MPs call on Oxford University to revoke Brunei sultan’s degree over gay death penalty

Two MPs who have urged Oxford University to revoke the Brunei sultan's honorary degree

Two Oxfordshire MPs have urged Oxford University to revoke the Sultan of Brunei’s honorary degree over the country’s introduction of the death penalty for gay sex—as a petition to the world-leading institution tops 50,000 signatures.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran and Labour MP Anneliese Dodds wrote a letter to vice chancellor Louise Richardson on Friday (April 5) stating that the university has a “duty and responsibility to ensure that its name is not tied to such gross violations of human rights and the persecution of LGBTQ+ people.”

Their letter, which was also addressed to registrar Gillian Aitken, comes after a petition calling on Oxford University to revoke the academic honour topped more than 50,000 signatures.

The petition was set up in response to a statement sent to PinkNews by the university, in which it initially said it “will not be rescinding” the 1993 honorary degree it awarded to Bruneian ruler Hassanal Bolkiah.

The spokesperson, however, issued an updated statement on Thursday afternoon (April 4), telling PinkNews that, while it condemned Brunei’s new penal code, “at present, the university has not taken any decision on rescinding the Sultan of Brunei’s 1993 Honorary Degree of Civil Law by Diploma.”

MPs tell Oxford university it has a “duty” to revoke Sultan of Brunei’s honorary degree

In their letter, Moran, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, and Dodds, MP for Oxford East, write: “The University of Oxford must be inclusive and open to all, setting an example globally.

“It is essential that LGBTQ+ people linked to your institution know that you recognise their rights and freedoms, and that you will advocate for and prioritise them on a global scale, wherever and whenever you can.

“It is time to listen to your University community and your conscience. Honorary degrees should reflect the ethos of the University, and to honour such a regressive, bigoted and dangerous head of state is wrong.”

The MPs go on to cite the petition, saying: “These signatures come from those who are hurt and angered by the lack of action from the University.

“We share, and support, their concerns.”

Commonwealth: Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah

Brunei’s sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. (ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Brunei implemented the strict Islamic legal system of sharia law on Wednesday (April 3), making gay sex between men punishable with death by stoning and lesbian sex carrying a sentence of 40 whips of the cane or a 10 year jail sentence.

King’s College London and University of Aberdeen review Brunei sultan’s honorary degrees

Moran and Dodds went on to describe the university’s current stance as “disappointing,” given that King’s College London and the University of Aberdeen have said they will both review honorary degrees awarded to the sultan in light of the country’s draconian legislation.

“It is not enough to simply pay lip service to advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.”

—Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran and Labour MP Anneliese Dodds

On Friday (April 5), a University of Aberdeen spokesperson said that its honorary degrees committee had recommended that the sultan’s academic honour is revoked. The recommendation has been passed on to its academic body to make a final decision.

Moran and Dodds’ letter continues: “We feel that the University’s statement of support for the international condemnation of Brunei’s penal code does not go far enough.

“It is not enough to simply pay lip service to advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.

“Refusal to rescind the honorary degree to many people implies a tacit endorsement of Brunei’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance and a failure to stand up for the rights of the international LGBTQ+ community.”

Bolkiah has further honorary degrees from Moscow State University for International Relations, Chulalongkorn University of Thailand, Universitas Gadjah Mada, National University of Singapore and Universitas Indonesia.

The introduction of the strict Islamic legal system of sharia law in Brunei, a former British protected state, will also impose the death penalty for adultery, amputation for those found guilty of theft, and flogging for abortion.

Brunei, which sits on the island of Borneo, first announced its intention to introduce sharia law in 2013.

Celebrities including George Clooney and Ellen DeGeneres have condemned the legislation, alongside humanitarian organisations.