Sir Richard Branson, the founder and chairman of Virgin Group, has announced that the company’s employees will no longer be staying at any hotels belonging to the Dorchester Collection due to their ownership by the Sultan of Brunei, which recently reintroduced death by stoning into its penal code.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) May 3, 2014
Branson joins an increasingly large group of celebrity activists speaking out against Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s actions, including Ellen DeGeneres and Stephen Fry. Shoe designer Brian Atwood asked his social media followers not to stay at hotels owned by the group, to “send a clear signal to their owner, the Sultan of Brunei, that stoning people to death for being gay in Brunei is not acceptable.”
In October 2013, the sultan announced that Brunei would begin introducing Islamic sharia law, complete with the traditional punishments, including flogging and death by stoning. Other acts considered worthy of being stoned to death include adultery, rape, sodomy, robbery, murder, defaming the Prophet Muhammad, blasphemy, insulting the Koran and Hadith, and declaring oneself a prophet, and declaring oneself to be a non-Muslim.
The human rights office of the United Nations has asked Brunei not to enforce the law allowing death by stoning, calling it “torture.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, stated that “Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law,” according to the UN News Centre. “We urge the Government to delay the entry into force of the revised penal code and to conduct a comprehensive review ensuring its compliance with international human rights standards.
“Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited.”
Branson is a vocal supporter of LGBT rights, including marriage equality. In 2012 he appeared in an Out4Marriage campaign ad that read, “At Virgin we treat everybody the same whether they are straight or gay…and the law should too.”
A protest is planned for May 5 at the Beverly Hills Hotel, one of the most famous places in LA. The annual star-studded charity event The Night Before the Oscars, which has been held there every year since its beginning in 2003, will be held elsewhere in 2015 due to the same controversy.
The Motion Picture & Television Fund, which holds the event, told the Hollywood Reporter, “we expressed very clearly that we cannot condone or tolerate these harsh and repressive laws,” and consequently could not “support a business owned by the Sultan of Brunei or a Brunei sovereign fund associated with the government of Brunei.”