SINGAPORE — A British author launched an appeal on Monday against a six-week jail term for scandalising Singapore’s judiciary, saying the charges against him were “bloody nonsense”.
Alan Shadrake, 76, was sentenced and fined Sg$20,000 ($16,000) in November last year after Singapore’s High Court ruled that his book on the death penalty broke the city-state’s laws.
Shadrake’s lawyer M. Ravi told the Court of Appeal on Monday the book, entitled “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock”, did not damage public confidence in the judiciary.
“If the book had been considered to be as dangerous and risky… It is astonishing that it is not banned,” Ravi said.
“The Singapore citizen is not so gullible as to lose faith in the judicial system… regardless of any abusive criticism directed at it.”
The court reserved its judgment.
Shadrake, who is on bail, said after the hearing that bringing the charges against him “is bloody nonsense and if they put me in prison, I don’t care”.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers had argued that a custodial sentence should be imposed on Shadrake as his book risked undermining the judiciary in the eyes of Singaporeans.
Principal senior state counsel David Chong said in court Monday that Shadrake’s book had “transgressed the limits” of free speech and that his intention to publish a second edition showed an “avowed intention of the appellant to repeat the offence”.
“A sentence of imprisonment is necessary to deter the appellant from repeating (his offence)… He should reap the consequences of his contempt,” Chong said.
Shadrake’s jail term was the stiffest sentence ever imposed in Singapore for the offence, and was denounced by international human rights groups campaigning for an end to executions and for greater freedom of expression in the country.
State prosecutor Chong said however that it represented “the lower end of the punishment”.
Shadrake said outside the court he was “feeling quite up” about the proceedings.
He added that the second edition of his book was due to be released May 1 in Australia, with sections deemed offending to the Singapore judiciary deleted or rephrased.
US-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch said in a statement issued before the hearing that “the outcome of Shadrake?s appeal… could have important implications for free expression in Singapore.”
“Singapore officials egregiously violated the right to free expression by prosecuting Shadrake for daring to suggest that the government doesn?t have it all right all the time,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
(New York) – On April 11, 2011, the Singapore Court of Appeal will hear the case of Alan Shadrake, a British author whose book criticized the Singaporean judiciary. The outcome of Shadrake’s appeal of his contempt of court conviction could have important implications for free expression in Singapore, Human Rights Watch said today.
The Singapore High Court found Shadrake guilty on November 3, 2010, of “scandalizing the judiciary” by suggesting in his book, Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, that Singapore’s mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking offenses is not always equitably applied. Shadrake alleged that implementation of the death penalty for some 20 such offenses is subject to political and economic pressures, including from the ruling People’s Action Party, that discriminate against the poor, the weak, or the less-educated.
“Singapore officials egregiously violated the right to free expression by prosecuting Shadrake for daring to suggest that the government doesn’t have it all right all the time,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government seems intent on trying to discredit both the message and the messenger.”
On July 16, 2010, the day before the scheduled launch of Once a Jolly Hangman, Singapore’s attorney general submitted an affidavit recommending prosecution of Shadrake for writing and promoting a book which contained passages that “scandalize the Singapore Judiciary.” The charge of “scandalizing the court” is a judicial anachronism from Singapore’s British colonial past. The law was once prevalent throughout British Commonwealth countries, but a number have long since discarded it, including the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, and Brunei Darussalam.
The court that convicted Shadrake ruled that “the authority of the court and public confidence in the administration of justice” would be compromised if Shadrake was acquitted. In its decision, and actions during the trial, the court appeared to have little interest in the substance of Shadrake’s research, accumulated through study of court documents and case files, and extensive interviews with dozens of lawyers, death penalty opponents, police officers, and even the retired chief executioner at Changi Prison where the hangings took place.
