Published: 25 April 2023
1. We refer to Sir Richard Branson’s blog post published on 24 April 2023, on the capital sentence on Tangaraju S/O Suppiah (“Tangaraju”), a convicted drug trafficker. We would like to correct some points made by Mr Branson.
Facts of the Case
2. Tangaraju, a 46-year old Singaporean, was convicted of abetting the trafficking of 1017.9 grammes of cannabis. The Misuse of Drugs Act provides for the death penalty if the amount of cannabis is more than 500 grammes. 1017.9 grammes is more than twice the capital threshold, and sufficient to feed the addiction of about 150 abusers for a week.
3. Mr Branson claimed that Tangaraju’s conviction did not meet the standards for criminal conviction and that “Singapore may be about to kill an innocent man”. This is patently untrue.
(a) Tangaraju’s case was tried before the High Court of Singapore. Upon examination of all the evidence, including Tangaraju’s defence, the High Court found that the charge against Tangaraju had been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
(b) Upon Tangaraju’s appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the High Court’s findings and upheld the conviction against Tangaraju.
(c) Tangaraju was represented by legal counsel throughout the court process.
4. Far from the suggestion that Tangaraju was innocent because he was “not anywhere near the drugs at the time of his arrest”, the evidence clearly showed that he was the person coordinating the delivery of drugs, for the purpose of trafficking.
(a) Tangaraju was involved in a case with two others, where his phone numbers were used to communicate with the two others involved in the delivery of the cannabis.
(b) Tangaraju’s defence was that he was not the person communicating with the two others involved in the case. However, the High Court found Tangaraju’s evidence unbelievable, and found that he was communicating with the two others and was the one coordinating the delivery and receipt of cannabis to himself, through the two others.1
(c) The High Court also found that Tangaraju had an intention to traffic in the cannabis.
5. It is regrettable that Mr Branson, in wanting to argue his case, should resort to purporting to know more about the case than Singapore’s Courts, which had examined the case thoroughly and comprehensively over a period of more than three years. He shows disrespect for Singapore’s judges and our criminal justice system with such allegations.
Singapore’s Approach Towards Drugs and the Death Penalty
6. Despite multiple clarifications we have made previously, we note that Mr Branson continues to make sweeping assertions against Singapore’s approach on drugs, including the use of the death penalty on those who traffic in large amounts of drugs.
7. Singapore adopts a zero-tolerance stance against drugs and applies a multi-pronged approach to combat drugs. This includes having rehabilitation programmes for drug abusers and tough laws against drug traffickers, such as the death penalty for traffickers that traffic substantial amounts of drugs, which Singapore applies judiciously with stringent safeguards. The death penalty is an essential component of Singapore’s criminal justice system and has been effective in keeping Singapore safe and secure.
8. Mr Branson also said that Singaporean authorities have repeatedly failed to provide any tangible evidence for the effective deterrent of drug-related crime. This is untrue. We have repeatedly set out clear evidence of the deterrent effect of the death penalty in Singapore’s context, which Mr Branson seems to have conveniently ignored.2
(a) In the four-year period after the introduction of the mandatory death penalty for trafficking more than 500 grammes of cannabis, there was a 15 to 19 percentage point reduction in the probability that traffickers would choose to traffic above the capital sentence threshold.3
(b) Studies have also found that drug traffickers deliberately restricted the amount of drugs they carried in order not to exceed the capital sentence threshold. They were willing to risk imprisonment, but not the death penalty.4
(c) A 2021 study conducted in parts of the region outside Singapore, from where some of Singapore’s arrested drug traffickers have come in recent years, shows that most persons in these countries are deterred by the death penalty.5 87% believed that the death penalty makes people not want to traffic substantial amounts of drugs into Singapore, and 83% believed the death penalty is more effective than life imprisonment in discouraging people from trafficking drugs into Singapore.
9. As for Mr Branson’s other allegations about Singapore’s “disproportionate use [of capital punishment] on minorities, an obsession with small-scale drug traffickers, and the widely reported harassment of human rights defenders and capital defence lawyers” – these assertions are false. We have responded to the allegations before, and it is regrettable that he continues to assert these falsehoods.6
10. Singapore’s policies on drugs and the death penalty are derived from our own experience. Our approach has worked for us, and we will continue charting our own path according to what is in the best interests of Singaporeans. Mr Branson is free to advocate his beliefs for his own countrymen, but he should respect Singaporeans’ choice.