Press Releases

Ministry of Home Affairs' Response to Sir Richard Branson's Blog Post on 10 October 2022

Published: 22 October 2022

Nagaenthran A/L K Dharmalingam

1.   Sir Richard Branson (hereafter referred to as “Mr Branson”) says that Nagaenthran A/L K Dharmalingam (“Nagaenthran”), had a “well-documented intellectual disability”, and was hung despite that.

2.   We have clarified on several occasions that this is untrue.[1] The Singapore Courts held that Nagaenthran knew what he was doing and that he was not intellectually disabled.[2] The psychiatrist called by the Defence themselves agreed, in court, that Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled.

3.   Mr Branson also suggests that Singapore had breached our international commitments to protect people with disabilities by carrying out the capital punishment on Nagaenthran. This too is untrue, as Nagaenthran was not intellectually disabled.

Singapore’s Approach Towards Drugs

4.   Second, Mr Branson questions Singapore’s approach on drugs, including the use of the death penalty on those who traffic in large amounts of drugs.

5.   Drugs exact a significant toll on lives and society. Globally, about 500,000 deaths are linked to drug abuse every year.[3] In the United States (US) alone, there were more than 100,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021, a record number.[4] The opioid crisis is an important contributor to the recent decline in US life expectancy.[5] Around the world, large numbers of babies are born with drug withdrawal and addiction symptoms. In the US, nearly 80 newborns are diagnosed every day with neonatal abstinence syndrome.[6] Across England and Wales, over 4,850 drug-related deaths were recorded in 2021, the highest number since records began in 1993, as more people are dying after using opiates and cocaine.[7]

6.   Countries also incur significant monetary costs because of drug abuse. The economic cost of opioid use disorder and fatal opioid overdose in the US was estimated to be about USD 1 trillion in 2017.[8] The total annual cost of drug misuse was around GBP 15.4 billion in the United Kingdom (UK) in 2014.[9] Locally, a study by Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University found that drug crimes cost Singapore SGD 1.2 billion in 2015.

7.   Our priority is to protect Singapore and Singaporeans from the scourge of drugs. We take a comprehensive harm prevention approach, which includes the use of the death penalty for traffickers who traffic large amounts of drugs and seek to profit from destroying other people’s lives and livelihoods.

8.   The capital sentence has had a clear deterrent effect on drug traffickers in Singapore. It has also helped prevent major drug syndicates from establishing themselves here. Convicted drug traffickers have provided first-hand accounts that they deliberately trafficked below the capital threshold amount – they were willing to risk imprisonment, but not the capital sentence.[10] After the mandatory capital sentence was introduced for opium trafficking, there was a significant reduction – 66% – in the average net weight of opium trafficked into Singapore within four years.[11] Similarly, in the four-years after the mandatory capital sentence was introduced 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.[12]

9.   A study was done on persons from parts of the region outside Singapore where most of our arrested drug traffickers come from. 83% of respondents said the capital sentence makes people not want to traffic substantial amounts of drugs into Singapore; and 69% said the capital sentence is more effective than life imprisonment in discouraging people from committing serious crimes.[13]

10.   Singapore’s strict laws, and their clear enforcement, have significantly reduced the amount of drugs entering Singapore. Many Singaporean lives and families have been saved from the harms of drugs. The number of drug abusers has also steadily decreased. In the 1990s, we arrested over 6,000 abusers each year. We now arrest about 3,000 abusers per year, even though our population has grown from about 3 million people in 1990 to about 5.5 million in 2022.[14]

11.   Based on the 2020 Gallup Global Law and Order Report, 97% of adults in Singapore feel safe walking alone at night, compared to the global average of 69%.[15] 

Other Issues Raised

12.   Third, Mr Branson suggests that there were developments that should give Singaporeans “cause for concern”, alluding to the suspicion of alleged racial bias and that those executed in recent times were small-scale drug traffickers.

