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Richard Branson invited to debate with Shanmugam on Singapore’s anti-drugs policy, death penalty

The British billionaire, who has spoken against Singapore's death penalty, made false assertions in a recent blog post, says the Home Affairs Ministry as it invited him to a live televised debate.

Richard Branson invited to debate with Shanmugam on Singapore’s anti-drugs policy, death penalty
File photo of British billionaire Richard Branson. (Photo: AFP)

SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said it has invited British billionaire Richard Branson to Singapore for a live televised debate with its minister K Shanmugam on the country's approach towards drugs and the death penalty. 

Mr Branson has been vocal in his views against Singapore's death penalty for crimes such as drug trafficking, most recently in a blog post on Oct 10. Earlier this year, he spoke out against the execution of convicted drug trafficker Nagaenthran Dharmalingam.

In response to his blog post, MHA said in a media release on Saturday (Oct 22) that he made false assertions about alleged racial bias and the treatment of defence lawyers. 

The ministry also reiterated Singapore's stance on drugs, saying that the capital sentence has had a clear deterrent effect on drug traffickers in Singapore.

"Our priority is to protect Singapore and Singaporeans from the scourge of drugs," said MHA. "We take a comprehensive harm prevention approach, which includes the use of the death penalty for traffickers who traffic large amounts of drugs and seek to profit from destroying other people’s lives and livelihoods."

In inviting Mr Branson to a debate on the issue, MHA said: "Mr Branson’s flight to and accommodation in Singapore will be paid for.

"Mr Branson may use this platform to demonstrate to Singaporeans the error of our ways and why Singapore should do away with laws that have kept our population safe from the global scourge of drug abuse."

In his blog post on Oct 10, Mr Branson said that Nagaenthran had a “well-documented intellectual disability” and was hanged despite that.

"We have clarified on several occasions that this is untrue. The Singapore Courts held that Nagaenthran knew what he was doing and that he was not intellectually disabled," MHA said on Saturday. 

"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 also alluded to the suspicion of alleged racial bias and that those executed in recent times were small-scale drug traffickers.

"This assertion is false. Mr Branson probably picked it up from some activists in Singapore with their own agendas," the ministry said.

"Our laws and procedures apply equally to all, regardless of background, nationality, race, education level or financial status. Every person who faces a capital offence is accorded full due process under the law. Their trials are transparent and open to the public and media."

Defence lawyers have never been penalised for representing and defending accused people, said MHA in response to the businessman's claims of "harassment" of lawyers. 

"However, this does not mean that lawyers can abuse the court process by filing late and patently unmeritorious applications to frustrate the carrying out of lawfully imposed sentences," the ministry said, pointing to Nagaenthran’s case.

"Mr Branson is entitled to his opinions," it added.

"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."

Singapore's policies on drugs and the death penalty derive from the country's own experience, said MHA, adding: "Nothing we have seen in the UK or in the West persuades us that adopting a permissive attitude towards drugs and a tolerant position on drug trafficking will increase human happiness.

"Where drug addiction is concerned, things have steadily worsened in the UK, while things have steadily improved in Singapore."

Source: CNA/fh(gs)


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