Sultan of Brunei returns Oxford degree after backlash over anti-gay laws
The Sultan of Brunei has returned an honorary degree awarded by Oxford University after a 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 April calling on Oxford University to rescind the honorary law degree awarded in 1993 to Hassanal Bolkiah, the world’s second-longest reigning monarch and prime minister of the oil-rich country.
Oxford University said the sultan had decided to hand back the honorary degree on 6 May, while it was reviewing the award.
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 emailed statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Through a letter dated 6 May 2019, the sultan replied with his decision to return the degree.”
The small south-east Asian country sparked an outcry when it rolled out its interpretation of Islamic laws on 3 April, 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 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 banned staff from 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 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 at a national level in 2014.