OpEd: Why Stone Them For Whom They Love, Whip Them For Who They Are?

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Mavis Leno on CNN

(CNN) -- The movement to stop a horrific new Taliban-like penal code in Brunei is growing.

On Tuesday, I spoke at a rally organized by the Feminist Majority Foundation to demand that the sultan of Brunei immediately rescind the new law that includes the stoning to death of gay men and lesbians and the public flogging of women.

These "kill-a-gay" laws or laws that allow the brutal whipping of women for abortions violate international law and have no place in civilized society. My husband, Jay Leno, said it clearly at the rally: "What year is it, 1814 or 2014?"

As a board member of the Feminist Majority Foundation, I fought to stop the Taliban in Afghanistan. When no one else was paying attention, we were there, exposing the Taliban's reign of terror and the special viciousness it reserved for women and girls. We built a strong, diverse, unrelenting movement against the Taliban and helped Afghan women rally against gender apartheid. We fought the Taliban then, and we will fight these Taliban-like laws now.

There is no room for compromise. We are talking about people being stoned to death. We are talking about people being flogged. As we saw all too recently in Afghanistan, flogging can lead to death or paralysis. This is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment for actions that no one should dare call "crimes." No one should be killed for who they are or whom they love. Women should not be abused for making their own health decisions.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed deep concern about this new penal code and has stated unequivocally that the Brunei law violates international law and human rights. Now that the sultan of Brunei has announced that the law will begin to be phased in, the United States and the United Nations must condemn the Brunei government.

And if Brunei fails to rescind this gruesome law, the U.N. should investigate whether Brunei should be allowed to remain a member of that body, a privilege it has had since 1984.

I pledge to do my part. The Feminist Majority Foundation pulled its annual Global Women's Rights Awards, an event that Jay and I co-chair every year, from the Beverly Hills Hotel -- a Dorchester Collection property owned by the Brunei Investment Agency. The agency is managed by the Brunei Ministry of Finance, which is controlled by the sultan.

We simply could not hold women's rights event at a hotel whose owner blatantly violates basic human rights.

We have also joined with LGBT rights groups and other women's right groups to protest this draconian new penal code. Although the law is being styled as a "religious" law, we see here, as we saw in Afghanistan, that religion has little to do with it. This is about a dictatorship using terror tactics to control the population. And we can't stand for that.

The sultan announced last week that he would phase in the new penal code over three years -- and the first phase, which includes fines and prison sentences, went into effect May 1. The second phase includes corporal punishment such as amputations and flogging women who have abortions. The stoning to death of gay men and lesbians is slated for the third phase.

But we can stop it. We've done it before, and you can help. The Feminist Majority Foundation has launched a massive petition drive and social media campaign using the hashtag #StopTheSultan, calling on the government of Brunei to rescind the code and asking the United Nations to take action. Sign the petition, and then spread the word.

We want everyone to know about this outrageous penal code. For human rights and dignity, it must be changed.

Editor's note: Mavis Leno is a California-based philanthropist, feminist and wife of former "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno. She is also a board member of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which this week led the protest of the Beverly Hills Hotel, owned by a group controlled by the Sultan of Brunei. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.


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