Dear Mr Branson, shall we talk?


A free flight to Singapore. Paid accommodation.

And the chance to personally show Singapore the error of its ways regarding the death penalty for drug trafficking. This over a live televised debate with Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam where the world will be watching

The Ministry of Home Affairs extended this offer to British billionaire activist Richard Branson this past Saturday afternoon (Oct 25).

This results from Mr Branson’s false assertions over Singapore’s April 2022 execution of Nagaenthran Dharmalingam who was convicted of drug trafficking.

MFA also said that Mr Branson also made false assertions about alleged racial bias and the treatment of capital defence lawyers.

“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,” said the ministry in a press statement.

A misguided assertion from a spurious defence

Mr Branson wrote in his Oct 10 blog post that the criminal had a “well-documented intellectual disability” but was hung regardless.

“We have clarified on several occasions that this is untrue,” said the Government.

“The central argument that underlies both these matters concerns an assertion that pertains to the appellant’s mental faculties,” stated the Supreme Court judgement regarding the case.

“It is said that because of an alleged deterioration in the appellant’s mental faculties since the time of his offence, the sentence of death cannot be allowed to be carried out.

“It is important to note that the assertion does not concern the appellant’s mental faculties at the time of the offence, nearly 13 years ago. Instead, it pertains to his alleged mental faculties today.”

Defence preferred reports from experts who had never met the criminal

Minister Shanmugam’s September 2022 interview with the Sydney Morning Herald highlighted another point.

There, Minister Shanmugam noted that the defence team refused to admit to the courts a psychiatric assessment and a medical assessment. These showed no abnormality affecting the criminal.

The Minister brought up the fact that the defence counsel instead gave evidence on “on the basis of his own experience”. Indeed, the defence preferred the reports of an Australian-based psychologist, as well as a UK-based one, who both had never met the criminal.

The defence team also relied on the word of the criminal’s brother.

“There was a prison psychiatrist who is independent because he’s a professional. And the Defence refused to allow the court to look at that report,” said Minister Shanmugam. “Why?”

“There were existing psychiatric and medical assessments. The Defence refused,” he added.

“But please, look at these reports that were prepared by people who have never seen him.”

Understanding what’s right

“The Plaintiff was able to understand the nature and consequences of his actions and to exercise judgement in terms of whether his conduct was right or wrong,” concluded the Supreme Court verdict on the case.

“The trial judge found that the Plaintiff was not suffering from intellectual disability to any degree but accepted that he had borderline intellectual functioning,” it added.

Indeed, the psychiatrist called by the Defence themselves agreed, in court, that the criminal was not intellectually disabled, noted the Government. This is regardless of the state of his other mental faculties.

“Mr Branson also suggests that Singapore had breached our international commitments to protect people with disabilities by carrying out the capital punishment,” said the Government.

“This is untrue.”

An open invitation

Rather, the death penalty helps the Government keep Singapore secure in a region where the drug trade thrives.

In his Committee of Supply debate speech on Singapore’s Approach to Criminal Justice, Minister K Shanmugam said that there was a 66 per cent reduction in the average net weight of opium trafficked in the four-year window after the introduction of mandatory capital sentence for trafficking more than 1.2kg of opium.

A MHA report also noted a similar result: “Similarly, in the four years after the mandatory capital sentence was introduced for trafficking more than 500 grammes of cannabis, there was a 15 to 19 percentage point reduction in the probability that traffickers would choose to traffic above the capital sentence threshold.”

Convicted drug traffickers, too, have provided first-hand accounts that they deliberately trafficked below the capital threshold amount, pointing to the fact that they were willing to risk imprisonment, but not the capital sentence.

“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,” said MHA in its response to Mr Branson.

Mr Branson’s assertions also rendered Singaporeans’ opinions and social values moot. Surely our opinions count for something; after all, this is our country and there’s a Singaporean way to build consensus.

Regardless, the Government’s offer to Mr Branson remains open, if he decides to show up: a live 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.

Cover photo credit: Medium, via Jekalo