S’pore rebuts Richard Branson’s post, invites him to debate with Shanmugam on drug laws, death penalty, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

S’pore rebuts Richard Branson’s post, invites him to debate with Shanmugam on drug laws, death penalty

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has rebutted British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s blog post criticising the use of the death penalty to deter drug trafficking, and invited him for a live televised debate with Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

Responding to the blog post by Mr Branson on Oct 10, MHA said in a press release that he had made untrue statements about Malaysian Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, who was hanged in April for drug trafficking. MHA said he also made false assertions about alleged racial bias and the treatment of capital defence lawyers.

The ministry, referring to the proposed live televised debate, said: “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.”

It added that his flight to and accommodation in Singapore will be paid for.

In Mr Branson’s blog post, he said that Nagaenthran had a “well-documented intellectual disability” and was hanged despite that.

MHA said on Saturday: “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.

“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.”

On Mr Branson questioning Singapore’s approach on drugs, including the use of the death penalty on those who traffic large amounts of drugs, MHA said its priority is to protect Singapore and Singaporeans from the scourge of drugs.

“The capital sentence has had a clear deterrent effect on drug traffickers in Singapore. It has also helped prevent major drug syndicates from establishing themselves here,” it added.

In the blog post, Mr Branson said that all 11 men executed in Singapore this year were “small-scale traffickers, often of Malay origin or Malaysian nationals”, and that he suspected racial bias.

In response, MHA said the assertion was false. “Mr Branson probably picked it up from some activists in Singapore with their own agendas. Our laws and procedures apply equally to all, regardless of background, nationality, race, education level or financial status,” it said.

Mr Branson added that the “continued harassment” of capital defence lawyers and human rights defenders was “another worrying matter”. This has a “chilling effect on the willingness of lawyers to represent those on death row”, he said.

MHA said defence lawyers have never been penalised for representing and defending accused persons.

“Every accused person who faces a capital sentence is provided with legal counsel to defend them,” the ministry said.

“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,” it added, citing Nagaenthran’s case where the Court of Appeal dismissed last-minute applications and described them as an abuse of the Court’s process.

MHA said: “Mr Branson is entitled to his opinions. These opinions may be widely held in the UK (Britain), 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 are derived from the country’s own experience, it added.

“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,” MHA said.