Brunei’s harsh new laws targeting LGBT people have shocked the world and prompted global condemnation.
High-profile celebrities from George Clooney to Ellen DeGeneres have called for a public boycott to hotels owned by the country.
“Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?” Clooney wrote in a Deadline Hollywood column. “I’ve learned over years of dealing with murderous regimes that you can’t shame them. But you can shame the banks, the financiers and the institutions that do business with them and choose to look the other way.”
Ellen took to her various social media accounts urging people to boycott a number of high-end hotels over the implementation of the laws.
Pop icon Elton John urged his followers to “join him in solidarity” to send a message that the news isn’t acceptable.
It’s not just adultery between men. The penal code also dictates amputation as a punishment for theft and flogging for abortions. Lesbian sex carries 40 strokes of the cane as well as jail-time.
But while the new laws in Brunei are horrific and extreme, it’s hardly the only country where LGBT tourists and residents can face jail-time or worse.
The unpleasant truth is that harsh laws targeting homosexuals and other minorities are widespread around the world.
According to the 2019 State Sponsored Homophobia report, there are 70 UN Member States that criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts.
Of these, 68 countries have laws in place that explicitly criminalise consensual same-sex sexual acts, and two more criminalise such acts as de facto.
A map showing where homosexuality is illegal around the world. Picture: Travel Insurance DirectSource:Supplied
MAP REVEALS SCALE OF PROBLEM
Brunei is just one of many countries in the world where same sex relationships are punishable by death, and one of many more that are outright hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, including visiting Australians
A map released by insurance company Travel Insurance Direct last year, before Brunei’s law changes, identifies countries and territories according to how tolerant they are to LGBTI people, which could put Australian travellers at risk.
The death penalty applies for homosexuality in nine countries: Afghanistan, Iran, Mauritania (applies only to Muslim men), Sudan, Nigeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar (applies only to Muslims), Somalia, and now Brunei. In dozens of others, homosexuality can result in jail time.
This is what all the colours mean, the laws that will affect LGBTI travellers and what attitudes they can expect.
Many parts of Africa have harsh laws regarding homosexuality.Source:Supplied
Countries in red on the map, which include large swathes of Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia, outlaw homosexuality. This also includes Australia’s nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea, where same-sex acts between men can result in imprisonment.
For LGBTI travellers, these countries are likely to be the biggest danger zones.
Countries in orange, which include travel destinations such as Vietnam and Madagascar, have no laws against homosexuality but are considered intolerant towards LGBTI people.
Travellers are warned to expect “discrimination, prejudice and harsh treatment by officials and society as a whole,” travel expert Phil Sylvester from Travel Insurance Direct said.
“For lack of an official law these places would be marked red, too.”
Huge parts of the world including Russia and China are encompassed in the yellow section of the map.Source:Supplied
Yellow countries, including China, Russia (except for Chechnya), Turkey and some parts of Indonesia, are only slightly better.
(Indonesia has threatened a ban on gay sex but it is still legal, except for some provinces such as Aceh and South Sumatra.)
These countries have legalised homosexuality, but there is no other protection for the LGBTQI community and often open societal hostility.
GREEN AND BLUE
Green countries have legalised homosexual acts and offer some legal protections, such as anti-discrimination laws. They include Mexico, Thailand and parts of eastern Europe.
Blue countries, such as Italy, Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic and Chile, “have legalised homosexuality and have a wide range, but not all, protections in place … but they’re getting there,” Mr Sylvester said.
Countries like the US and Canada have liberal laws regarding homosexuality.Source:Supplied
Purple countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Brazil, South Africa and many countries in northern and western Europe have legalised same sex marriage and generally offer protection of rights of LGBTI people.
However, individuals may have intolerant views.
In some countries national laws and local attitudes may not always be the same.
“For example, in Russia, despite it legalising homosexual sex between men in 1993 (lesbian sex has never been illegal), in practice, you risk violence and discrimination if you are openly gay,” Mr Sylvester said.
“Hungary legalised homosexuality in 1962, has allowed registration of same-sex unions since 1992 and has anti-gay discrimination laws. But in 2015 the mayor of Budapest called the gay pride march ‘repulsive’.”
CHARGED FOR A TOUCH
While Brunei sits at the extreme end of the punishment scale — the death penalty is not applied in most of these countries’ cases — some of the celebrities calling for action have publicly endorsed countries and cities with an abysmal track record for LGBT human rights.
In 2017, for example, Ellen sent her whole 425-person audience to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, describing it as an “amazing place” that is “welcoming to all”. Elton John performed a concert there that same year.
Earlier that year, a Scottish man faced a three-year jail sentence after he made physical contact with another man while carrying a drink through a crowded bar.
Jamie Harron, 27, was arrested for public indecency at the Rock Bottom bar after he touched a man’s hip while trying to avoid spilling his drink.
The charges against him were eventually dropped, but a representative said he “suffered tremendously” as a result of the allegations, lost his job, faced losing his home and was struggling to pay his legal bills.
The city has a lively night-life, including several gay nightclubs, but homosexuality is still subject to jail sentences and the death penalty. While the latter is rarely imposed, there have been numerous cases where foreigners have been imprisoned for same-sex “activity” ranging from private sexual acts to merely touching a member of the same sex.
These laws are applied to locals and tourists alike.
In 2008, two lesbian tourists were jailed for a month and then deported for displaying public affection at Al Mamzar public beach, the Daily Mail reported. They were arrested after witnesses called police and complained.
In 2011, two men were caught having sex in a parked car and sentenced to a year each in prison, then deported after their prison terms.
In 2012, two men from Britain and Seychelles were arrested and sentenced to three years in jail after they were caught having sex next to a petrol station. During a court hearing, they both admitted to having consensual sex and consuming alcohol.
That same year, police raided a private party of around 30 people and made a series of arrests.
Closer to home, almost one million Australians visit Indonesia each year — a country where gay sex is outlawed in some parts, and your Bali tourist dollars go to a conservative government. Next to New Zealand, it’s our most popular overseas destination.
Last July, a gay couple were flogged more than 80 times each in the conservative Aceh province on the northwest tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island for having gay sex in private, in a move that prompted outrage around the world.
Last year, Indonesian politicians launched an unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation to ban consensual same-sex relations. Indonesian speaker, Bambang Soesatyo, said that legislation was needed to curb “homosexual excesses, such as murder, HIV/AIDS and paedophilia”.
That said, part of the intensity of this backlash is that Brunei’s new laws are especially harsh. According to the report, only six other UN member states impose the death penalty on gay people — Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia. A further five include the death penalty as a “possible punishment” — Mauritania, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Brunei is the first Asian country to make homosexuality punishable by death.
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