SINGAPORE, Oct 31 — British billionaire Richard Branson has declined the Singapore government's invitation for a live televised debate over its approach towards drugs and the death penalty, as he urged Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam to engage local activists instead.
In a statement posted on his blog on Monday (Oct 31) and addressed to Mr Shanmugam, Mr Branson said a TV debate “cannot do the complexity of the death penalty any service” as it “reduces nuanced discourse to soundbites” and “turns serious debate into spectacle”.
"I can’t imagine that is what you are looking for. What Singapore really needs is a constructive, lasting dialogue involving multiple stakeholders, and a true commitment to transparency and evidence," said Mr Branson.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had on Oct 22 rebutted several statements made by Mr Branson regarding Singapore’s drug laws.
It also invited him to Singapore — with his flight and accommodations fully paid for — to take part in a live televised debate with Mr Shanmugam.
Mr Branson had claimed in an earlier post that Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, who was executed on April 27 for drug trafficking, had been hanged despite having a “well-documented intellectual disability”.
In his latest post, Mr Branson said he felt "compelled to speak out when I see things go as horribly wrong as Singapore’s use of the death penalty" out of his "enormous respect for Singapore and Singaporeans and for everything your country has achieved over the last decades".
He said there are many Singaporeans, including lawyers, human rights defenders, civil society organisations, and others, who have consistently expressed the same concerns, and added "this conversation needs local voices".
“In Singapore’s case, we have been inspired by several people and organisations — advocates, lawyers, journalists — with experience, knowledge and data," said Mr Branson.
"The brave thing for you would be to actively engage those Singaporean stakeholders, from Transformative Justice Collective to Mr M Ravi, Nagaenthran Dharmalingam’s courageous lawyer, and regional voices, such as the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, and treat them as equals who are just as interested in Singapore’s progress as I’m sure you are.
"They deserve to be listened to, not ignored, or worse yet, harassed.”
The British billionaire also rebutted the notion that the abolition of the death penalty is a Western concept imposed on the rest of the world.
Instead, he said it “is about universal human rights and humanity’s shared aspiration to advance equality, justice, dignity, and freedom everywhere, for everyone”.
TODAY has reached out to MHA for comment. — TODAY