Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the contempt of court charges that have been brought against British freelance journalist Alan Shadrake in connection with his new book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.” Freed on bail last night, Shadrake is due to appear before the Singapore high court on 30 July.
The press freedom organisation has seen a copy of the complaint brought against Shadrake by the attorney-general’s office. It consists of just a series of biased and malicious allegations that show that the case is an abuse of judicial authority.
The complaint says that parts of the book, which is about Singapore’s use of the death penalty, “contains imputations against the independence and integrity of the Singapore judiciary.” In evidence, it quotes around 20 passages which for the most part contain widely-known facts about Singapore’s justice system.
“He was very tired and shaken when he was released,” Shadrake’s lawyer, M. Ravi, told Reporters Without Borders. “During our interview, he broke down in tears because of the pressure he had been under during the interrogations sessions. The police questioned him again today for several hours. My client insists that everything he wrote in his book is true,”
Shadrake is facing a possible two-year jail sentence and a heavy fine if convicted. Reporters Without Borders calls on the British government to do everything possible to get the Singaporean authorities to drop the charges. In response to a question from Reporters Without Borders, a Singaporean diplomat in London confirmed that Shadrake would have to remain in Singapore “to assist the police” with their investigation.
Shadrake was released from the headquarters of the Singaporean Criminal Investigation Department at 11:30 pm yesterday after payment of 10,000 Singaporean dollars in bail. He spent a total of 39 hours in police custody, during which he had to sleep on the floor of his cell and was interrogated for several hours at a stretch about his book.
The police have confiscated his passport and mobile phone.
SINGAPORE – Court proceedings have been initiated against British writer Alan Shadrake (picture) because of certain passages in his book, which the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) says “scandalise the Singapore Judiciary”.
In court documents obtained by MediaCorp yesterday, the AGC is alleging that several passages in Shadrake’s book contain allegations and insinuations that the Singapore Judiciary “in determining whether to sentence an accused person to death, succumbs to political and economic pressures” and therefore “lacks independence”.
Shadrake also insinuated that the Judiciary “has been facilitating the suppression of political dissent and criticism in Singapore through the award of heavy damages in defamation actions brought without legal basis by the People’s Action Party”, the AGC says.
The insinuations and imputations in the book are calculated to undermine the authority of the Singapore courts and public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore, the AGC contends.
By reason of bringing into existence, publication and distribution of the book which scandalises the Singapore Judiciary, Shadrake, 75, has committed contempt of court, the AGC says.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the writer is also under investigation for criminal defamation.
An MHA spokesperson said while the right to hold opposing views is respected, the issue here is Shadrake’s “violation of the laws of Singapore”.
The court documents were filed on July 16 – the day Shadrake entered Singapore to attend the launch of his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock in which he alleged double standards in Singapore’s use of the death penalty.
The writer was arrested on Sunday at his hotel, a day after the launch.
The contempt of court hearing has been set for July 30, said Shadrake’s lawyer M Ravi.
The writer was released on bail yesterday morning but was back at the Criminal Investigation Department at 2pm to help with investigations.
Reporters Without Borders today called for the immediate release of British freelance journalist Alan Shadrake, author of a book about the death penalty in Singapore, who has been held by the police Criminal Investigation Department since early yesterday morning.
Shadrake, author of Once a Jolly Hangman-Singapore Justice in the Dock, is investigated for “criminal defamation” and “contempt of court”.
“To hold the 75-year-old author of an investigative book who is in fragile health for nearly two days and at a secret location, is shocking and totally disproportionate”, the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“We urge the interior minister and deputy prime minister Kan Seng Wong to order the immediate release of Alan Shadrake and the dropping of charges against him. The death penalty should be freely debated and by whomsoever in Singapore as anywhere else. Alan Shadrake has no business being in a police cell”, the organisation added.
Police spokesman, Sew Wei Ler, refused to reveal his place of detention to Reporters Without Borders. “The law allows us to hold him for 48 hours, but I cannot tell you if he will be released before then”, he said. The journalist, who was arrested at his hotel, had attended a private event to promote the book the previous day.
His lawyer, Mr Ravi, said that police had not given him any news about his client’s situation despite the fact that he put in a formal request for such information. “The police have not even found time to call me back”, he said. “It is an extremely harsh position to adopt in relation to my right to access to my client”, he added. Shadrake faces up to two years in prison.
The book, which was published in Malaysia, includes interviews with a former chief executioner, lawyers and police officers. The authorities claim that Shadrake contested the impartiality of Singapore’s justice system, as well as the independence of some judges. As a result he also faces charges for alleged contempt of court. The prosecutor’s office declined to comment on the case when Reporters Without Borders got in touch by telephone.
Shadrake’s arrest came after a complaint was laid by the Media Development Authority on 16 July.
Several Singapore citizens have confirmed that it is almost impossible to find the work in bookshops, even though it has not been officially banned. A government representative told the BBC that the government has the right to advise book shops not to stock it.
Elsewhere, the documentary-maker Martyn See told Reporters Without Borders that he had been obliged to delete from YouTube.com his film about former political prisoner, Lim Hock Siew. He received a letter from an official at the Media Development Authority threatening him with proceedings under Article 35 of the Films Act if he did not pull the documentary from YouTube and his personal website before 14 July 2010. “Two of my films are now banned”, said See.
The film deemed to be contrary to the “public interest” was posted online by other Internet users: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nEyfVOKrPo
Singapore is ranked 133 out of 175 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2009 world press freedom index.
Amnesty International has called on the Singapore authorities to immediately release British author Alan Shadrake, who was arrested for criminal defamation on 18 July after he published a book critical of Singapore’s use of the death penalty.
“Singapore uses criminal defamation laws to silence critics of government policies,” said Donna Guest, Asia Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “The Singapore government should release Shadrake at once.”
Shadrake launched his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock in Singapore on Saturday. His book features an interview with a former hangman at Singapore’s Changi Prison. On Sunday, Shadrake was arrested, and is currently being detained at Cantonment Police Station.
The Singapore Police Force confirmed Shadrake’s arrest in a statement, which said: “He is being investigated for alleged offences of criminal defamation and other offences.”
Police said the arrest was made pursuant to a complaint lodged on 16 July by the Media Development Authority (MDA) the government body responsible for censoring publications and broadcasts. According its website, the MDA is “developing Singapore into a vibrant global media city”.
“If Singapore aspires to be a global media city, it needs to respect global human rights standards for freedom of expression,” said Donna Guest. “Singapore should get rid of both its criminal defamation laws and the death penalty.”
Criminal defamation in Singapore carries a sentence of up to two years in prison and uncapped fines. This has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech. According to Amnesty International, peaceful criticism of government policies must never be the subject of criminal proceedings.
In 2010 the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue, called on all states to abolish all criminal defamation laws, which he said could not be justified, given that non-criminal defamation laws adequately protect people’s reputations.
Singapore’s death penalty laws also fail to meet international human rights standards. Its drug law violates fair-trial standards by a presumption of guilt against defendants charged with drug-trafficking, which in turn carries a mandatory death penalty. This prevents judges from considering the circumstances of a case, or handing down lighter sentences.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has stated that the death penalty should under no circumstances be mandatory by law, regardless of the charges involved.