Calls to ban Brunei airline from Australia in wake of death penalty for gay sex

A petition has been launched calling on the government to "commit to a ban on Royal Brunei from flying into and out of Australia", citing the danger of unwitting Australians falling victim to the harsh laws.

A petition to ban Royal Brunei Airlines from landing in Australia has gathered steam as Virgin Australian cancelled staff travel on the airline following the country's introduction of harsh Sharia law that includes the death penalty for gay sex.

The petition, directed to the Minister and Shadow Minister for Transport, calls on the government to "commit to a ban on Royal Brunei from flying into and out of Australia".

A petition is calling for Royal Brunei Airlines to be banned from landing in Australia.
Source: AAP

"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 petition, which as so far been signed by more than 13,000 people, reads.

"But that is the reality for LGBTIQ Australians now Brunei has enacted laws that could see gay people stoned to death."

Homosexuality has always been illegal in the tiny South-East Asian country but from Wednesday strict new Islamic laws making gay sex an offence punishable by stoning to death came into effect. 

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah at a procession as part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations in Brunei in October 2017.
Source: EPA

The rules are based on the strictest interpretation of Sharia, an Islamic law based on the Quran that also prescribes amputations for theft.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne confirmed that the full laws would apply to foreigners in Brunei and on Brunei registered aircraft and vessels. 

Author of the petition LGBTQI+ activist Neil Pharaoh told SBS News that Royal Brunei was the only airline with landing rights in Australia where homosexuality is punishable by death.

On Wednesday, Virgin Australia cancelled a staff travel agreement with the national carrier citing the new laws.

"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.

The spokesperson added that the airline does not sell seats on Royal Brunei, but that under a separate agreement the Brunei airline does sell seats on Virgin aircraft on select domestic routes.

"It is a matter for individual travellers as to which airline they choose to fly," Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said in a statement to SBS News.

"Australia has conveyed its concerns regarding the introduction of the full Syariah Penal Code to the Brunei Government."

In the US, hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei have also faced calls of boycott, with celebrities including George Clooney, Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres advocating for the action.

"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,” Clooney wrote in a column for Deadline website. 

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".

In a public address on Wednesday, 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.

The sultan, who has been on the throne for over five decades, also insisted that Brunei was a "fair" country and the environment for visitors was "safe and harmonious". 

Government officials later confirmed the laws had entered into force. 

"The statement from the prime minister's office last weekend on (the code's) implementation prevails, hence (April 3) marks the date of its implementation," a religious affairs ministry official told AFP.


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Published 4 April 2019 at 12:31pm, updated 4 April 2019 at 2:16pm
By Maani Truu