05/06/2014, 00.00
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Celebrities and business leaders come out against Brunei sultan's decision to introduce Sharia

Virgin Group founder and owner Richard Branson decides to boycott a hotel chain linked to the sultanate. Human rights groups and associations take aim at the implementation of Islamic law, which is increasingly threatening the religious freedom of non-Muslims.

Bandar Seri Begawan (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Celebrities and business people have joined international organisations and human rights activists to rail against the sultan of Brunei for introducing a controversial Islamic Penal Code in his country.

Virgin group founder Richard Branson vowed that he, his company and employees would boycott the Dorchester Collection. The luxury hotel chain, which is linked to Brunei's absolute rule, includes The Dorchester in London and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Dorchester Collection is reportedly owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, a sovereign wealth fund under the oil-rich sultanate's Ministry of Finance.

Brunei government officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday. The Dorchester Collection also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The sultan's move has sparked rare domestic criticism of the fabulously wealthy ruler on the Muslim-majority country's active social media, and international condemnation, including high profile NGOs and the United Nations' human rights office.

Last week, the 67-year-old Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced the implementation of Islamic law for both Muslims and non-Muslims, including the death penalty by stoning for adultery, homosexuality and blasphemy; amputation for thieves; flogging for other crimes such as abortion and drinking alcohol. For the country's Catholics, the introduction of Sharia is both a "challenge and opportunity".

In fact, over the years, the sultanate's authorities have exerted subtle but steady pressures on non-Muslims, with the local press never missing an opportunity to highlight conversions from Christianity to Islam. Now, anyone doing the opposite is expected to be put to death for apostasy.

Unlike Malaysia and Indonesia, the tiny sultanate now becomes the first country in Southeast Asia to make sharia a formal part of its legal system.

Business leaders and Hollywood celebrities reacted negatively to Brunei because the latter happens to own some of Hollywood's favourite eateries.

However, despite the "crusade" launched by business leaders and US entertainment personalities (like popular TV host Jay Leno), Brunei's sultan should not be feel too much of a pinch.

Hassanal Bolkiah is in fact one of the richest people in the world, with a personal fortune estimate at around US$ 20 billion, a collection of (7,000) cars worth US$ 4 billion as well as a palace with nearly 1,800 rooms.

The Sultanate of Brunei is a small country on the island of Borneo, which it shares with two other bigger nations: Indonesia and Malaysia. It is a developed country and one of the richest in the world.

The official language is Malay, but English and Chinese are widely used.

Almost 70 per cent of the population in the absolute monarchy is Muslim and ethnic Malay, 13 per cent is Buddhist (mostly of Chinese origin), followed by 10 per cent indigenous, minority and no religious. Ten per cent of the population is Christian, half of them Catholic (70 per cent Filipino migrants, 20 per cent Indonesians and the remaining 10 per cent indigenous).

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See also
Apostolic Vicar: Sharia as a challenge and opportunity for Catholics in Brunei
Church in Brunei, a young and "missionary” reality
The Sultanate of Brunei to introduce Sharia-based rules
Sultanate of Brunei "postpones" introduction of Sharia
Sultan returns degree to Oxford, after anti-gay legislation uproar
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