at the hotels, passing further legislation, and asking the Trump administration to take action to stop Brunei.
Regarding their last point, many are waiting to see what the Trump administration will do.
Back in February, the Trump administration announced it was launching a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality. Many people criticized the announcement as empty, citing Trump’s record on LGBTQ issues.
Trump himself seemed to not even know about the announcement when he was asked about it in a press conference.
Since the Brunei story started gaining traction in recent weeks, the Trump administration has been largely silent.
On Friday, the Daily Beast published an article saying that the State Department declined to clarify its position on Brunei for nearly 24 hours after the Daily Beast had sent them an inquiry. Then, “minutes after” the Daily Beast published a story noting the Department’s silence, they were finally sent a statement “saying the U.S. was ‘concerned’ about the new law.”\
However, according to the article, “When asked by The Daily Beast, Pompeo and the Department of State declined to directly condemn, or state an objection to, the stoning to death of LGBT people.”
Since then, the State Department has not made any new statements on the matter, and only published the same statement they gave the Daily Beast.
See what others are saying: (Los Angeles Times) (Fox News) (NPR)
Malaysian Man Wins Challenge Against Islamic Law Banning Gay Sex
- On Thursday, a Malaysian man in the state of Selangor successfully challenged the state’s Sharia Law ban on gay sex.
- His legal argument revolved around Malaysia’s two-track legal system that features Sharia Law Courts in some states for certain crimes, and Federal courts for everything else.
- While the Islamic courts and Sharia law are allowed to regulate divorce, property, religion, and some criminal codes, they cannot enact laws that conflict with Federal law.
- Malaysia’s top court unanimously found that Selangor’s Islamic-based anti-gay sex law conflicted with the countries rarely-enforced national ban on gay sex.
Malaysia Upholds Federal Law Over Sharia Law
The Malaysian LGBTQ+ community won a major legal victory in the Muslim-majority country on Thursday after a man successfully challenged an Islamic law ban on sex “against the order of nature.”
The case started back in Selangor state when eleven men were arrested for allegedly having sex together in 2018. In 2019, five admitted to the charge and received six strokes by cane, a fine, and jail terms of up to seven months.
But one man, whose name was withheld by his lawyers to protect his identity, challenged the charges. His defense revolved around how Malaysia’s legal system works.
The country, which is 60% Muslim, has both Islamic Sharia law and associated courts in many states, as well as federal laws and courts. The Sharia courts, locally called Syariah courts, are allowed to deal with Islamic law issues such as divorce, property, religion, and certain criminal matters. However, they’re barred from passing laws that conflict with federal law.
The accused pointed out that Malaysia already had an anti-gay sex statute that was leftover from its days as a British colony. The exact same statute can be found throughout former British colonial holdings like India and Pakistan and is known as Section 377.
His argument went on to say that therefore, Selangor shouldn’t have passed its Islamic anti-gay law and the Sharia court didn’t have jurisdiction over the matter.
An Important Victory
Malaysia’s top civil court unanimously agreed, striking down Selangor’s anti-gay sex statute for conflicting with federal law.
The ruling is considered a massive victory for LGBTQ+ people in Malaysia, despite there still being a federal anti-gay statute, because it’s rarely enforced. Similar laws in Muslim states, for instance, are far more restrictive and enforced by their courts. It’s also rare that such legal victories happen in Muslim-majority countries.
Even with this win, there are still other states with Islamic anti-gay statutes, but advocates are now more hopeful and confident about challenging those laws when they’re used again.
See what others are saying: (The Straits Times) (Reuters) (Independent)
Anti-Asian Hate Crimes on the Rise in British Columbia
- A report given to Canadian police in Vancouver, British Columbia last week showed a 717% in hate crimes against Asians over the last year and a 97% increase in hate crimes overall.
- Prosecutors have been urged to more seriously pursue hate crime charges, despite them being harder to prove in court.
- The trend has been mirrored in Ontario, another Canadian province with significant Asian populations.
