The UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) agency has suspended a project in Brunei after the country sparked outrage introducing death penalty by stoning as a punishment for gay sex.
As The Guardian first reported on Monday (April 8), the government’s official health and safety organisation was seeking to second a team of three people to the south-east Asian Commonwealth nation to support the Brunei’s own health and safety executive agency with regulatory work.
The project has now been suspended pending a review into the situation.
“HSE is an inclusive organisation and strongly supports LGBT+ rights. Any commercial discussions will now be paused while we review the situation,” a HSE spokesperson said.
PinkNews understands trade union Prospect, which represents scientists and engineers among other professionals, first raised concerns about the project with HSE last week, and was notified of the decision to suspend the project on Sunday (April 7).
Brunei introduced death penalty by stoning as a punishment for gay sex as well as adultery on April 3, as part of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s long-standing efforts to adopt a sharia-based penal code.
The move sparked international outrage, with LGBT+ campaigners and celebrities—including George Clooney, Billie Jean King, and Ellen DeGeneres—advocating for people to boycott nine hotels owned by Brunei across the world in protest against the draconian legislation.
Hundreds of people gathered in London on Saturday (April 6) outside one of these properties, the luxurious The Dorchester hotel, to voice their opposition to Brunei’s laws.
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“Assisting Brunei and other regimes in improving health and safety enforcement may be a laudable objective but it cannot be seen in isolation from the broader legal rights and responsibilities of the state to protect its citizens, whatever their sexuality.”
— Garry Graham
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary at Prospect, said in a statement: “It is welcome that HSE has listened to our concerns and chosen to pause these deployments to Brunei.
“We have very grave concerns about civil service staff being asked to work in a country with such a terrible record on equality and respecting the rights of others. It shouldn’t have taken outrage from staff and concerns from ourselves for this change to happen.”
growing backlash over death penalty punishment for gay sex
Graham said Prospect will keep ensuring no civil servants will be required to work in Brunei under the present legislations.
“Assisting Brunei and other regimes in improving health and safety enforcement may be a laudable objective, but it cannot be seen in isolation from the broader legal rights and responsibilities of the state to protect its citizens, whatever their sexuality.
“We will be seeking assurances from ministers that the government does not have any further commercial contracts hidden away that will require public servants to work in Brunei.”
Graham also noted additional questions about government agencies’ attitude towards the situation in Brunei: “Does this pause mean a change in policy with regards to providing commercial services to intolerant regimes? Will inspectors be required to go to Brunei in the future once the publicity around its horrible policy dies down? And more generally, will the HSE honour its commitment that regulation will not be compromised for the pursuit of commercial work?”
Speaking to PinkNews at Saturday’s protest, Labour MP and shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry called on the British government to suspend Brunei from the Commonwealth until it revokes its new penal code.
The University of Oxford, King’s College London (KCL) and the University of Aberdeen have all stated they will be reviewing academic honours awarded to Brunei’s autocratic ruler in light of the controversy.