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Amid boycott of Beverly Hills haunt, city confronts Brunei over sharia law

The Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, is seen during a protest over Brunei's strict sharia law penal code in Beve
The Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Sultan of Brunei, is seen during a protest over Brunei's strict sharia law penal code in Beve

BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - The City of Beverly Hills will vote on Tuesday on whether 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.

Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse said last week the city council would vote at its Tuesday meeting on a resolution urging the Brunei government to divest its ownership of the hotel and condemning the country's laws.

Brunei, a former British protectorate of about 400,000 run by Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, last week became the first East Asian country to adopt Islamic law. Sharia's criminal law allows the punishment of 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 that the ambassador to Brunei had privately relayed concerns to the government there about the law.

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

More groups joined the boycott Tuesday, including the International Women's Media Foundation, which pulled its October ceremony for the Courage in Journalism Awards from the hotel.

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

"This is the height of hypocrisy, and we must ensure that profits from LGBT weddings in the U.S. stop going to a regime that could soon start executing its LGBT citizens," the group's president Chad Griffin said in a statement.

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.

Christopher Cowdray, the chief executive of the London-based Dorchester Collection, said those protesting have ignored local hotels owned by countries with poor human rights records and that a boycott would ultimately hurt the local economy most.

"There are other hotel companies in this city that are owned by Saudi Arabia ... you know, your shirt probably comes from a country which has human rights issues," said Cowdray from Beverly Hills.

"So to single out the Beverly Hills Hotel, the Dorchester Collection, and in particular our employees, I feel is very unjust."

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that while a boycott is an acceptable way for private citizens to express themselves, "we don't take a position on this specific effort."

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey and Colin Sims; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)

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