Brunei Introduces Anti-LGBT+ Legislation

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On Wednesday the 24th of April, the Chairman of King’s College Council sent an open letter to King’s students, addressing the issue of the formal review of the Sultan’s honorary doctorate and condemning the new penal code that went into effect in Brunei exactly three weeks prior.

What is Sharia law in Brunei?

Sharia law is Islamic law based primarily on the Quran and other writings. Although it can be interpreted in several ways, Brunei introduced a harsh version of it in 2014, giving the country a dual legal system of both common and Sharia law.

On 3rd April 2019, a new penal code that initiated the second phase of Sharia law was implemented in the country despite worldwide condemnation. In accordance with this, strict Islamic laws were enforced that made anal sex, adultery and abortion punishable by stoning to death. Lesbian sex, on the other hand, was made punishable by 40 strokes of the cane and imprisonment for up to ten years, while those who wore clothes that did not conform to their gender were punishable by whipping.

These laws are applicable to all individuals who have hit puberty, which may include people who are considered minors in other countries.

International outrage

Homosexuality has been illegal in Brunei ever since the country gained independence from the British. It was initially punishable by up to 10 years in prison, while lesbian sex was punishable by imprisonment and a fine.

The implementation of the new penal code has made punishments more radical and has sparked international outrage.

The United Nations has called the “cruel, inhuman and degrading” laws gross violations of human rights. According to Human Rights Watch, the legislation has also defied international law that protects protects adultery and homosexuality against the death penalty.

Moreover, a majority of European nations, including France, Germany and the United Kingdom have voted in favour of a resolution condemning the new penal code. The European Parliament, responding to this outrage, has called on the European Union to freeze assets and issue visa bans.

Celebrities have also taken to social media to express their anger, with individuals such as Ellen DeGeneres and George Clooney calling for the blacklisting of nine hotels owned by Brunei Investment Agency – including the Beverly Hills Hotel in the USA and the Dorchester in the UK.

Brunei’s Defence

In a statement released on the 30th of March, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Brunei is “a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country” and thus has the power to “enforce its own rule of laws.”

The statement further said that “apart from criminalising and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam,” the Shariah Law also “aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race.”

Furthermore, on the 15th of April, Brunei sent a four-page letter to the European Parliament asking for “tolerance, respect, understanding” and attempting to clarify its stance.

The letter stated: “the criminalisation of adultery and sodomy is to safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage to individual Muslims, particularly women.

“It must be appreciated that the diversities in culture, traditional and religious values in the world means that there is no one standard that fits all.”

In a bid to further justify its legislation, the letter also stated that sentences of death by stoning for adultery, sodomy and abortion would have “extremely high evidentiary threshold, requiring no less than two or four men of high moral standing and piety as witnesses.”

King’s Stance

In light of the imposition of Brunei’s anti-LGBT+ legislation, King’s has been called upon by various individuals and institutions to rescind its honorary doctorate that was awarded to the 72-year old Hassanal Bolkiah – the Sultan of Brunei – in 2011.

To the BBC, Georgie Spearing, president of KCL’s LGBT+ Society, said: “It is entirely wrong for our institution to tacitly endorse a man who would have our LGBT+ community at KCL stoned to death.

“A small step in the right direction is to rescind the honours degree, but far more structural changes need to occur to increase the quality of university life for our LGBT+ students.”

In response to this, King’s students received an open letter earlier today from the Chairman of King’s College Council, condemning Brunei’s legislation and addressing the removal of the Sultan’s honorary doctorate.

The letter stated: “King’s does not presume to weigh heavily in relations between states. But we have a voice. Ours may be just one among many, but it is a voice of the conscience and principles that direct and animate this university.

“The Council of King’s College London has already announced that it will formally review the award in 2011 of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, to His Majesty the Sultan and Yang di-Pertuan of Brunei, in whom is vested the country’s supreme executive authority.

“The Fellowships and Honorary Degrees Committee will shortly be meeting to recommend a course of action to Council. As an important matter of procedure, the university will then, through the good offices of Brunei’s High Commissioner to London, invite His Majesty to respond.

