Richard Branson declines offer to live TV debate on the death penalty, urges Singapore to challenge local activists instead

British billionaire Richard Branson has declined Singapore’s offer to a live televised debate over the city-state’s controversial death penalty today.

Branson, who the Ministry of Home Affairs invited to challenge the death penalty live on national TV last week after he publicly condemned Singapore’s ramped-up executions this year, wrote in a lengthy blog post to Minister for Law K Shanmugam that the debate would do a disservice to the issue and wouldn’t be taken seriously.

“I have decided to decline this invitation. Here is why: 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. It reduces nuanced discourse to soundbites, turns serious debate into spectacle. I can’t imagine that is what you are looking for,” he wrote. 

Instead, the 72-year-old urged Shanmugam to speak to “local voices” in a “constructive, lasting dialogue” and named anti-death penalty advocates Transformative Justice Collective, human rights lawyer M Ravi and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network as potential interviewees.

“They deserve to be listened to, not ignored, or worse yet, harassed,” he wrote.

Branson added that abolishing the death penalty is not a “Western concept” and is more about “universal human rights and humanity’s shared aspiration to advance equality, justice, dignity, and freedom everywhere, for everyone.”

The billionaire had called out Singapore for ramping up executions this year (at least 11, but possibly more), and urged the Singaporean government to halt the execution of Nagaenthran (Nagen) Dharmalingam, a 33-year-old Malaysian man believed to be intellectually disabled. Nagen was executed in April.

The details about the death penalty Singapore doesn’t want to talk about

Branson is also part of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, a group of global leaders advocating for lasting reform. 

In today’s post, he shared a story that his father had told him about his grandfather, who was a barrister and a High Court Judge in the UK, saying his “greatest regret in life” was sentencing people to death. The grandfather had disagreed with the state killing people and was “genuinely concerned” that innocent people would be executed. 

Branson reiterated the point that there was no evidence that executing people reduces crime and is a “disproportionate and ineffective” response to alleviating drug problems.

“I hope you, like my grandfather, will eventually realise that it’s an inhumane, brutal practice that does not save lives – and casts a dark shadow on Singapore’s reputation in the world. There is no evidence to support its continued existence. Just ask those in Singapore who know,” he wrote.

RELATED – Singapore challenges billionaire Richard Branson to live TV debate on the death penalty

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