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Alan Shadrake and the Police State

Singapore Govt should exonerate Alan Shadrake for criticism of Singapore’s justice system says Human Rights Watch

Alan Shadrake was to be sentenced today. The Attorney-General’s Chambers wanted a minimum sentence of 12 weeks in prison while Shadrake’s lawyer, M. Ravi, argued that censure and reprimand would be sufficient. Judgment was reserved till 16th Nov 2010 (Tue).

This is a statement by Human Rights Watch followed by a media report on proceedings in court today morning.

Drop Charges Against Author Who Raised Rights Concerns
Human Rights Watch, 8 Nov 2010

(New York) – The Singapore government should exonerate a British author who was convicted for contempt of court for his criticism of Singapore’s justice system, Human Rights Watch said today. On November 9, 2010, the Singapore high court will impose a criminal sentence against Alan Shadrake, a 76-year-old writer who was convicted on November 3 for “scandalizing the judiciary” in his book, Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, which criticizes bias in the application of Singapore’s mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking.

Singapore’s attorney general brought the contempt charges on the grounds that “public confidence in the Singapore Judiciary cannot be allowed, in any way, to be tarnished or diminished by any contumacious behaviour.” The defendant contended that the book amounted to “fair criticism on matters of compelling public interest,” as provided under article 14 of the Singapore Constitution. Shadrake faces possible imprisonment as well as fines.

“Singapore is further damaging its poor reputation on free expression by shooting the messenger bearing bad news,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Cases like this only strengthen the allegations that Shadrake made in his book.”

In his ruling, the high court judge rejected “fair criticism” arguments and disputed the contention that Shadrake’s conclusions were based on extensive research of case and court records and interviews with Singapore’s now-retired chief executioner, police officers, lawyers, and death-penalty opponents. He found 11 statements in Once a Jolly Hangman in contempt because, “These statements are made without any rational basis, or with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsehood.” His written judgment concluded that, “We [judges] are constitutionally bound to protect every citizen’s right to engage in such debate…. But when such debate goes beyond the limits of fair criticism the law will step in.”

Shadrake is also under investigation for criminal defamation following a complaint brought by the government-directed Singapore Media Development Authority.

“There is a long history of Singapore’s government using criminal defamation charges to gag and bankrupt critics,” Robertson said. “Criticism of the government should never be resolved in a criminal court – the authorities should drop the charges.”

In a statement this year to the United Nations Human Rights Council, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression reiterated that governments should decriminalize defamation and “promote a culture of tolerance regarding criticism, which is essential in any democratic society.”

Shadrake’s treatment in custody raised due process concerns. At 6 a.m. on July 18, four plainclothes officers arrested Shadrake at his hotel room and took him away for two days of interrogation, during which he was denied access to counsel. Late in the day on July 19, he was released on bail.

Shadrake rejected an offer of mitigation from the Attorney General’s Office in exchange for an “unreserved apology in qualified terms.” The Attorney General’s Office said that it viewed the rejection as an “aggravating fact” against Shadrake. The offer of mitigation in return for an apology was repeated at the trial’s conclusion.

“Those facing the gallows in Singapore owe a great debt of gratitude to Alan Shadrake for exposing serious problems in the justice system,” Robertson said. “The government should be impartially and transparently investigating these problems, not the man who brought them to their attention.”


Singapore Seeks 12 Weeks’ Jail for U.K. Author
Chun Han Wong, Wall Street Journal, 9 Nov 2010

SINGAPORE—Singapore government lawyers on Tuesday asked for a minimum of 12 weeks’ jail for a U.K. author convicted of contempt of court over statements in his book on the city-state’s death penalty.

Deputy Senior State Counsel Hema Subramaniam said in court that Malaysia-based journalist Alan Shadrake, 76 years old, had showed “deliberate intent to damage” the integrity of the Singapore judiciary, and had “aggravated his contempt” with statements given to U.K. newspaper The Guardian that were published last weekend.

A jail sentence was necessary to “send a signal that such egregious conduct will not be tolerated by our courts,” said Ms. Subramaniam.

Shadrake’s lawyer, M. Ravi, argued in court that a censure would be sufficient, saying the fact that the book hadn’t been banned suggested the offense didn’t deserve a heavy sentence. He said the author has a heart condition and is fighting colon cancer, which is in remission, and any jail sentence would thus be “disastrous.”

Contempt of court is punishable in Singapore by imprisonment and fines, with no limits specified.

Mr. Ravi said Shadrake wouldn’t disavow his book but was willing to “say sorry if the sensitivities of the judiciary had been offended.”

High Court Judge Quentin Loh had said, after convictingMr. Shadrake last week, he would give the author “a final opportunity to consider whether he wishes to make amends for or in any way mitigate his contempt in scandalizing the Singapore judiciary.”

Mr. Shadrake, convicted Nov. 3 of scandalizing the court in his book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock,” had earlier maintained that he wouldn’t apologize for the statements.

Mr. Loh said Tuesday he would reserve judgment, and would likely issue a sentence Nov. 16.

Mr. Shadrake remained out on bail after the hearing Tuesday. His passport has been impounded.

At Mr. Shadrake’s trial last month, government lawyers had said statements in the book implied Singapore courts succumb to foreign political and economic pressure, favor the rich and well-connected, and are being used by the government to suppress dissent.

Mr. Ravi had said in response that the statements were “fair criticism.”

The book profiles a retired chief executioner, and features interviews on death penalty cases with rights activists, lawyers, and former police officers.

Singapore’s Media Development Authority has said it hasn’t banned the book, but has asked local distributors and retailers to seek legal advice on whether they can sell it. Several major bookstores in Singapore said they don’t stock the book.

Mr. Shadrake might also face separate criminal defamation charges, which carry penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine.

The Attorney General’s Chambers declined to comment Tuesday on whether those charges would be pursued, citing ongoing investigations.

Singapore has won several cases of contempt and defamation against foreign publications and journalists.

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  1. Pingback: Author of death penalty book arrested by Singapore police day after book launch « Jacob 69er - November 15, 2010

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