Sultan of Brunei returns honorary degree to Oxford

Thomson Reuters Foundation, LONDON

Sat, May 25, 2019 - Page 6

Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has returned an honorary degree awarded by Britain’s the University of Oxford after a global backlash led by celebrities including George Clooney and Elton John for proposing the death penalty for gay sex and adultery.

Nearly 120,000 people had signed a petition by last month calling on the university to rescind the honorary law degree awarded in 1993 to the sultan, the world’s second-longest reigning monarch and prime minister of the oil-rich nation.

The university said the sultan had decided to hand back the honorary degree on May 6, while it was reviewing its decision to award it.

News of the decision was made public on Thursday.

“As part of the review process, the university wrote to notify the sultan on 26 April, 2019, asking for his views by 7 June, 2019,” the university said in an e-mailed statement.

“Through a letter dated 6 May, 2019, the sultan replied with his decision to return the degree,” it said.

The small Southeast Asian nation sparked an outcry when it rolled out its interpretation of Islamic law on April 3, punishing sodomy, adultery and rape with death, including by stoning.

Seeking to temper the backlash, the sultan earlier this month said the death penalty would not be imposed in the implementation of the penal code changes.

The law, which the UN has condemned, had prompted celebrities and rights groups to seek a boycott on hotels owned by the sultan, including the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

Several multinational companies have since put a ban on staff using the sultan’s hotels, while some travel companies have stopped promoting Brunei as a tourist destination.

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across Asia where Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore ban sexual relationships between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT people.

Brunei, a former British protectorate of about 400,000 people nestled between two Malaysian states on Borneo island, was the first nation in the region to adopt the criminal component of Shariah law at a national level in 2014.