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UK universities refuse to rescind Sultan of Brunei’s three honorary degrees

UK universities refuse to rescind Sultan of Brunei’s three honorary degrees

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

Hassanal Bolkiah, the Sultan of Brunei, who will impose laws to punish LGBTI people with stoning, whipping, and amputation, still has three honorary degrees from UK universities.

The University of Oxford, King’s College London, and the University of Aberdeen all awarded the Sultan, 72, with nominal degrees.

UPDATE: All three institutions have since, following public pressure and internal faculty meetings, have rescinded or are reviewing the nominal degrees.

Last month, Gay Star News broke the news that Brunei was quietly rushing to implement the Sharia Penal Code.

‘We share the condemnation’

Gay Star News reached out to the University of Oxford. They awarded the Sultan an Honorary Degree of Civil Law in 1993.

A spokesperson said: ‘We share the international condemnation of Brunei’s new penal code and back the United Nation’s call to stop the code entering into force.’

However, they said ‘At present, the University will not be rescinding’ the degree.

Although, the college have since announced their plans to review the degree.

‘KCL has failed our LGBT+ community’

King’s College London honored the Sultan with a Doctorate of Law in 2011 for his ‘lifelong commitment to higher education.’

But the Sultan’s commitment to killing and erasing LGBTI is also lifelong.

But when The King’s Tab cornered the college on the topic, they tersely stated at the time: ‘An Honorary Doctorate was bestowed upon the Sultan of Brunei in April 2011 for his lifelong commitment to higher education.’

While Georgie Spearling, president of the KCL LGBT+ society, condemned the college.

‘KCL has failed our LGBT+ community once again,’ they said in a statement.

‘This is completely unacceptable. A man who has introduced a new policy of stoning gay people to death is not deserving of honours from our university.’

King’s College London replies and reviews 

However, pressure mounted. The college confirmed to Gay Star News they are reviewing the degree.

In a supplied statement, a King’s College London spokesperson said: ‘King’s is very proud of our diverse community.

‘We take very seriously the concerns raised by our community regarding the honorary degree held by the Sultan of Brunei which was awarded in 2011.

‘President and Principal Ed Byrne shares these concerns, and given recent developments, has asked the university’s Fellowships and Honorary Degrees Committee to urgently review the award.’

‘A matter of urgency’

Similarly, for the University of Aberdeen, who awarded the Sultan an Honorary Doctor of Letters, the college have since announced their plan to review this.

The spokesperson for the Scottish university told GSN: ‘The University of Aberdeen is inclusive and open to all.

‘In light of this new information this matter will be raised as a matter of urgency with the University’s Honorary Degrees Committee.’

Sharia Penal Code: In three stages

Back in 2014, Bolkiah announced the Brunei government would implement the Sharia Penal Code in three stages.

The first stage of legal reforms was no struggle to lawmakers, but its second and third stages experienced holdups.

Last month, Gay Star News broke the news that Brunei was quietly rushing to implement the Sharia Penal Code by 3 April.

The controversial penal code includes death by stoning for people convicted of sodomy. Alongside whipping for those condemned for adultery or rape.

Brunei itself – a tiny, oil-rich patch of the island of Berneo – has only 430,000 people living there.

Global outcry

Yet, this in no way stopped the immense and continuing condemnation of their government.

LGBTI people and organisations on the frontline of the country, such as The Brunei Project, act as some of the few support networks in the country.

While high-profile celebrities – from George Clooney to Elton John – have spoken bluntly of their decisions to boycott all Brunei-owned hotel businesses.

The US State Department criticized the move, too, but stopped short of fully condemning the law.

See also

UN slams ‘inhuman’ Brunei law on death sentence for LGBTI people

Brunei defends new death penalty law for gay sex

In fear for their lives: The hidden LGBTI community of Brunei