13.   This assertion is false. Mr Branson probably picked it up from some activists in Singapore with their own agendas. Our laws and procedures apply equally to all, regardless of background, nationality, race, education level or financial status. Every person who faces a capital offence is accorded full due process under the law. Their trials are transparent and open to the public and media. In August 2021, 17 Prisoners Awaiting Capital Punishment (PACPs) filed an application against the Attorney-General (AG), seeking declarations that in prosecuting them for capital drug offences, the AG had acted arbitrarily and discriminated against them on ethnic grounds, among others. The High Court dismissed the application.[16] It also ordered counsel, including Mr M Ravi (“MR”) whom Mr Branson mentioned in his post, to pay costs because they had abused the Court process.[17] The High Court said MR’s affidavit contained sweeping generalisations unsubstantiated by any specific evidence. Now Mr Branson peddles the same allegations.

14.   Mr Branson has also alleged that Singapore continually targets capital defence lawyers and human rights defenders, resulting in a “chilling effect” on the willingness of lawyers to represent persons facing a capital sentence. This is another falsehood. Defence lawyers have never been penalised for representing and defending accused persons. Every accused person who faces a capital sentence is provided with legal counsel to defend them.

15.   However, this does not mean that lawyers can abuse the court process by filing late and patently unmeritorious applications to frustrate the carrying out of lawfully imposed sentences.

16.   For instance, in Nagaenthran’s case, the Court of Appeal dismissed the last-minute applications, and described them as an abuse of the Court’s process.[18] The judgment emphasised that Nagaenthran had been accorded full due process in accordance with the law and had exhausted his rights of appeal and almost every other recourse under the law since he was sentenced.[19]

17.   Mr Branson is entitled to his opinions. These opinions may be widely held in the UK, but we do not accept that Mr Branson or others in the West are entitled to impose their values on other societies. Nor do we believe that a country that prosecuted two wars in China in the 19th century to force the Chinese to accept opium imports has any moral right to lecture Asians on drugs.

18.   Our policies on drugs and the death penalty derive from our own experience. We are satisfied – as are the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans – that they work for us. Nothing we have seen in the UK or in the West persuades us that adopting a permissive attitude towards drugs and a tolerant position on drug trafficking will increase human happiness. Where drug addiction is concerned, things have steadily worsened in the UK, while things have steadily improved in Singapore.

19.   The Ministry has also invited Mr Branson to Singapore for a live televised debate on Singapore’s approach towards drugs and the death penalty, with Singapore’s Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam. Mr Branson’s flight to and accommodation in Singapore will be paid for. Mr Branson may use this platform to demonstrate to Singaporeans the error of our ways and why Singapore should do away with laws that have kept our population safe from the global scourge of drug abuse.


[1] Facts of the Case of Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam; Transcript of Sydney Morning Herald’s Interview with Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, on 15 September 2022
[2] Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam v AG [2022] SGCA 26
[3] WHO Fact Sheet – Opioid Overdose
[4] CNN, In 2021, US drug overdose deaths hit highest level on record, CDC data shows (May 2022)
[5] Annual Review of Public Health, Declining Life expectancy in the United States: Missing the Trees for the Forest, 2020.
[6] CDC Data and Statistics About Opioid Use During Pregnancy
[7] The Guardian – Cocaine and Opiates Drive Record High Drug Deaths in England and Wales, 3 August 2022
[8] CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report – State Level Economic Costs of Opioid Use Disorder and Fatal Opioid Overdose – United States 2017
[9] House of Commons, Debate Pack CDP-0230, Human and Financial costs of drug addiction, 21 November 2017
[10] MHA COS 2022 on ‘Singapore’s Approach to Criminal Justice’
[11] MHA COS 2022 on ‘Singapore’s Approach to Criminal Justice’
[12] The Death Penalty in Singapore
[13] MHA COS 2022 on ‘Singapore’s Approach to Criminal Justice’
[14] MHA COS 2022 on ‘Singapore’s Approach to Criminal Justice’
[15] 2020 Gallup Global Law and Order Report
[16] Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin and Ors v AG [2021] SGHC 274
[17] Syed Suhail bin Syed Zin v AG [2022] SGHC 140
[18] Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam v AG [2022] SGCA 26
[19] Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam v AG [2022] SGCA 37