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Celebrities and Los Angeles City Leaders Call for Brunei Boycott

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 […]

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  • 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.

Response

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)

International

Anti-LGBTQ+ Hungarian Politician Resigns After He Was Caught At a 25-Man Orgy

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  • József Szájer, a longtime ally of the right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister and a Member of the European Parliament, resigned Sunday after he was caught attending a 25-man orgy in Brussels.
  • The event was raided after a noise complaint as Brussels is currently under a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19.
  • Szájer claimed diplomatic immunity after being detained and was issued a €250 fine.
  • His attendance at a gay orgy contrasts his career as an adamantly anti-LGBTQ+ politician. In fact, he was instrumental in rewriting Hungary’s 2010 constitution to include provisions meant to stifle the possibility of gay marriage.

Covid-Breaking Party

Long time anti-LGBTQ+ politician József Szájer resigned from the European Parliament Sunday after revelations that he attended a 25-man orgy in Brussels, which was raided by police.

The Saturday event violated Belgium’s stay-at-home orders, which prohibit inter-household gathers of more than four people in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. Police were notified of the orgy after a neighbor called to file a noise complaint. The organizer of the party was unapologetic about hosting the party during the pandemic, telling HLN, “I always invite a few friends to my parties, who in turn bring some friends along, and then we make it fun together.”

“We talk a little, we have a drink – just like in a café. The only difference is that in the meantime we also have sex with each other. I don’t see what’s wrong with that,” he added.

József Szájer’s Great Escape

According to local media HLN, Szájer wasn’t even invited to the party but instead came as a guest’s friend. There are differing accounts about how he was aprehended at the party. A spokesperson for the local prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday, “A passer-by reported to the police that he had seen a man fleeing along the gutter; he was able to identify the man.”

The man’s hands were bloody. It is possible that he may have been injured while fleeing. Narcotics were found in his backpack. The man was unable to produce any identity documents. He was escorted to his place of residence, where he identified himself as [Szájer József] by means of a diplomatic passport.”

After apprehending him, police detained Szájer and searched a bag he brought with him where they allegedly found ecstasy.  Szájer denied the drugs were his and demanded a drug test, which the police declined to do.

On Tuesday, after reports of his attendance at the orgy became public, Szájer made a statement saying, “After the police asked for my identity — since I did not have ID on me — I declared that I was a MEP.”.

“The police continued the process and finally issued an official verbal warning and transported me home.

“I deeply regret violating the Covid restrictions, it was irresponsible on my part. I am ready to stand for the fine that occurs.”

That fine ended up being €250.

No Future Career

Szájer, as a member of Orban’s party, helped rewrite Hungary’s constitution in 2010. He once boasted on his blog in 2011 that he wrote the constitution on his iPad. That constitution included a provision that would “protect the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In his statement Tuesday, Szájer asked that the matter be treated as “strictly personal” and added, “I ask everyone not to extend it to my homeland, or to my political community.”

His words gave light to the reason he originally resigned as a member of the European Parliament on Sunday, which at the time came as sudden and unexpected news.

His party hasn’t issued any statement regarding Szájer’s actions, and Szájer asked for forgiveness from his wife, child, and country. He added that he would be retiring from political life.

See What Others Are Saying: (Business Insider) (The Daily Beast) (The Guardian)

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U.K Approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 Vaccine

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  • The United Kingdom has become the first western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine after giving Pfizer’s vaccine the go-ahead.
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson said vaccinations will start next week. Health care workers and those in elderly care homes are expected to get priority.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin also ordered that doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine be given in the country next week, though many are still skeptical of Russia’s vaccine due to a lack of transparency and data.
  • In the U.S., Moderna and Pfizer will likely get approval in the next few weeks, and Vice President Mike Pence has told states to get ready to distribute. The timing in the states is crucial as health officials are warning that the coronavirus threat to Americans is at a historic high.

U.K. Greenlights Pfizer

The United Kingdom became the first western country to greenlight a coronavirus vaccine Wednesday after approving one created by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Pfizer said its vaccine is 95% effective and has also begun the process of seeking Food and Drug Administration approval in the U.S. If all goes well, it should be authorized in the next two weeks. Across the pond, the review was done by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, which said that the vaccine met its high standards. 

“A dedicated team of MHRA scientists and clinicians carried out a rigorous, scientific and detailed review of all the available data and have concluded that the vaccine meets high standards of safety, quality and effectiveness,” the agency said in a statement.

“I’m really pleased to say that the UK is now one step closer to providing a safe and effective vaccine to help in the fight against COVID-19 – a virus that has affected each and every one of us in some way – and in helping to save lives,” MHRA’s Chief Executive Dr. June Raine added.

The U.K., like much of Europe, is recovering from a staggering increase of cases in the fall, which reached their peak sometime in November. The country has so far seen over 1.6 million cases and suffered 59,000 deaths.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the vaccine will be made available across the U.K. next week. Priority will likely go to staff and residents at elderly care homes, medical workers, and those above the age of 80. However, since the vaccine needs to be stored in extreme subzero temperatures, doses will likely be given out from hospitals first as those are among the few locations with the means to store them.

Russian Vaccine and Skepticism

The U.K. was not the only country making vaccine progress on Wednesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered doses of their Sputnik V vaccine to be distributed next week. Russia approved their vaccine before trials were completed, eventually claiming a 92% efficacy rate. While some health officials are optimistic about it, and countries like Brazil, Mexico, India, and Egypt have bought doses, others remain skeptical.