“Subsequently, the Council will consider both the Committee’s recommendation and any response from the Sultan before reaching its own decision.”


Women in Film: Non-existent or Neglected?

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In the 88 years of Academy Awards, only four women have been nominated for the ‘Best Director’ award, while only one has won. This year, the sheer lack of female nominees at the Oscars has highlighted the “male culture” prevalent in Hollywood.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the release of this year’s Oscar nominations, particularly around the lack of female filmmakers in the directing category. In the 88 years of Academy Awards, only one woman has won an award for directing– Kathryn Bigelow– while only four have been nominated. With Bigelow’s win, the ratio of female to male winners was a shocking 1 to 88 – a ratio that will become 1 to 89 in 2019.

On this exclusion, Sparsh Sehgal, King’s College London’s Women’s Officer, said: “Since the last nine decades, the Academy Awards have failed to recognise women directors. And it is not surprising that this exclusion is still in place this year, even after critically acclaimed movies like Karyn Kusama’s Destroyer, Tamara Jenkins’ Private Life, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here were all female-directed movies. The nomination process fails to recognise a whole segment of work helmed by deserving female directors. Traditionally gender boundaries have restricted women from getting the opportunity to stand as equals and work. Now they restrict recognition and progress.”

The obvious disparity between female and male nominees has raised many eyebrows. Many people are indignant, believing that deserving women filmmakers were overlooked as potential candidates – but is this truly the case? Were women filmmakers excluded from the directing category in the 2019 Academy Awards because of systematic discrimination that refuses to acknowledge their work, or is the real issue at hand implicit in the system – the very imbalance of females in the filmmaking industry?

Female filmmakers have fewer opportunities to thrive in Hollywood, which has historically suffered from systemic gender equality issues. An important issue to discuss is why women are underrepresented in the filmmaking industry and why they are often dissuaded from joining the same. In research conducted by the online film-financing hub Slated, it was revealed that low-budget films directed by women are released on one-third as many screens as those directed by men, reducing not only their exposure but their return on investment.

Moreover, while some low-budget films are released on few screens, others don’t even make it to theatres; and since only films that have been released in theatres can be recognised by the Academy for an Oscar, women’s films fail to be nominated, leading to gender based disparity among Oscar nominees.

Aside from the reduced exposure, there is also a very evident power imbalance in Hollywood, with men holding more positions of power than women. This prominent masculine culture perpetuates the discrepancy in both nomination and employment gender gaps and has led to many people viewing Hollywood as an exclusive “boys’ club.” According to Julie Burton, president of Women’s Media Centre, “women cannot get through the door, and if they can’t get through the door, they can’t be recognised and rewarded for their excellence and impact.”

There is no point criticising the films that were nominated this year: we cannot say that they did not deserve to be nominated, because they did. However, the underrepresentation of women – highlighted by this year’s nominations – makes it clear that there is a lot of work to be done to increase the number of females in the filmmaking industry.

This does not mean that we establish a gender quota, which is a criticised solution because it is widely believed that men and women should be measured on the same scale. Instead, we should aim to promote women filmmakers through various initiatives, such as mentorship schemes and greater outreach initiatives. Certain resources for the same are already in place, such as Women in Film and Women at Sundance’s Female Filmmakers Initiative; yet, it is evident that there is still a long way to go for a substantial increase in women’s participation.

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter is an activist movement that has received backlash from across the world for ‘overlooking the importance’ of other kinds of people. Obviously, all lives do matter, but black lives are being focused on because the American judicial system treats them like trash. Black Lives Matter isn’t just a statement, it is a reaction to the hyper-criminalisation of black people and the disgusting amount of state violence they’re subject to. If you can’t seem to understand why people are talking about BLM, you’re either missing the point or are part of the problem (or both).

‘All Lives Matter’ is a disgusting movement that tries to paint black people as aggressors and white people as victims. It refuses to accept the very real problem at hand and is the embodiment of white supremacy.

