A motion has been filed to the King’s College London Student Union calling for the removal of the honorary doctorate presented to the Sultan of Brunei.
If passed, the KCLSU motion would result in the Student Union lobbying the university to remove the honour.
In 2011 King’s honoured Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah by gifting him an Honorary Degree in Law.
In April this year, the Sultan signed into law a new penal code which names death by stoning as a punishment for a range of offences including: consensual same-sex sexual activity, adultery, rape and declaring oneself to be non-Muslim.
Earlier this month King’s graduate and Pink News publisher Benjamin Cohen spoke at the university’s annual graduation dinner. In his speech he called on King’s to support its LGBT students by rescinding the degree. Following this the university stated that as the degree was awarded before the new laws were signed by the Sultan the honour would not be retracted.
Earlier this month Oxford University also stated that it would not be rescinding the honorary degree it had presented to the Sultan.
In an article posted to King’s College London’s student newspaper Roar! Nikolas Jovčić-Sas, Interfaith officer at KCLSU and the student who filed the motion at King’s, criticised the decision made by his university:
“King’s has a proud reputation for being a university that promotes both equality and diversity. But how is this reputation compatible with the public endorsement of a man who advocates stoning a minority group to death?”
Speaking about the issue the president of the King’s College London LGBT Society also emphasised Kings’ commitment to promoting equality:
“I think it’s something that should be considered seriously because when you give someone an honorary degree, you associate yourself with them and by extension their values.
“If those values change or new ones come to light, there should be some kind of mechanism in place to re-evaluate such honours to ensure that King’s stays true to its own values.”
King’s has stated that since the honour was awarded before these laws were signed into effect it sees no reason to rescind it. But in his motion Nikolas Jovčić-Sas pointed out that the first phase of the new law was introduced in May of 2011. He added:
“In 2011 Hassanal Bolkiah already had the intent to implement the death penalty for same-sex acts that will come into effect when the final phase of the Shari’a law code is implemented”
The degree was originally presented to the Sultan in recognition for establishing links between King’s and Universiti Brunei Darussalam, which suggests the university is concerned by the possibility of ruining an advantageous relationship with Brunei and its academic institutes.
Voting will take place on Friday 20 June, until which time students can debate the topic online.