The high court also dismissed the defense’s argument that Shadrake’s book amounted to “fair criticism on matters of compelling public interest,” as provided for under article 14 of the Singapore Constitution. Shadrake was sentenced to six weeks in prison plus a SGD20,000 (US$15,865) fine and court costs. On several occasions, the attorney general’s office suggested that a sincere and “unreserved” apology by Shadrake might mitigate his punishment, but a refusal to apologize could be held against him.
Shadrake’s book has helped to pierce the secrecy surrounding application of the death penalty, statistics on those put to death, and related issues. Singapore is reported to have one of the world’s highest per capita execution rates. In its February 2011 National Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review, Singapore defended its use of capital punishment and claimed the death penalty for trafficking was a major factor in keeping drug syndicates out of Singapore.
Singapore’s death penalty has received particular criticism, including by the UN expert on extrajudicial executions, because of mandatory death sentences for certain offenses. Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all circumstances because of its cruel, inhumane, and irreversible nature.
Singaporean laws and policies on freedom of expression, assembly, and association sharply limit peaceful criticism of the government. Time and time again, they have been used to thwart development of dissenting voices and opposition political parties. Censorship extends to broadcast and electronic media, films, videos, music, sound recordings, and computer games. The Newspaper and Printing Presses Act requires yearly registration and permits authorities to limit circulation of foreign papers that “engage in the domestic politics of Singapore.”
Human Rights Watch urged governments to raise their concerns about Singapore’s poor record on freedom of expression, as well as freedom of association and assembly, when Singapore appears for its Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on May 6.
“Alan Shadrake has done a service to Singapore by pointing out the failings in its application of justice,” Robertson said. “It’s in Singapore’s interest for the justice system to recognize that.”
Judgment reserved on Shadrake’s contempt conviction
Selina Lum, 12 Apr 2011
THE Court of Appeal yesterday reserved judgment on British author Alan Shadrake’s appeal against his contempt-of-court conviction.
The case centres on his book, Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore’s Justice In The Dock, about the death penalty in Singapore.
In November last year, Shadrake, 76, was sentenced to six weeks’ jail and a $20,000 fine – the heaviest punishment handed down here for contempt of court by way of scandalising the judiciary.
He was found by Justice Quentin Loh to have impugned the impartiality, integrity and independence of the courts here in 11 passages in his book. The 11 statements were among 14 cited by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) when it brought contempt proceedings against him last year. The remaining three were not in contempt, ruled the judge.
Shadrake, represented by lawyer M. Ravi, then went to the Court of Appeal.
Yesterday, Mr Ravi argued that Justice Loh had used too low a threshold in determining that his client was liable for contempt.
‘If this book is so dangerous, it’s astonishing that it’s not banned,’ he said, noting that the authorities have only advised retailers that distribution of the book would amount to contempt of court.
He compared Shadrake’s case to that of Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, who was jailed a day for contempt by telling a judge to her face that he did not think the court was independent. In Shadrake’s case, his book was about the death penalty and not focused on the judiciary, argued Mr Ravi.
But Senior Counsel David Chong, for the AGC, argued that such statements as appeared in the book erode the public’s confidence in the authority of the courts.
He likened it to ‘guerilla warfare’ as it was ‘so easy for someone to allege bias on the part of the courts’.
Mr Chong added that Shadrake was unrepentant, noting how the author said he had done nothing wrong, stood by what he said and would continue to distribute the book, even coming up with a second edition.
The hearing dwelt mainly on technical arguments over issues such as the various legal tests for liability for contempt and the interpretation of the passages in the book.
The Court of Appeal, comprising Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, Justice Lai Siu Chiu and Justice Philip Pillai, reserved judgment after the 21/2-hour appeal.
Shadrake later told The Straits Times a ‘libel-free’ edition of his book is slated for release in Australia and Britain and published by Australia-based Murdoch Books.
Asked if the new edition, which includes his experiences following his arrest, will be on sale here, he said the publisher will not allow the book to be imported into Singapore. The first edition was by a different publisher.