British aviation czar Richard Branson is not convinced by the response he received from the Singapore government to his call on the city-state last November to stop the execution of an intellectually disabled Malaysian, as an appeal to quash his death sentence was again postponed.
The billionaire businessman told Vice World News that he received a lengthy letter from Singapore’s home affairs ministry over his public criticism, but said it would not change his views on the execution of Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam or his own opposition to the death penalty.
“I had a long letter from the Singapore government putting [forth] their arguments about this particular issue.
“The Singapore government would do very well just to get rid of the death penalty altogether,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with the online news site.
However he refused to disclose the contents of the letter.
The death sentence handed down to Nagaenthran, who has an IQ of 69 – below the threshold of 70 for declaring a person as intellectually disabled – drew public outrage, with pleas for leniency from Malaysian leaders including the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah and Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.
Nagaenthran was granted a stay of execution following a diagnosis of Covid-19 just before a last-ditch attempt to stop his sentence on Nov 9, 2021.
Following his recovery, the hearing to set aside his death sentence was scheduled for Jan 24, but this was postponed to February, according to an update from the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign.
Despite the outrage, Singapore has insisted that Nagaenthran was fully aware of his actions, and suggested that he was fabricating his mental state by altering his academic qualifications to show an inferior IQ.
Nagaenthran was found guilty of a drug trafficking charge in 2010, a year after being arrested for carrying 43g of heroin into Singapore.
The Singapore government has often cited its tough laws as a deterrent against drug crimes.
But critics have pointed out that many of those convicted were drug mules from poor families, while the drug kingpins who employed them would often go unpunished, a view stressed by Branson in his open letter to Singapore President Halimah Yacob.
“Year after year, people face the gallows, the firing squad, or – in Duterte’s Philippines – unaccountable death squads for alleged drug-related crimes. Yet, the global drug trade continues to grow, and illicit drugs of all types are more readily available around the world than at any other point in history.
“If deterrence is the objective, these laws have failed miserably. And they will continue to fail,” Branson wrote.