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Calls to rename Brunei Gallery renewed after indictment of gay man

By Josh Mock, BA Arabic and Persian

Brunei has used its anti-LGBT+ legislation for the first time since it introduced the death penalty for men who have sex with men. The legislation was passed last March prompting calls for the Brunei Gallery to be renamed.

Md As-Shaliheen bin Abdul Quddus Ong was indicted in a magistrates court on 5 January 2020 and was remanded while further investigations take place. It is alleged that the defendant solicited the sexual services of one man, promising him payment, before stealing three pieces of his clothing on 18 December 2019. He is also accused of having obtained sexual services of a second man on 25 December, again promising payment before stealing three pieces of clothing and a Samsung S6 mobile phone, according to the Borneo Bulletin.

As-Shaliheen was released on bail on 11 January, and the prosecution has been given time to finalise their case. He has since hired a lawyer, Rajiv Prabhakaran, and the court adjourned the case to 20 January. The case continues.

The theft charges each carry penalties of three years’ jail, a fine, or both, while buying sexual services from men carries a jail term of one year and a fine ranging between BND1,000 and BND5,000 (c.£570-£2850). Subsequent convictions of the same charges increase the penalties to three years’ jail, and fines ranging between BND2,000 and BND10,000 (c.£1100-£5700). 

The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, agreed that the death penalty for LGBT+ people, introduced in March 2019, would not be enforced following international outcry, boycotts of Brunei-owned hotels, such as the Dorchester Hotel near Hyde Park, and the revocation of honorary degrees awarded to the Sultan, according to PinkNews. This case will set a precedent as to whether the Sultan will keep his promise to not use the death penalty for men having sex with men. 

Valerie Amos said in 2016 that the School would ‘debate’ renaming the gallery, although no further action has been taken since. 

The SOAS SU launched a petition in March 2019 to have the Brunei Gallery renamed following the Sultan’s decision to introduce the death penalty. SOAS responded in a press release saying, ‘the Sultan of Brunei made a donation to SOAS in 1995 to build the gallery and the gift was received before any introduction of Sharia Law in that country.’ The School also made it clear that ‘the donor has no role, influence, or involvement in the policy or operation of the gallery or the wider School.’ 

SOAS Director Baroness Valerie Amos said in an interview with the Guardian in 2016 that the School would ‘debate’ renaming the gallery, although no further action has been taken since .

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