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Beverly Hills Confronts Brunei Over Sharia Law

  • Reuters

Activist Dolores Huerta (L) attends a rally protesting Brunei's new strict sharia law penal code outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, in Beverly Hills, California, May 5, 2014.

Activist Dolores Huerta (L) attends a rally protesting Brunei's new strict sharia law penal code outside the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, in Beverly Hills, California, May 5, 2014.

The City of Beverly Hills voted unanimously on Tuesday to pressure the government of Brunei to divest the Beverly Hills Hotel, the pink-hued haunt of the Hollywood set, after the small country's enactment of sharia law prompted protests.

Comedians Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno and British entrepreneur Richard Branson have been the most prominent figures to advocate shunning the hotel and its bungalows, a favored locale for the Hollywood elite since it opened a century ago.

The resolution urges Brunei to divest its ownership of the hotel, and any other properties it owns within Beverly Hills, and condemns it and other countries that operate under Islamic criminal law.

Emotions were high in the packed council chambers as over a hundred rank-and-file employees, as well as residents and others, expressed opposition to human rights abuses, support for the fabled property, as well as a reliance on the hotel for jobs.

“When you don't come by, when you don't tip us, when you don't embrace us as part of your community, it's not just breaking our hearts that you would associate us with these horrible crimes as man commits, but it strangles our livelihood. It causes us to be unable to support our children, our families,” said Beverly Hills Hotel server Anna Romer.

Christopher Cowdray, the CEO of the Dorchester Collection, which manages the Beverly Hills Hotel, also spoke before the council took its vote, urging the body to consider the economic implications of its actions while pledging to support the workers no matter what.

“The actions that you take have to be seriously considered because they will affect the livelihoods of these people,” said Cowdray. “I will protect their jobs no matter what, but I also ask for your consideration that we are an exemplary employer, exemplary contributor to the society, and to the finances of this city.”

Brunei, a former British protectorate of about 400,000 run by Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, became the first East Asian country to adopt the Islamic criminal law last week. It will punish offenses like sodomy and adultery with the death penalty, including by stoning.

The laws will be introduced in phases in the energy-rich country nestled between two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo, with the harshest penalties going into effect in two years.

The U.S. government has been largely silent on the issue until Tuesday, when the State Department told reporters the ambassador to Brunei had privately relayed concerns to the government there about the law.

Before the city council voted unanimously to pass the measure, mayor Lili Bosse and council member William W. Brien told the gathered crowd that they hoped the move would send a loud message to Brunei.

“I hope tonight, the decision by this council sends a strong message that this community and communities around California will not tolerate this type of injustice and denigration of human life and liberty,” said Beverly Hills council member William W. Brien.

“Often we do live in a world of apathy. We have lived in a world where people have remained silent. And it's clear to me that the people in Beverly Hills do not, have not, will not remain silent,” said Bosse. “We are standing for human rights, we are standing for dignity, and we are condemning those and standing for those who don't have a voice, and that is an honor.”

The council stopped short of taking direct action, such as a city-sanctioned boycott.

In the last few days, organizations have canceled events at the hotel, including the Motion Picture & Television Fund's annual “Night Before the Oscars” charity event and the Feminist Majority Foundation's annual Global Women's Rights Awards.

Gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign on Tuesday called on the hotel's owner to stop promoting special services at the hotel for same-sex weddings, now legal in California.

The Beverly Hills Hotel and nearby Hotel Bel-Air are part of the Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels that are owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, an arm of the Brunei government.