PEN says goodbye to the sultan of Brunei’s Beverly Hills Hotel

PEN at the Beverly Hills Hotel
PEN Center USA’s Freedom to Write dinner was held at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2013. It won’t be in 2014.
(Casey Curry / PEN Center USA)

The West Coast branch of PEN, which holds its annual benefit gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel, has changed its plans for 2014.

“As a consequence of the recent actions of its owner, the Sultan of Brunei, which are in direct opposition to the beliefs and standards upheld by PEN Center USA, the organization has declined to book a date for its 2014 Literary Awards Gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where the event has been held since 2006,” PEN said in a statement released to The Times. “The organization’s staff and board of directors are currently exploring alternate venues for the annual celebration, which honors the best writing in the western United States.”

The dual mission of PEN Center USA is to promote a literary culture and to protect freedom of expression. The latter, in particular, comes into conflict with legal code changes recently introduced by the sultan of Brunei, owner of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

The sultan introduced a new criminal code based on sharia law in his home nation. Fines and jail terms can be imposed for failing to attend Friday prayers, indecent behavior and pregnancies outside of marriage. That’s just in the first phase.


The second phase, coming later this year, prescribes flogging for Muslims who consume alcohol and, for property crimes, flogging and amputation. In late 2015, the third phase will allow for death by stoning for gay sex and adultery.

In an essay for the Daily Beast, author Jillian Lauren writes, quite plainly, “one drunken evening in the early ’90s, the sultan and I committed at least two of the aforementioned offenses as we looked down on the lights of Kuala Lumpur from a penthouse suite.”

For 18 months, Lauren lived as a mistress of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, the youngest brother of the sultan of Brunei. She detailed those experiences in her bestselling memoir “Some Girls: My Life in a Harem,” a book that led her to be one of the writing mentors in PEN’s Emerging Voices program.

PEN is doing more than stepping away from the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the sultan of Brunei’s Dorchester Collection. It is halting its literary programming at another of the company’s properties, the Hotel Bel-Air.