1. Sir Richard Branson (“Mr. Branson”) has been making misrepresentations about the sentencing of drug traffickers in Singapore for some time now.
2. On October 22, 2022, the Home Office (MHA) responded to Mr. Branson pointing out his errors. He was also invited to a live televised debate, where he was able to plead his case and seek to convince Singaporeans of these views. Unfortunately, Mr. Branson refused.
3. The reasons for Mr. Branson’s refusal do not hold water:
(a) He says a televised debate would be limited in time and scope, “always at the risk of privileging personalities over issues”, and can do the complexity of the death penalty no service. He adds that this would reduce “nuanced speeches to sound bites”.
It is surprising. The government proposed the debate precisely to give Mr. Branson every opportunity to fully explain himself. He could have set out his views (qualified or not), and fully explained what he wants to explain. There was no suggestion that he should only indulge in sound bites.
We can only assume that Mr. Branson realizes he will be shown, because what he said about Singapore is not true.
Mr. Branson’s sudden and scrupulous desire not to indulge in soundbites is at odds with the soundbites and general unsubstantiated allegations he has made in his blog posts.
(b) Mr Branson suggests that the government hire Singaporeans in his place on the Death Penalty (“DP”). He may not know that the government has engaged Singaporeans extensively in the DP:
(i) This year alone, the government has engaged in DP discussions with thousands of Singaporeans.
(ii) In Singapore, important issues are debated in Parliament by MPs, as the elected representatives of the people. The discussions not only reflect the government’s point of view, but the different perspectives of Singaporeans. The DP has been debated in Parliament several times in recent years.
(iii) The Leader of the Opposition agreed that in Singapore, the imposition of the DP is necessary.
(iv) Singaporeans overwhelmingly support the imposition of the DP. A study showed that 74% supported the DP for the most serious crimes. Another study found that more than 80% agreed that it discouraged crimes like drug trafficking, firearms offenses and murder, and 66% agreed that the obligatory the death penalty is appropriate for those convicted of trafficking a significant amount of narcotics.
4. The government’s offer to debate Mr Branson was in addition to its ongoing engagements with Singaporeans. He publicly peddled lies about Singapore, using his celebrity status to campaign to change Singapore’s position. If his facts are wrong, it is important that this be revealed publicly. If Mr. Branson is convinced that he is right, he should accept our offer to debate and not offer lame excuses to step down.
5. It is not for Mr. Branson to tell the Singapore government who in Singapore, he should speak. He names several people and organizations that he says the government should hire. Some of them are clearly among those who fed him misinformation and untruths. Interestingly, a few of the people indirectly referenced by Mr. Branson traveled to Malaysia in 2018 to congratulate Dr. Mahathir on being elected Prime Minister and to ask him to bring democracy to Southeast Asia (including in Singapore). These are people who look to outsiders like Dr Mahathir and Mr Branson to put pressure on Singapore because they don’t get much support from Singaporeans.
6. Mr. Branson suggests that we study lessons from other countries. We do. We look at what is happening in the UK, US, Europe and other parts of the world. We see the high rates of drug abuse and drug-related crimes, as well as the countless lives lost and families destroyed. Singapore is also not completely free from the threat of drugs, but our drug situation is much better under control.
7. We adapt what works to our own situation and avoid practices that have failed. Our children are growing up largely drug-free, people live in our city-state without fear of violence or crime, and Singaporeans and foreigners alike enjoy true freedoms in a vibrant global city with a very low crime rate.
8. We are only asking for our right to choose our own path, to continue to keep Singapore and Singaporeans safe. Singapore’s elected government is fully capable of making our own decisions, explaining them to Singaporeans and gaining their support, including at the polls.
9. Mr. Branson’s disregard for facts, his condescension to refuse debate, and his failure to acknowledge that we have carefully considered these issues all point to one of two possible conclusions:
(a) Either he believes he should be listened to without question, simply because of who he is; WHERE
(b) He knows that what he said cannot be defended. And to avoid being exposed, he came up with an elaborate set of non-explanations.
10. We are not accusing Mr. Branson of hypocrisy as some British media have done. We do not question (as others have) his priority given to profit over the principles of human rights he so loudly professes. We’re also not judging him for doing drugs with his son (as he has publicly admitted). But Mr. Branson should act with some honor. If he takes a public stance on an issue that may impact thousands of lives in another country, then he must be prepared to explain himself.
11. To pontificate from the top of a distant mountain, then avoid serious discussion when challenged, does not suggest any respect either for the principles or for the people whose well-being he claims to defend.