Sir Richard Branson has rejected an invitation to appear in a live television debate on the death penalty in Singapore.
Branson said the discussion “cannot do the complexity of the death penalty any service” and called on Singapore to embrace a “constructive, lasting dialogue involving multiple stakeholders”.
The 72-year-old – a vocal campaigner against capital punishment – was invited by Singapore’s Home Affairs Ministry for a debate which would also cover the nation’s approach to drugs.
The British entrepreneur said he has “enormous respect” for the country and it was because of this that he feels “compelled to speak out” when he sees things “go horribly wrong as Singapore’s use of the death penalty”.
He was one of many global critics to speak out over the controversial case of a Malaysian man with learning difficulties who was executed for drug trafficking.
In a blog post about his decision to turn down the TV debate, Branson said: “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.
“What Singapore really needs is a constructive, lasting dialogue involving multiple stakeholders, and a true commitment to transparency and evidence.”
He said the “conversation needs local voices” and he was a “global advocate for abolition of the death penalty” and would “continue to raise the issue wherever I can, as I have for many years”.
In his post, he shared a personal story about his grandfather who was a barrister and then a High Court judge whose “greatest regret in life was donning the black cap and sentencing people to death”.
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“And he told my father he not only disagreed with the principle of the state killing people,” he wrote, “he was also genuinely concerned that in the process, innocent people had been and would be executed. History has proven him right, time and again.”
Branson added that imposing the death penalty for drugs offences was a “disproportionate and ineffective response to the world’s drug problems”.