See also the Free Alan Shadrake! facebook group here!
SINGAPORE — A Singapore court jailed a defiant 76-year-old British author for six weeks on Tuesday for insulting the judiciary by publishing a book critical of executions in the city-state.
In the stiffest sentence imposed in Singapore for contempt of court, Alan Shadrake was also fined 20,000 Singapore dollars (9,613 pounds) for his book based on the long career of a hangman who allegedly put more than 1,000 convicts to death.
The previous longest jail term for contempt of court was 15 days.
High Court Judge Quentin Loh said he was imposing a deterrent sentence and dismissed a last-minute apology by Shadrake as a “tactical ploy” to obtain a reduced sentence.
Shadrake, a freelance journalist based in Malaysia and Britain, must serve two extra weeks in prison if he fails to pay the fine.
“I don’t have that kind of money,” he told reporters.
In addition, he will have to pay legal costs of 55,000 dollars, but was given a week’s stay before the jail sentence is carried out while he decides whether to appeal.
Shadrake is also being investigated for criminal defamation, which carries a sentence of two years’ imprisonment, a fine or both.
Human rights activists criticised the decision to jail Shadrake but Judge Loh said the allegations of “judicial impropriety” were without precedent.
“There is no doubt Mr Shadrake’s personal culpability is of the highest order,” Loh said during sentencing, noting that Shadrake had openly declared plans to add more chapters to the book.
The jail sentence was half the 12 weeks sought by the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Shadrake’s lawyer M. Ravi said 6,000 copies of the book had been sold.
Judge Loh was fair to his client “but I won’t say (Singapore) justice is fair,” Ravi added.
Shadrake was arrested by Singapore police in July while visiting the city to launch his book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock”.
It includes a profile of Darshan Singh, the former chief executioner at Singapore’s Changi Prison who, according to the author, hanged around 1,000 men and women including foreigners from 1959 until he retired in 2006.
The book also features interviews with human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers, and alleges that some cases may have been influenced by diplomatic and trade considerations.
Singapore executes murderers and drug traffickers by hanging, a controversial method of punishment dating back to British colonial rule.
The government does not publish statistics on the death penalty but Amnesty International said in a 2004 report that more than 400 prisoners had been hanged in Singapore since 1991, giving the city-state the distinction of having the world’s highest execution rate relative to its population.
In a November 3 ruling that found Shadrake guilty, the judge said the author made his claims “against a dissembling and selective background of truths and half-truths, and sometimes outright falsehoods.”
“A casual and unwary reader, who does not subject the book to detailed scrutiny, might well believe his claims… and in so doing would have lost confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore.”
Shadrake’s jail sentence was strongly condemned by New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“It’s a serious blow and it will have a chilling effect on others who have differences or issues with the government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the group’s Asia division.
Amnesty International said sentencing the author to jail was “a major step backwards for freedom of expression in Singapore”.
Shadrake was in a defiant mood at the entrance to the Supreme Court building before the hearing started.
He unfurled an Amnesty International Malaysia poster with the words “Stop the Death Penalty” in front of the media.
The poster bore a picture of a woman’s head covered in a black hood with a noose around her neck.
Alan Shadrake, the British author convicted of contempt of court for disparaging Singapore’s judiciary, was sentenced to six weeks in jail and fined S$20,000 ($15,380), a record sentence for the crime in the city-state.
Shadrake, 76, was also ordered to pay S$55,000 in costs to the prosecution by Singapore High Court Judge Quentin Loh. He was released until Nov. 24 to decide whether he wants to appeal the decision.
The writer accused Singapore’s courts of succumbing to political influences and favoring the rich over the poor in his book “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore’s Justice in the Dock.” The book contained “half-truths and selective facts; sometimes even outright falsehoods,” Loh said in his Nov. 3 verdict.
“I still believe in what I said,” Shadrake told reporters after the sentencing today, wearing a navy blue open-neck shirt, beige jacket and cream-colored trousers. He’s working on a second edition of the book that will correct a “misuse of the word ’judiciary’ which was careless on my part,” he said.
The prosecution had sought a jail term of at least 12 weeks because of Shadrake’s “continued defiance” and allegations of “the worst possible kind” against the judiciary.
Shadrake had no intention of undermining the city’s judiciary and ought to be censured instead of jailed or fined, his lawyer M. Ravi said at a Nov. 9 hearing.
Loh said in sentencing Shadrake today that he had shown a “reckless disregard for the truth,” a “tendency to distort his sources for his own purposes,” and that an average reader of his book would be “likely to believe his contemptuous remarks.”
