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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

Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.


Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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