Singapore challenges billionaire Richard Branson to take part in a TV debate on the death penalty

The Singaporean government has invited British billionaire and outspoken opponent of the death penalty Richard Branson to a live televised debate on the city-state’s controversial use of capital punishment against drug traffickers.

In the press release issuing the invitation, issued yesterday, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said Branson “could use this platform to demonstrate to Singaporeans the error of our ways and why Singapore should remove the laws that have protected our people from the global scourge of drug addiction”.

The MHA statement also includes a point-by-point response to a blog post by the British billionaire, published on October 10, titled “World Day Against the Death Penalty: What’s wrong with Singapore?” »

In this article, Branson argues that the increasing number of executions that have taken place in Singapore this year (at least 11, but possibly more) and the circumstances surrounding many of them “have tarnished the country’s reputation in the world”.

Read our feature: The Death Penalty Details Singapore Doesn’t Want to Talk About

Branson then summarizes the case of Nagaenthran (Nagen) Dharmalingam, a 33-year-old Malaysian who was executed in Singapore in April. Branson and opponents of the death penalty from around the world, as well as a panel of experts from the UN and EU countries, had called on the Singaporean government to end the hanging of Nagen because of his “well-documented intellectual disability”, arguing that his hanging would violate Singapore law. international commitments to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

Here is our timeline detailing the Nagaenthran Dharmalingam case controversy:

In their response, the MHA repeated the government’s position that the Singapore courts had concluded that Nagen was not intellectually disabled and was aware of his crime.

Branson’s post goes on to state, “The truth is that the Singapore government appears determined to execute scores of low-level drug traffickers, mostly poor and disadvantaged minorities, while failing to provide clear evidence that it has a tangible impact on drug use, crime or public safety. It is a disproportionate and brutal answer.

In response, MHA states that Singapore takes “a comprehensive harm prevention approach, which includes the use of the death penalty for traffickers who traffic large quantities of drugs and seek to profit from the destruction of life. and livelihoods of other people”.

The ministry also cites government data showing that many drug traffickers said they had decreased the amount of drugs they were trying to smuggle into the country to stay below the threshold below which the mandatory death penalty would be handed down.

Branson acknowledges the relatively low rates of drug abuse reported in Singapore, but says “there are many reasons for this, including the country’s wealth and strong economic growth, low unemployment, social cohesion, a general provision against drug use, investments in public health, etc. on.”

Branson’s blog also notes that “all eleven men executed in Singapore this year were petty traffickers, often of Malay origin or Malaysian nationality.”

“Leaving aside the plausible suspicion of racial bias against a population that is disproportionately represented on Singapore’s death row, all those executed in recent memory were at the bottom of the drug supply chain, from traffickers small-scale drug dealers who have fallen victim to the drug trade themselves, threatened, coerced and intimidated by large-scale dealers who take advantage of their economic vulnerabilities, he wrote.

Mr. Branson is entitled to his opinions. These views may be widely held in the UK, but we do not accept that Mr Branson or others in the West have the right to impose their values ​​on other societies. Nor do we believe that a country that pursued two wars in China in the 19th century to force the Chinese to accept opium imports has any moral right to lecture Asians about drugs.

Home Office response to Sir Richard Branson’s blog post of 10 October 2022

Regarding the allegation of racial bias, the MHA press release responds: “This claim is false. Mr. Branson probably picked it up from some activists in Singapore with their own agendas.

In August last year, 17 death row inmates filed a complaint claiming the Singaporean government had discriminated against them because of their Malay ethnicity given their disproportionate numbers on death row. In December, the High Court dismissed the suit, calling it “logically flawed”.

Branson is also concerned about the “continued harassment of capital’s defense attorneys and human rights advocates,” noting that attorneys who accept death penalty cases “are frequently punished with costs orders after filing late claims to save their clients”.

This issue was also raised last month by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), with the NGO arguing: “The imposition of punitive costs orders has hindered death row inmates’ access to justice and effective remedies, their right to counsel – with many having had to represent themselves in court – and, therefore, their right to a fair trial and, ultimately, their right to life.

In response, the MHA press release states, “Defence attorneys have never been penalized for representing and defending defendants. Any defendant liable to capital punishment has a lawyer to defend him. However, this does not mean that lawyers can abuse the legal process by filing late and manifestly unfounded requests to hinder the execution of legally imposed sentences.

“Mr. Branson is entitled to his opinions,” writes MHA. “These views may be widely held in the UK, but we do not accept that Mr Branson or others in the West have the right to impose their values ​​on other societies. Nor do we believe that a country that fought two wars in China in the 19th century to force the Chinese to accept opium imports has any moral right to lecture Asians about drugs.

The government’s press release ends with Branson’s invitation to come to Singapore for a live televised debate with Home Secretary and Law Minister K Shanmugam, who has been the most outspoken advocate and most visible part of Singapore’s death penalty policy.

Along with the invitation, the government said that “Virgin Group’s flight and accommodation in Singapore will be paid for”.

Branson has yet to respond to the invitation.

Watch our documentary on the fight against the death penalty in Singapore:

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