Destinations

Same-sex couple allegedly told by Smartraveller to “act heterosexual” ahead of Brunei stop-over

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

After contacting Smartraveller ahead of a planned trip to London through Brunei, a same-sex couple was reportedly told by an advisor to “act heterosexual” on their stop-over in the country.

Ahead of their flights to London – which would include a four-hour stop-over in Brunei after the changes to its laws and flights with the nation’s airline, Royal Brunei Airlines – a same-sex couple contacted Smartraveller over concerns for their safety.

Brunei has proposed the introduction of strict Islamic laws that would make sodomy, adultery and rape punishable by death-by-stoning. Public flogging as a punishment for abortion would also apply, as well as amputation for theft, once the proposed revisions become law.

The changes to the Bruneian penal code, incorporating the full Sharia penal code, are set to run in parallel with common law from 3 April, announcing the country’s denouement on sex and gender equality.

The pair had voiced their initial concerns to Webjet, which they had booked their flights through, and were advised by the company that they would not receive a refund.

The company advised the couple to directly contact Royal Brunei Airlines about their concerns over same-sex discrimination – a prospect, the couple explained to Webjet, which made them uncomfortable.

Webjet advised them they could cancel the couple’s flights, costing them more than $2000. Webjet later provided the couple with a full refund.

After reportedly speaking to an “annoyed” advisor who was unaware of Brunei’s discriminatory law changes, the couple spoke to another member of Smartraveller’s staff in a separate call.

Speaking to a different advisor, after the couple requested an “official policy” from Smartraveller – a branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) – the pair were given incredibly insensitive and insubstantial advice.

“If you act heterosexual, you should be fine,” the advisor allegedly said.

In response to the couple’s allegations, a DFAT spokesperson told Travel Weekly: “We respect the privacy of our consular clients, and encourage the complainant to share their concerns directly with the department.”

On 27 March, DFAT updated its travel advice for Brunei, advising travellers that the country’s Sharia penal code would take effect in Brunei from 3 April.

The department has also created travel advice for LGBTI travellers travelling overseas, with links to country-specific travel advisories and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

At a press conference in Penrith, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne addressed concerns over Brunei’s proposed incorporation of Sharia law:

“This is an issue which the government … have taken up with the government of Brunei. We are strong supporters of human rights right across this region and more broadly, including in Brunei,” Senator Payne said.

“We are absolute opponents of the death penalty in all circumstances, so any suggestion that laws would facilitate the application of the death penalty is a matter of concern to Australia.”

“These are communications we will continue to have with our counterparts. I conveyed our views as recently, again, as last week to Erywan, to the Foreign Minister of Brunei, and we will continue to do so. They are matters of some human rights concern.”

Brunei is reportedly the only country in the world that maintains landing rights in Australia, while enshrining laws for the punishment and execution LGBTIQ people.

United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, has condemned Brunei’s proposal, describing the revisions as “draconian”, maintaining that they “would enshrine in legislation cruel and inhuman punishments that seriously breach international human rights law”.

George Clooney and Elton John join Bachelet in an accumulating list of celebrity and political figures in condemnation of Brunei.

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