Brunei boycott could engulf airline

SYDNEY, 5 April 2019: Protests over Brunei introducing draconian laws with brutal punishments for homosexual acts and adultery is shifting focus to Royal Brunei Airlines.

Virgin Australia on Wednesday confirmed it has cancelled its staff travel deal with the sultanate’s national carrier over the new anti-gay laws.

Full Syariah law took effect in Brunei on Wednesday, 3 April, although legislation was introduced in phases since 2013.

It applies to Muslims, non-Muslims and foreigners even when on Brunei-registered aircraft and vessels according to travel advisory issued by the Australian government.

According to a report in AFP the Australian department of foreign affairs’ website warns tourists that some offences may result in a penalty of execution by stoning.

However experts at Human Dignity Trust London, contacted by TTR Weekly earlier this week, said it was doubtful that executions would be carried out against foreigners prosecuted under Syariah law whether travelling on the airline or visiting Brunei.

AFP reported Thursday that the Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby called on the Australian government to ensure the safety of Australians is protected.

The Victorian lobby group believes the travel warning does not go far enough to protect the rights of LGBTIQ Australians.

The group called on Melbourne Airport to withdraw permission for Brunei Airlines to land, while demanding that Flight Centre and STA Travel immediately stop selling the airline’s tickets.

However, airport authorities said it was a matter for the federal government to decide on the airline’s right to fly to Australia.

Virgin Australia in an email to staff said the decision was made “given the harsh (including death) penalties being introduced for an activity that is legal and acceptable in Australia”.

A Virgin spokeswoman said a separate interline ticketing agreement that allows Royal Brunei to sell seats on Virgin flights had not been changed.

Travel agency Flight Centre responded saying the company “vehemently opposes” the application of Syariah law in Brunei.

But Mateusz Maszczynski a blogger on Paddle Your Own Kanoo, who also works as a flight attendant reported this week that Human rights groups were pressing Minister for Transport, Michael McCormack, to revoke Royal Brunei’s landing rights in Australia, citing the danger that the airline poses to LGBTQ passengers.

Like so many boycotts, taking a stance against Brunei will only work if consumers are actually willing to inconvenience themselves for the sake of their political beliefs,” he said.

While travel consumers may lead the charge against human rights violations, the global travel industry is doing what it does best; siting on the fence. 

A reliable source in Hong Kong, formally linked to the Pacific Asia Travel Association, claimed email communications confirmed the association’s leaders remained deeply divided on the issue while failing to reach agreement on an appropriate advocacy role with regards Brunei.

(Source: Perth Now, Paddle Your Own Kanoo and AFP)