He also said Shadrake made his situation worse in an interview with the Guardian newspaper last week in which he said Singapore’s authorities had “over-reacted” and were “going to regret they ever started this.”
Loh said he gave Shadrake a discount on the sentence to signal the court has no interest in stifling debate on the death penalty. The sentence exceeds that of Tan Liang Joo, who was jailed for 15 days in November 2008 for wearing a t-shirt to court with a picture of a kangaroo dressed as a judge.
Shadrake and Ravi wore badges with the number 2, which Shadrake said were a call for second chances for people on death row in Singapore.
Shadrake said the jail term was about what he expected, but that he had expected a higher fine. Ravi said in court that Shadrake “doesn’t even have S$2,000” with which to pay the fine. Loh said Shadrake will serve an extra two weeks in jail if he defaults on the fine.
The case is Attorney-General vs Alan Shadrake OS720/2010 in the Singapore High Court.
Singapore’s High Court on Tuesday sentenced a U.K. author to six weeks’ jail for contempt of court—the stiffest penalty the city-state has issued for the offense—over statements in his book on the country’s death penalty, a judge said.
Malaysia-based journalist Alan Shadrake, 76, convicted Nov. 3 of scandalizing the court in his book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock,” would also be fined 20,000 Singapore dollars ($15,400) to send “a signal to those who hope to profit from controversy,” said High Court Judge Quentin Loh. Mr. Loh said the previous record jail sentence for contempt was 15 days.
Mr. Loh said Tuesday that Mr. Shadrake showed a clear “intent to repeat his contempt” by preparing a second edition of his book, and that he had aggravated his contempt in statements published in U.K. newspaper The Guardian earlier this month.
“Mr. Shadrake’s technique is to make or insinuate his claims against a dissembling and selective background of truths and half-truths and selective facts,” Mr. Loh said in his judgment Nov. 3, “sometimes even outright falsehoods.”
The book has sold about 6,000 copies, the court said it had heard.
Mr. Shadrake might serve an additional two weeks’ in jail if he doesn’t pay the fine, and has to pay an additional S$55,000 in legal costs to Singapore’s Attorney General’s Chambers, Mr. Loh said Tuesday.
Mr. Shadrake might not have enough money, his lawyer M. Ravi said in court.
Government lawyers last week asked for a minimum of 12 weeks’ jail for Mr. Shadrake, saying he had showed “deliberate intent to damage” the integrity of Singapore’s judiciary, while Mr. Ravi had argued a censure would be sufficient as his client had no such intentions.
Contempt of court is punishable in Singapore by imprisonment and fines, with no limits specified.
Mr. Loh said he “would have dealt with (Mr. Shadrake) very differently” if the author had apologized and made amends for his contempt—an opportunity offered after the Nov. 3 verdict.
Instead, Mr. Ravi said in court last week that Mr. Shadrake wouldn’t disavow his book, but was willing to “say sorry if the sensitivities of the judiciary had been offended.”
The book profiles a retired chief executioner and features interviews on death penalty cases with rights activists, lawyers and former police officers.
Government lawyers said last month during Mr. Shadrake’s trial that statements in the book constituted “baseless, unwarranted attacks” impugning the Singapore judiciary, implying that 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. Shadrake asked for some time to consider an appeal, and Mr. Loh granted him a week, meaning he must appear in court again by Nov. 24.
The author declined comment after Tuesday’s hearing on whether he would appeal, but Mr. Ravi said he intends to seek support from the U.K. and European parliaments.
Mr. Shadrake might also face separate criminal defamation charges, which carry penalties of up to two years’ in jail and a fine.
The author is free on bail, and his passport has been impounded.
The Attorney General’s Chambers declined comment Tuesday on whether those criminal defamation charges would be pursued, citing ongoing investigations.
Singapore has won several cases of contempt and defamation against foreign publications and journalists.
Rights activists say the government uses such suits to stifle criticism. Government leaders say the actions are necessary to defend themselves against false allegations.
Arriving at the High Court before Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Shadrake carried a poster that said “Stop the death penalty,” printed by rights group Amnesty International.
In Singapore, the death penalty is carried out by hanging and is mandatory for murder and drug trafficking, among other crimes.
Rights group Amnesty International has said Singapore—a Southeast Asian city-state with 5 million people—has one of the world’s highest per-capita execution rates, having executed more than 420 people since 1991.
Singapore, which seldom discloses detailed figures on executions, has insisted the death penalty deters serious crime in the country, one of Asia’s safest.