“I’m white, and I have friends who are black, and we’re all treated the same.. so why does this movement claim that only black lives matter?” Ignorant statements like these are often flung around with nonchalance (side note: please don’t make assumptions about something you are so painfully unaware of). White privilege demonstrates that if you are white, you automatically have a superior systematic position to black people. Consequently, hundreds of white people are not killed by the police (most of whom happen to be members of the oppressing group) based on the colour of their skin. Violence against black people has escalated so much in America that black families now have to teach their children how to react when they come across a policeman, to prevent losing their lives. BLM is about the system that affects more than just one person and his/her friend circle; this racism affects black people, NOT white people. It is downright disrespectful to try to divert the attention from the black community by supporting a movement like ‘All Lives Matter’.

White police officers continue to get away with the murder of innocent black people and never face any repercussions. Most of the time, they don’t even go to trial; and when they do, they’re proven ‘innocent’, solely because of the fact that the black community simply cannot be given priority over white murderers. Another question posed my many people is that of ‘black on black crime,’ which is completely and utterly irrelevant. Black on black crime is between CIVILIANS, while police officers killing black people is STATE VIOLENCE. The two are very different and cannot be compared.

If you are white, please recognise your privilege. Racism exists and is still very real. Please understand the motives of BLM. Their anger is justified in every way.


Men belonging to the LGBTQ+ community have been arrested and tortured by police in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. Those arrested have been subject to brutal violence, including electrocution, in an attempt to gain information about other members belonging to the community. The capital has denied charges of conducting a violent campaign that violates multiple fundamental rights. Instead, the crackdown has been ‘justified’ on grounds of public health and security.

There have been unconfirmed reports of over 100 arrests – out of which 83 are confirmed. Transgender women have also been arrested. Human rights activists, who are representing the arrested claim that the police forced the women to shave their heads.

‘Same-sex conduct’ was decriminalised in the country in 2000 – however, no LGBTQ+ group functions openly. Moreover, the grounds for arresting these innocent men and women are ‘disobedience of police orders’ and ‘petty hooliganism’. Funnily enough, the Azerbaijan government has a history of using false charges to arrest those they have an issue with.

No one seems to be talking about the ordeal these people are going through. Such appalling behaviour needs to be investigated and justice MUST be served.

Zika Virus: the Bite of Torment

The Zika Virus is a mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947, within caged rhesus monkeys placed in the Zika Forest to monitor yellow fever. It was first reported in humans in 1952 in Uganda, and its first large outbreak was in 2007 in the Island of Yap.

Although this virus is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito (mainly the Aedes mosquitos), sexual transmission and transmission through blood transfusion is possible as well.

One of the biggest problems in tackling the Zika Virus is that its symptoms are common to most viruses. These symptoms include fever, rash, joint pain and conjunctivitis. Furthermore, only one out of five people show symptoms, which leads to many cases going unreported.

The virus is rather mild itself, as symptoms last 3-5 days, but it can trigger many defects like Microcephaly and the Guillain-Barre Syndrome. A woman can transfer the Zika Virus to her fetus during pregnancy, which can cause Microcephaly, a birth defect wherein a baby is born with a head smaller than the average size. Microcephaly can lead to seizures, developmental delays, hearing loss and vision problems. Similarly, the Zika Virus can trigger the Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which is an auto-immune disease wherein a person’s own immune system damages his nerve cells. Most people never fully recover from this syndrome, and some are left with permanent nerve damage. The Zika Virus can thus lead to very dangerous illnesses and must be prevented and treated accordingly.

However, there currently exists no specific vaccine or medicine for the virus, and its only treatment is treating the discomfort-causing symptoms, which can be remedied by drinking plenty of fluids, getting adequate rest and taking medicines like paracetamol to relieve fever and pain. Since the virus has no real cure, we must focus on its prevention.

The first step towards its prevention is the reduction of mosquitos by removing or modifying breeding sites. Many people disagree with this, arguing that the process is complex and is not the most feasible option. However, given the seriousness of the Zika Virus, the WHO stresses that the elimination of mosquito breeding sites is the most effective intervention for protection against the same. Furthermore, ‘Fogging’ (the spraying of insecticides) should be carried out during outbreaks, when mosquito activity is most intense. Personal precautions should be taken, including the use of repellents and ensuring rooms are fitted with screens to prevent mosquitos from entering. Pregnancy measures should also be taken in areas with active transmissions of the virus to prevent sexual transmission. More preventive measures for the same include strengthening the capacity of laboratories to detect the virus, supporting health authorities to implement vector control strategies and engaging communities to understand the risks associated with the virus.

