Australia's number-two airline, Virgin Australia, has cancelled a staff travel agreement with Brunei's national carrier, as the tiny South-East Asian country implements harsh sharia law punishments for homosexuality.
Homosexuality has always been illegal in Brunei but from Wednesday 3 April, the sultanate has introduced strict new Islamic laws making gay sex an offence punishable by stoning to death.
Brunei's all-powerful Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah called for Islamic teachings in the country to be strengthened, complete with sharia punishments, including death by stoning for gay sex and adultery.
Virgin Australia has ended its staff travel arrangement with Royal Brunei after the Asian nation introduced harsh religious laws. Source: AP
Virgin Australia confirmed that while it did not sell seats on Royal Brunei, it would end its staff travel agreement with the carrier.
"We have made the decision to end a Staff Leisure Travel agreement with Royal Brunei from today. The Staff Travel agreement was for the sole purpose of employee leisure travel benefits only," a spokesperson told SBS News.
"We have made the decision to end a Staff Leisure Travel agreement with Royal Brunei from today. The Staff Travel agreement was for the sole purpose of employee leisure travel benefits only."
It comes as a gay Australian couple were reportedly told to "act straight" by Australian travel advisories body Smart Traveller, after they expressed concern about upcoming flights to Brunei, according to
The Tasmanian couple had booked flights to London on Royal Brunei Airlines, including a four-hour stopover in Brunei, and other flights with the carrier, before the new laws were introduced.
Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah speaks during the closing ceremony and handover of the ASEAN Chairmanship to Myanmar in Bandar Seri Begawan. Source: AP
They expressed their concern to Webjet, and the company eventually offered the couple a full refund.
News.com.au reported the couple then contacted Smart Traveller, twice, and one adviser told them: "If you act heterosexual you should be fine".
Under Brunei's new law, rape and robbery will also also punishable by death.
In the wake of the sharia law crackdown, celebrities, such as George Clooney and Elton John, have called for Brunei-owned hotels to be boycotted.
George Clooney has called to boycott of nine hotels, including establishments in London, owned by Brunei. Source: ANSA
has been launched in Australia to ban Royal Brunei Airlines from operating in Australia.
Campaign creator Neil Pharaoh has called on Australian Transport Minister Michael McCormack to "make a stand against this sort of hate".
"The last thing you expect to happen if you board a flight from Australia - as a law abiding citizen - is to run the real risk of falling victim to a shocking law that could potentially see you jailed, or even executed," the campaign website reads.
"Why should a country that executes gays be allowed to operate here and their national carrier place our citizens at risk?"
Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at a procession as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in Brunei in October 2017. Source: EPA
In a public address to mark a special date in the Islamic calendar, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah called for stronger Islamic teachings but did not mention the new penal code.
"I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger," he said in the nationally televised speech at a convention centre near the capital Bandar Seri Begawan.
"I would like to emphasise that the country of Brunei is a... country that always devotes its worship to Allah."
He said that he wanted the Muslim call to prayer to ring out in all public places, not just in mosques, to remind people of their Islamic duties.
"Anyone who comes to visit this country will have a sweet experience, and enjoy the safe and harmonious environment," he said.
The tough punishments have triggered worldwide condemnation.
Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said the code was "barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn't even be crimes".
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement it takes "the issues of Australian travellers, including those from the LGBTI community, very seriously".
It point to a section on the website for tailored advice for individual countries, including Brunei.
Bruneians stroll near Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, one of landmarks of Bandar Seri Begawan in Brunei. Source: AP
Brunei officials have not yet confirmed the sharia penal code had entered into effect.
On the weekend, the government said new punishments would be enforced from Wednesday.
With additional reporting from AFP