Some say that when you see a rock coming, it hurts less. This will be of no comfort to the people of Brunei, where Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has introduced the law allowing the punishment of gay couples with death by stoning.

In 2019, the world is still grappling with who should react to this and what should be an adequate response. Is it down to celebrities and actors like George Clooney to defend human rights internationally? Should we leave this hurdle to the charities? Or is it one of those cases where the world leaders symbolically condemn the leader of another country and we all move on to the next big story unfolding elsewhere?


The decision should not be difficult, confusing or deeply philosophical. If I instructed a group of friends and neighbours to stone to death people whose beliefs, looks or sexual preferences did not fit my worldview, the world would not ponder whether my political stance and economic worth outweigh the cost of human life.

If the leaders that represent us have nothing to say, or symbolic condemnation is the only response they can muster to avoid political or economic fallout, then we are all throwing stones at Brunei people to avoid standing in the way of the flying stones. After all, as Commonwealth countries, Brunei and the UK share the same values in human rights.


Brunei is neither the first, nor the only, country to take away the rights of LGBTQ citizens, but this reversal of cultural evolution should be a big reminder to us that somebody once fought on our behalf for own rights to be who we are today. To some it was the fall of the Soviet Union, to others it was the end of slavery, the rights to vote or to love openly. Those rights should not be a privilege anywhere in the world.

It is said that river stones remain, while water flows away. But there is also a saying that a drop of water can hollow a stone. Let’s not be the water that flows away. Each of us is a small drop with the power to leave a mark in the stone. It doesn’t matter how big or small our individual response is; it counts as long as it triggers another drop in the sequence.

As for the current government’s failure to reassure its own LGBTQ population of over 3.5 million people that it still holds the values that they fought for only decades ago, we have created a gift for the Sultan that we hope the leaders of the two countries can exchange at the next official meeting.


Stones signify many significant moments in the history of cultural evolution, ranging from Stonehenge to the Rosetta Stone. We would like to offer the Sultan a gift of stones from gay couples and families in the UK, urging the Sultan to undo the oppressive law and use the stones to build a symbolic new foundation for a diverse and prosperous country that is loved and respected by everyone in the world for its strong values.

If Brexit drafts have buried all official templates related to less pressing issues like human rights, the gift includes a basic letter template:

Dear Sultan, 

 A lot of great nations were built on love, respect, and compassion that freed people from fear and replaced it with creativity and innovation. 

Equally, many nations have faded or continue to crumble under the rule of injustice and inequality because love always prevails in the end.  

We urge you to undo the oppressive law against gay people and free the rights of all people to love and to be loved.

As a gift, we send you these stones to set a symbolic foundation for a new prosperous country that is a part of the amazing human civilisation that we can all continue to build together.

Today we are all gay. We can find love for you in our hearts and we hope that you can find love for us in yours too.


We have received legal advice not to send the gift as private citizens, in case it is perceived as a threat, despite our good intentions. But when we, the people, are too small to protect our fellow humans in hardship, it’s precisely why we need the governments to voice concerns, instead of actors and celebrities.

Unfortunately, we could not include a stone to represent all those who feel strongly about the issue, but I would like to think that we speak on behalf of everyone.


New York and London Photography Prize Winner 2021/2022

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