SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has said Sir Richard Branson should not 'offer lame excuses' after the UK billionaire declined an invitation to a live debate on Singapore's death penalty.
In a statement on Saturday (5 Nov), the MHA said Branson had 'for some time now, been making untrue statements about the penalties imposed on drug traffickers in Singapore'.
Branson had declined the earlier invitation to debate Singapore's Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, saying that a televised debate would have been limited in time and scope and would have reduced "nuanced discourse into soundbites".
"Mr Branson's reasons for declining do not hold water," the MHA wrote in its statement.
Responding to Branson's points, the MHA said the Singapore government had offered the debate "precisely to give Mr Branson every opportunity to explain himself fully".
"He would have been able to put forward his views (nuanced or otherwise), and explain fully whatever he wants to explain. There was no suggestion that he should only engage in soundbites," the MHA said, adding, "We can only surmise that Mr Branson realises he will be shown up, because what he has been saying about Singapore is not true."
'Overwhelming support' for the death penalty in Singapore
In its response, the MHA noted that the Leader of the Opposition, Pritam Singh, had agreed that the death penalty should remain as an option for the courts. Singh had expressed his views in a commentary carried by local media outline Today.
The MHA also cited studies which showed Singaporeans "overwhelmingly support the imposition" of the death penalty, and said Branson was "publicly peddling falsehoods about Singapore, using his celebrity status to campaign to change Singapore's position".
"If his facts are wrong, it is important this be publicly exposed. If Mr Branson is convinced he is correct, he should take up our offer of a debate, and not offer lame excuses to opt out," the MHA said.
Responding to Branson's suggestions of which local organisations and individuals the government could engage on the discussion around the death penalty, the MHA said "some of them are quite clearly among those who have been feeding him misinformation and untruths".
"It is not for Mr Branson to tell the Singapore government who in Singapore it should talk to," the MHA said.
"We do not accuse Mr Branson of hypocrisy as some British media have done... But Mr Branson should act with some honour," the MHA added. "If he takes a public position on a matter which can impact thousands of lives in another country, then he should be prepared to explain himself."
"Pontificating from a distant mountaintop, and then avoiding a serious discussion when challenged, does not suggest any respect either for principle, nor for the people whose well being he claims to champion," the MHA said.
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