Critics often cite a lack of transparency between Russia and the public about their trials as well as a lack of data. 

“The sample is too low to claim any percentage of efficacy,” Enrico Bucci, an Italian biologist told CBC News.

Others are concerned that Russia was aiming to win a vaccine race, putting speed ahead of everything else. John Moore, a vaccine researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College told Science Mag that the FDA would never approve a vaccine with the limited information of Sputnik V.

“Why is Russia doing this?” Moore asked. “It’s the international vaccine race. They want to be seen to be keeping up with their competitors in other countries. It’s clearly a rushed out announcement.”

 “But it doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” he continued.

Others have also raised questions about why Putin himself has not taken the vaccine, especially considering his claims that his own daughter already has. Russian officials say the president cannot take an “uncertified” vaccine, but it is unclear what the difference between a certified vaccine and an approved vaccine is. 

U.S. Vaccine Updates

The United States is also making strides towards approving a vaccine. On Monday, Moderna started the process of seeking FDA authorization with their vaccine, which touts a 94.1% efficacy rate. The FDA is set to meet to discuss Pfizer’s vaccine next week and Moderna’s the week after. 

As the potential for a vaccine in the states inches closer, Vice President Mike Pence said that vaccine distribution could begin this month. 

“We strongly believe the vaccine distribution process could begin as soon as the week of December 14,” he said while speaking to the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Monday. “With this morning’s news that Moderna is joining Pfizer in submitting an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA), we continue to be on pace.”

As far as who will get it first in the U.S., the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13-1 on Tuesday to recommend that healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities get vaccinated first.

The need for a vaccine has never been greater. Daily case reports are increasing significantly and the country is seeing spikes like never before. So far, there have been 13.7 million cases and 270,000 lives lost.

On Wednesday, multiple news outlets obtained reports the White House Coronavirus Task Force sent to states warning of a dire state. 

“The COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high,” the report said. “We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity.”

“If state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly,” it added. 

On top of this, the report said that anyone over the age of 65 or anyone with significant health conditions should not enter any indoor spaces with unmasked people as it poses an “immediate risk to your health.” It also said that anyone under 40 who traveled for Thanksgiving should assume they became infected.

“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk,” the report warned.

See what others are saying: (BBC News) (The Independant) (CNN)

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China Refuses to Apologize for Official’s Tweet Showing Fake Image of Australian Soldier

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  • Earlier this month, Australia released a report saying 25 Australian soldiers likely killed 39 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.
  • The report was praised in Australia for its transparency. In China, however, it was used as a prop to highlight the perceived hypocrisy of the West towards Human Rights.
  • Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian tweeted out a posed image of an Australian soldier threatening to kill an Afghan child.
  • The tweet caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to angrily respond, asking Twitter to remove the image.
  • China has refused to apologize for the tweet, marking the latest escalation in diplomatic tensions between the two countries

Tweets on the International Stage

China has refused to apologize for a tweet by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official that caused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask Twitter to take down the post.

On November 29, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted out, Shocked by murder of Afghan civilians & prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts, &call for holding them accountable.”

That post also featured the staged image of an Australian soldier holding a bloody knife to an Afghan child, with the caption, “Don’t be afraid, we are coming to bring you peace!”

Zhao was referencing an internal report by the Australian Defence Force released earlier this month. The report investigated allegations of Australian war crimes and found found “credible information” that 25 Australian soldiers were involved in the murders of 30 Afghan civilians and prisoners between 2009 and 2013.

Shortly after the tweet, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded and asked Twitter to intervene. Morrison described it as “disinformation” and “truly repugnant, deeply offensive, utterly outrageous.”

“The Chinese government should be totally ashamed of this post. It diminishes them in the world’s eyes. It is a false image and terrible slur on our defense forces,” he added.  

Chinese diplomats seem to be confused about why Spokesperson Zhao’s tweet got such a strong response from Australia. A different Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, responded to reporters questions about the incident and said, “The Australian side reacted so strongly to my colleague’s personal tweet.”

Are they justifying the ruthless killing of innocent Afghan civilians by Australian soldiers but suggesting that it is unreasonable for anyone to condemn such a cold crime?” he continued.

The issue has highlighted differences in how the West and China see the same situation. The Australian war crimes report was met with indignation at the actions of certain soldiers, while also being praised as a new standard of transparency.

Meanwhile, in China, this report highlighted perceived hypocrisies in the West over human rights. The image Zhao tweeted out is actually from a Chinese Weibo user who has gained some fame this year for making art criticizes Western takes on democracy and human rights.

International Tensions

This situation is the latest in an ongoing series of diplomatic tit-for-tats between Australia and China. In April of this year, Australia tried to get E.U. support in investigating whether Beijing’s early response to the coronavirus led to it becoming a global pandemic. China responded with tariffs on Australian barley and this past Friday imposed duties on Australian wine.

These incidents actually reach out beyond just Australia and China. China uses the threat of cutting off or limiting trade on smaller nations to “win” international disputes. In the case of Australia, that’s a significant threat; 40% of everything Australia sells internationally goes to China.

The combat this, the U.S. has sought to make a loose-coalition of Western nations to jointly-retaliate when China tries to do this, although those efforts have yet to materialize.

See What Others Are Saying: (BBC) (Wall Street Journal) (CNBC)

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