Richard Branson Slams Singapore’s Plan to Execute One Kilo Cannabis Smuggler

British billionaire Richard Branson renewed his criticism of Singapore’s death penalty for drug traffickers, following the city-state’s plan to execute a man this week for smuggling in one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cannabis.

(Bloomberg) — British billionaire Richard Branson renewed his criticism of Singapore’s death penalty for drug traffickers, following the city-state’s plan to execute a man this week for smuggling in one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cannabis.

Branson, a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy that seeks to reduce the criminalization of drug use, voiced his concern in an over 600-word long blog post published Monday. He argued that Tangaraju Suppiah didn’t deserve to be executed, with the 46 year-old Singapore national’s punishment set to be carried out Wednesday. 

“Singapore is an otherwise wonderful country, so it’s very sad to see some of its policies harking back to colonialism, and even reminiscent of medieval times,” Branson wrote.

Tangaraju was sentenced to death in 2018 after being found guilty of smuggling more than 500 grams of cannabis, the threshold for imposing capital punishment in the city-state. He failed in subsequent legal appeals to overturn the sentence, including a petition to Singapore’s president for clemency.

The home affairs ministry pushed back, saying it is “regrettable” that Branson continuing to assert “falsehoods” about its drug policies and death penalty.

“He shows disrespect for Singapore’s judges and our criminal justice system with such allegations,” the ministry said in a statement. “Our approach has worked for us, and we will continue charting our own path according to what is in the best interests of Singaporeans.”

Authorities in the city-state have long bristled at international criticism of its tough stance on drugs, arguing that it is not unique among nations in adopting capital punishment, and its non-compromising approach has helped to push down drug usage.

Activists have been critical of the financial and trading hub for accelerating the pace of capital punishment. Most recent statistics from the Singapore Prison Service show that it executed 11 inmates last year, all for drug-related offenses, compared to zero in 2020 and 2021 during a pandemic-induced pause.

Activists have also said that Tangaraju’s conviction relies mainly on statements from his police interrogation, taken without a lawyer and interpreter present. Singapore courts have in the past affirmed that those arrested are only entitled to consult legal counsel after a “reasonable time” was allowed for the police to conduct investigations.

The Central Narcotics Bureau said over the weekend that “Tangaraju was accorded full due process under the law, and had access to legal counsel throughout the process.” A last-ditch effort by Tangaraju to get permission to review the decision of Singapore’s Court of Appeal to uphold his sentence, was rejected earlier this year, with the court saying he has “failed to show a legitimate basis” to do so.

Branson wasn’t alone in criticizing capital punishment in Singapore. Human rights group Amnesty International called last week for a halt to Tangaraju’s execution, reiterating its stance for a moratorium on the death penalty in the city-state. 

This also wasn’t the first time Branson has questioned Singapore’s use of death penalty to deter drug trafficking. In a blog post in October, he had cited the execution of a Malaysian national with “documented intellectual disability.” 

Singapore’s government invited Branson, the founder of Virgin Group, to debate home affairs minister K Shanmugam live on television. The billionaire declined, saying then that the format “cannot do the complexity of the death penalty any service.”

The government has been unflinching in its stance, even as countries around the region rethink their drug policies. Lawmakers in Malaysia voted earlier this month in favor of abolishing the mandatory death penalty and lifelong imprisonment, while Thailand decriminalized cannabis last year. 

“Of course it creates more challenges, because the more the availability of drugs, the more challenging it is to deal with it, but by and large, the vast majority of Singaporeans understand that drugs are bad for society,” said Shanmugam in an interview with Bloomberg TV last September, when asked about the changes in Thailand.

–With assistance from Jan Dahinten.

(Updates with ministry statement in fifth and sixth paragraph)

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