Billionaire Richard Branson declines death penalty debate with Shanmugam

British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson.
British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson. (PHOTO: Reuters/Joe Skipper)

SINGAPORE — British billionaire Richard Branson has declined an invitation to a live debate on the death penalty with Singapore's Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

In a media statement issued as on his Virgin website on Monday (31 October), the 72-year-old said he made his decision as such live debates lack nuance, and "cannot do the complexity of the death penalty any service".

"A television debate - limited in time and scope, always at risk of prioritising personalities over issues - cannot do the complexity of the death penalty any service," he said in his media statement.

"It reduces nuanced discourse to soundbites, 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."

Issue needs local voices: Branson

Another reason cited by Branson in declining the debate is that he felt the issue needs local voices. He hopes the Singapore government could engage in conversations with the Singaporean entities such as the Transformative Justice Collective or regional voices such as the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network.

"The brave thing for you would be to actively engage those Singaporean stakeholders... 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," he said in the media statement.

"Abolition (of the death penalty) is not, as some argue, a Western concept imposed on the rest of the world. This is about universal human rights and humanity’s shared aspiration to advance equality, justice, dignity, and freedom everywhere, for everyone."

MHA response to Branson's blog posts

The debate offer had came from a response by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to Branson's blog post on 10 October, on the case of Malaysian Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, who was executed in April for drug offences in Singapore.

Branson had said that Nagaenthran had a "well-documented intellectual disability", and was hanged despite that. MHA rebutted that the Singapore Courts deemed Nagaenthran knew what he was doing and that he was not intellectually disabled.

The MHA also refuted Branson's allegations that Singapore "continually targets capital defence lawyers and human rights defenders.

In inviting Branson to debate Shanmugam, MHA said the billionaire "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".

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