Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah returns Oxford degree after gay-sex death penalty backlash

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

Key points:

  • Nearly 120,000 people signed a petition calling on Oxford to rescind the law degree
  • On April 3, Brunei installed the death penalty for sodomy, adultery and rape
  • The sultan earlier this month said the death penalty would not be imposed, although the law remains

Nearly 120,000 people had signed a petition by April calling on Oxford 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 country.

The petition was circulated after the small South-East Asian country rolled out its interpretation of Islamic laws 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.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.VIDEO 5:32

Brunei bows to backlash over gay sex lawsTHE WORLD

In response, Oxford University said it conducted a review and wrote to the Sultan on April 26, “asking for his views” by June 7.

A statement said the Sultan replied with his decision to return the degree on May 6.

Meanwhile, Oxford said it was reviewing its decision to award it in the first place.

Gay rights around the world

Gay rights around the world

Same-sex marriage is legal in Australia after a hard-fought campaign and a voluntary national postal survey. But elsewhere in the world gay people can struggle to simply stay out of jail.

Brunei’s proposed law, which the United Nations 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 persist across much of Asia, where Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore ban sexual relationships between men, and Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people recently.

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

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