The President of the Bar of Singapore (LawSoc) has attacked British billionaire Richard Branson after the latter turned down an invitation to a live TV debate on the death penalty in Singapore.
In a scathing written comment on Linkedin, Adrian Tan slammed Branson’s reasons, saying they “don’t make sense.”
He also questioned Branson’s motives for raising the issue.
“I want to ask Branson: were you teasing us?
You were never really serious about this problem? Was it just something you had to do on social media because you needed a trending cause to champion? I hope not. I thought you were sincere.”
Tan hit out at the business tycoon’s various reasons for refusing the debate in his November 1 post which came just a day later. Branson’s own.
Branson had earlier in his refusal to debate publicly said a televised event would be “limited in time and scope.”
“That’s a lame excuse,” Tan wrote in response. “We would have given Branson as much time as he wanted.”
He added that the scope would be “exactly what he was talking about: the death penalty in Singapore”.
Tan, who had previously criticized Branson’s posts on the death penalty in Singapore again rejected the British tycoon’s call for “constructive and lasting dialogue” involving “local voices”.
“We told Branson he is not an actor and he is not a local voice,” Tan wrote.
“But that never stopped Branson from telling Singaporeans what to do.”
A Modern Opium War
Tan also compared the situation to the Opium Wars, when the British waged war on China after cracking down on trafficking amid an epidemic of opium abuse.
“Once again there is an Asian government, Singapore, which is enacting tough laws against traffickers, including the death penalty, to protect its own people.
Once again, an Englishman, Richard Branson, opposes the laws of an Asian country because they do not conform to his principles.”
He also suggested that Branson might not want to be tested on his knowledge of the situation in Singapore on live television.
In his previous blog post, Tan criticized Branson for misreporting Singapore, adding that his approach “reeks of elitism.”
“Let’s be clear: when discussing a Singaporean law, we must consider the views of Singaporeans,” he wrote.
He also alleged, in response to Branson’s comment that the traffickers were “often of Malay origin or Malaysian nationality”, that the British lawyer did not understand the local demographics.
“Let me say this to Branson: before you educate us on our laws and racial prejudice, you need to educate yourself about Singapore, including the difference between race and nationality.”
Earlier, the Home Office (MHA) invited Branson to a live TV debate on the death penalty with Minister K Shanmugam.
This was in response to the billionaire’s repeated criticism of the death penalty in Singapore, particularly of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, the Malaysian who was realized in Singapore earlier this year for drug trafficking.
Branson is part of the Global Commission on Drug Policya group advocating reform.
He is also a signatory of the Business leaders against the death penalty statement, along with other key executives such as ex-Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Unilever’s Alan Jope.
You can read Tan’s full blog post here:
The first Opium Wars were sparked by 19th-century Chinese government concerns about opium abuse. To protect its own people, China has enacted tough laws against traffickers, including the death penalty.
In response, the British waged war on China, insisting that their principles of free trade trumped a nation’s right to regulate its own affairs.
Fast forward to the 21st century. Once again there is an Asian government, Singapore, which enacts tough laws against traffickers, including the death penalty, to protect its own people.
Once again, an Englishman, Richard Branson, opposes the laws of an Asian country because they do not conform to his principles.
Branson has blogged about Singapore’s drug laws. His latest blog “What’s wrong with Singapore?” prompted Singapore’s Minister of Justice, K Shanmugam, to invite him to debate in Singapore.
It was a unique opportunity for an Englishman to address a whole colony (sorry, independent republic) about what we are doing wrong.
Either way, this 2022 version of the Opium War didn’t work. Branson retreated.
Branson’s reasons for backing down make no sense.
First, Branson said the debate, being a televised event, would be time-limited. It’s a poor excuse. We would have given Branson as much time as he wanted.
Second, Branson said the debate would be limited in scope. No, it wouldn’t. The scope would be exactly what he was talking about: the death penalty in Singapore.
Third, Branson said, “What Singapore really needs is constructive and sustained dialogue involving multiple stakeholders” and “this conversation needs local voices.”
It’s funny that Branson says that. For a very long time, Singaporeans have been telling him the same thing.
We told Branson that he is not a speaker and he is not a local voice.
But that never stopped Branson from telling Singaporeans what to do.
He continued to blog under his name, telling Singapore what to do.
It wasn’t until Singapore invited Branson to debate that he suddenly changed his tune. Now, Branson believes that Singaporean stakeholders and local voices should matter more, and outsiders (like him) shouldn’t talk.
Maybe Branson doesn’t want to be tested on his knowledge of the Singapore situation on live television. It’s surprising because, reading his blog, one would assume that Branson already knows so much about us.
I want to ask Branson: were you teasing us?
You were never really serious about this problem? Was it just something you had to do on social media because you needed a trending cause to champion? I hope not. I thought you were sincere.
Either way, it looks like the Englishman lost this round of the Opium War. The next time he wants to tell us what to do, we should remind him that he is not a speaker or a local voice.
Top image by TSMP website and Richard Branson/Instagram.