Massive Surges in Hate Crimes
The U.S. has struggled with anti-Asian hate crimes over the last year, especially in municipalities like New York City, which reported upwards of a 1,900% increase from one incident to 19 within the year.
However, the U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with the issue. Similar trends have been reported in Canada as well. A report given to the Vancouver police board last week found that in 2019, there were just 12 incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes reported in the city. In 2020, there was 98, which marks a 717% increase. Those numbers helped drive the stats of hate crimes in the city up 97% overall.
To be clear, crime overall has been on the rise, likely fueled by struggling local economies dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Hard To Pursue Charges
The report has caused Solicitor-General Mike Farnworth to push local prosecutors to seek more hate crime charges.
The region has failed to actually bring charges for most reported hate incidents, with the past year only seeing just one charge filed despite police evidence of such hate crimes. The issue at hand is that adding a hate crime charge makes getting a conviction much harder.
The incidents have led to a push for more strict anti-racism legislation in the province, a position that John Horgan, the British Columbian Premier, has pushed for as far back as June 2020.
British Columbia, according to an assortment of Asian-Canadian advocacy groups, has the most incidents of anti-Asian hate crimes, followed by Ontario. This is especially notable because they are the number two and number one locations of Asian populations in Canada, respectively.
See what others are saying: (Vancouver Sun) (CBC) (CTV News)
Japan Appoints ‘Minister of Loneliness’ To Combat Rising Suicide Rates
- Earlier this month, Japan appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as the country’s Minister of Loneliness, tasked with addressing rising suicide rates.
- Suicides were declining worldwide, except in the U.S., ahead of the coronavirus pandemic but have since seen startling spikes.
- In October, Japan reported 400 more suicide deaths than all COVID-19 related deaths in the nation until that point.
- While suicide cases among men in Japan are higher, the country has seen a drastic increase in suicides among women, who are more likely to have unstable work that is susceptible to market disruptions from the coronavirus.
Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.
Loneliness Is a Rising Issue
Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshinori appointed Sakamoto Tetsushi as its Minister of Loneliness earlier this month.
Sakamoto is already in charge of combating Japan’s declining birthrate and regional revitalization efforts, but his new role will see him combating Japan’s rising suicide rate. Suicides were actually on the decline in Japan until the COVID-19 pandemic, which has drastically exacerbated the issue.
That trend reached a milestone in October 2020 when Japan suffered 2,153 suicides – nearly 400 more than all COVID-19 related deaths in Japan until that point. Currently, monthly suicides no longer exceed the total amount of deaths from COVID-19, as Japan faced an outbreak at the end of the year and has over 7,500 COVID-19 deaths.
Even though monthly suicides no longer outstrip total coronavirus deaths, the rate hasn’t let up. While men still make up the vast majority of suicides, there’s been a drastic increase in women taking their own lives. Between October 2020 and October 2019 there was a 70% increase in female suicides.
According to Ueda Michiko, a Japanese professor at Waseda University who studies suicides, women are particularly affected because they often have more unstable employment that is more susceptible to disruptions caused by the pandemic.
She went to tell Insider, “A lot of women are not married anymore. They have to support their own lives and they don’t have permanent jobs. So, when something happens, of course, they are hit very, very hard.”
Internationally Suicides on the Rise
Sakamoto hasn’t outlined any specific plans to combat loneliness in Japan, but he has a blueprint to work from as he’s not the world’s first Minister of Loneliness. The U.K. appointed one in 2018 after a report found more than 9 million Brits said that they often or always felt lonely.
But the job doesn’t seem very easy or desirable, as the U.K. has gone through three ministers of loneliness since then.
COVID-19 has been a massive disruption to suicide rates globally, which had actually been steadily declining for decades. The notable exception to this is the United States, which has faced increases nearly every year since 1999 adding up to almost a 30% total increase over the past two decades.
If you’re in the U.S. and feeling suicidal or have thoughts of suicide contact the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
For reader across the globe, here are resources in your nation.