In May, 2017, three laboratory-confirmed cases of the Zika Virus were reported in Gujarat, India. It is clear that the virus is spreading across the globe and must be combated effectively, especially because of the severity of its complications. In a world that has already been through so much turmoil, we cannot risk another epidemic.


Ebola Virus: The Killing Machine

Ebola virus is said to have originated from fruit bats and other forms of bushmeat. This virus enters the human population through close contact with the blood, organs or surface material of infected animals often found ill or dead in the forest (or of those that are hunted). It then spreads through humans by direct contact with the secretions of those who are infected, or through materials like bedding contaminated with the same. Even burial ceremonies of the deceased can lead to the transmission of Ebola, because people remain infectious as long as their blood contains the virus. Healthcare workers have also frequently been infected while treating Ebola patients due to being in close contact with them.

The Ebola virus first appeared in 1976. It is most commonly known for its recent 2014-2016 outbreak affecting Guinea, Libera, and Sierra Leone that reported more than 11,000 deaths.

The World Health Organisation led the trial for an experimental Ebola vaccine in 2015. This vaccine proved highly protective against the virus in its trial in Guinea. Unfortunately, there currently exists no proven cure for the virus. However, treating the symptoms of Ebola separately has proved to be effective in combating the same. An efficient way to combat it once it has entered the blood cells is through supportive care rehydration. Furthermore, community engagement is vital, including infection control practices, surveillance, contact tracing, safe burials and social mobilisation.

Risk-minimisation should also be followed. Animals should be handled with gloves and should be properly cooked before consumption to minimise the risk of transmitting the disease. Healthcare workers should wear gloves and appropriate body equipment while dealing with suspected patients, and should also wash their hands regularly with soap. Moreover, laboratory testing on active samples should be conducted under intense biological containment conditions, using the triple packaging system while transporting the virus.

Ebola virus is extremely serious and deadly. It has killed thousands of people, and is capable of killing thousands more – which is why it is imperative to find its cure. In a world that is already in so much turmoil, adequate measures must be taken to prevent its spread across the globe.

Unrest In Kashmir

A year after the death of Burhan Muzaffar Wani, Indian authorities are still trying to subdue the unrest in Kashmir. The death of this terrorist sparked multiple riots throughout the state and is the root cause of the disturbance that still exists. More and more of the valley’s youth has been actively participating in the ‘stone throwing’ that is said to be funded by Pakistan’s ISI through the Hurriyat. The Hurriyat is promoting its separatist views in its attempt to radicalise Kashmir’s youth, perpetually trying to convince them to fight for its ‘independence’.

The problem is that the Kashmiri economy has not benefited the same way from growth as the rest of India has; youth unemployment remains extremely high, leading to immense dissatisfaction. The youth of Kashmir has, as a result, become more prone to influence of the Hurriyat.

Kashmir remains unwilling to look up to the Indian Government, mostly because of the brutality of the actions of both the sides. In 2016, the underprepared Army used pellet guns on the Kashmiri protestors who attacked their bunkers, severely injuring and blinding many of them. The Hizbul Mujahideen militants, on the other hand, have been repeatedly attacking the army and torturing those who are apparently ‘aids and informers’ of the police.

The situation continues to be going on a downward spiral. Initially, dialogue between the Indian Government and Kashmir was open, but now, this too has stalled as the Government has a robust and strongarmed approach towards the Kashmiri protestors.

However, the use of force does not seem to be helping the conflict in Kashmir; in fact, it is only aggravating it. The problem of terrorism cannot be solved by alienating the people – yes, the terrorists can and should be strongarmed, but the people should not be isolated. The Government needs to find a way to bring Kashmir back into mainstream politics and economy. Local political parties like Omar Abdullah’s National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti should be actively involved in promoting the same while simultaneously battling the terrorists. This will be an undoubtedly long process, but it is the only way to solve the problems raging in Kashmir – the state that, after more than a year of riots and unrest, deserves peace.