Singapore challenges Virgin founder Richard Branson to a death penalty debate

Singapore challenges Virgin founder Richard Branson to a death penalty debate
FILE PHOTO: Sir Richard Branson stands on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) ahead of Virgin Galactic (SPCE) trading in New York, U.S., October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Earlier this month, UK billionaire Richard Branson wrote a blog post called “What’s the matter with Singapore?” criticizing the country’s use of the death penalty, especially for drug crimes. Describing Singapore as “on the wrong side of history,” Branson said the “rising frequency of executions” were “dark stains” on its reputation. He has also criticized Singapore’s controversial execution of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam. The young Malaysian was found guilty of heroin trafficking in 2009 and was hanged – despite multiple appeals of his sentence over concerns about his mental capacity.

On Saturday, Singapore invited Branson – with all expenses paid – to have a televised debate on the issues with Singapore’s Home Affairs and Law Minister, K Shanmugam. The country’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said that Branson has the right to speak his opinion, but it does not believe that he or any foreigners have the right to impose their values on other countries.

Believe it or not, Branson is not the first foreigner to be publicly challenged by Singapore. In 1990, London journalist Bernard Levin was invited by former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew to debate his article on Singapore’s judicial system. And in 1995, American columnist William Safire was challenged to a public debate by then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Key comments:

“These opinions may be widely held in the UK, but we do not accept that Mr. Branson or others in the West are entitled to impose their values on other societies. Nor do we believe that a country that prosecuted two wars in China in the 19th century to force the Chinese to accept opium imports has any moral right to lecture Asians on drugs,” said Singapore’s MHA in a statement released on Saturday.

The MHA added, “Mr. Branson also suggests that Singapore had breached our international commitments to protect people with disabilities by carrying out the capital punishment on Nagaenthran. This too is untrue, as Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled.”

“Mr Branson has been setting out untruths. MHA has sent him a letter inviting him to a debate. The letter also points out his multiple falsehoods. I hope he agrees – if he believes in free speech and in the truth of what he says,” said Minister K Shanmugam in a Facebook post.

“The truth is that Singapore’s government seems bent on executing scores of low-level drug traffickers, mostly members of poor, disadvantaged minorities, whilst failing to provide clear evidence that it has any tangible impact on drug use, crime, or public safety. It’s a disproportionate, brutal response,” wrote Richard Brandon in his blog post.