Alan Shadrake, author of Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, has had his appeal denied today by Singapore’s Court of Appeal. A new edition of his book has been published but you won’t find it in Singapore’s bookstores.
Singapore’s highest court on Friday ordered a defiant 76-year-old British author to serve six weeks in jail for contempt after he published a book denouncing judicial hangings in the city-state.
Alan Shadrake, a freelance journalist and author of “Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock”, laughed and joked with reporters after the Court of Appeal upheld a prison term and fine imposed in November.
“I expected the decision. I am very sorry for Singapore. I’m not sorry for myself,” he said.
Shadrake was granted a request to start his jail term on Wednesday after he undergoes a medical test. He said doctors had recently found a tumour on his face. He is also receiving treatment for polyps in his colon.
He said he would serve an extra two weeks in jail because he could not afford to pay a Sg$20,000 ($16,150) fine imposed on top of the prison term.
But Singapore jail terms are often reduced by a third for good behaviour.
Shadrake had been on bail while seeking to reverse a High Court ruling in November that found him guilty of “scandalising” the judiciary and imposed the prison term and fine.
“We affirm the sentence imposed by the judge,” Justice Andrew Phang of the three-member Court of Appeal panel said Friday.
There was no immediate comment from the British embassy.
When he launched his appeal, Shadrake described the charges as “bloody nonsense” and said he was ready to go to jail.
Shadrake’s jail term was the stiffest sentence ever imposed in Singapore for contempt and was denounced by international human rights groups campaigning for an end to executions and urging greater freedom of expression in the country.
Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia of campaign group Human Rights Watch, said the court of appeal’s decision was “a devastating blow to free speech in Singapore.”
“It is shameful. More broadly, until the government releases its iron grip on basic freedoms, the Singaporean people will remain all the poorer for it,” he told AFP from Bangkok.
Shadrake said last week that the second edition of his book was already on sale in Australia and was due to be launched in Britain on June 1.
His book 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.
Singapore law requires death by hanging for convicted murderers and drug traffickers, a mode of execution dating back to British colonial rule.
Shadrake’s book features interviews with human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers, and alleges that some cases involving foreigners may have been influenced by diplomatic and trade considerations.
He was arrested by Singapore police in July while visiting the city to launch the first edition of his book, first published in neighbouring Malaysia.
Singapore law provides that “a person commits the offence of scandalising the court if he makes statements which have an inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice,” according to a court press statement explaining the case.
Author’s sentence for contempt of court upheld
Selina Lum, Straits Times, 28 May 2011
THE six weeks’ jail and $20,000 fine handed down to British author Alan Shadrake, 76, stays.
The Court of Appeal yesterday upheld the sentence meted out on him by the High Court in November last year, after 11 of 14 identified passages in his book on capital punishment in Singapore were found to be in contempt of court.
Dismissing the author’s appeal against his conviction, the appeal court said: ‘While the appellant is free to engage in the debate for or against capital punishment, he is not free to deliberately and systematically scandalise the courts in attempting to substantiate his case against capital punishment.’
The appeal court comprised Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, Justice Lai Siu Chiu and Justice Philip Pillai.
Shadrake, through his lawyer M. Ravi, asked to start his jail term next Wednesday, as he wants to go for a medical check-up.
The request was granted.
Shadrake later told reporters he would not be able to pay the fine, which means he will spend another two weeks in jail.
While the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s sentence, it differed slightly on which passages in Shadrake’s book, Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice In The Dock, were contemptuous.
Last year, the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) went to the High Court to commit Shadrake for contempt of court on the grounds that 14 passages in his book about the death penalty here had scandalised the judiciary.
The AGC contended that it was a baseless broadside for the author to allege that the Singapore courts bowed to pressure from foreign governments, favoured the rich and privileged and were used as a tool by the ruling party to muzzle political dissent.
The High Court found 11 of the 14 passages in contempt and dealt Shadrake the jail term and fine, the heaviest punishment handed down here for contempt of court.
The Court of Appeal, however, found only nine of the 11 passages in contempt.
One it thought was not in contempt was the reference to German citizen Julia Bohl, whose drug-trafficking charge was reduced to a non-capital offence; the other passage was the statement that the ruling party here often sues its opponents on ‘trumped-up defamation charges’.
However, the Court of Appeal said Shadrake’s conduct still merited a substantial jail term, given that this was ‘still the worst case of scandalising contempt’ that had come before the courts here.
After the hearing, Shadrake walked out of court flashing his usual V for victory sign.
He said: ‘They gave me what I expected. I expected the results.’
Of his request to defer his jail term by a few days, he said he wanted to see his cardiologist; he is taking six types of medication daily for a heart condition. He added that he also has a benign tumour on his face.
The sprightly man said he did not regret writing the book, although he admitted having made some errors, which have been corrected in the revised edition that hit bookstores in Australia two weeks ago.
He said: ‘This sentence would boost sales. I couldn’t buy this kind of publicity.’
He had sought to overturn his conviction and sentence for contempt of court but the Court of Appeal rejected British author and freelance journalist Alan Shadrake’s appeal yesterday.
Shadrake, 76, had been convicted last year after 11 passages in his book, Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, were found to have undermined the integrity of Singapore’s judicial system.
He was sentenced to six weeks in jail and fined S$20,000 on Nov 16 last year – the stiffest sentence to date imposed for contempt of court.
Delivering the decision of the three-judge Court of Appeal, Justice Andrew Phang said that they now find that two of the 11 statements were not contemptuous.
But he stressed that this was still the “worst case of scandalising contempt” that had come before the Singapore courts and Shadrake’s conduct, therefore, “merited a substantial custodial sentence”.
Shadrake will begin serving his jail sentence next Wednesday.
His lawyer, Mr M Ravi, told the court that the Briton – who has heart problems – intends to go for a medical check-up before surrendering to the authorities by 9am that day.
Shadrake told reporters outside the Supreme Court he had expected the outcome and has no regrets writing the book, although he had made some errors which have been rectified.
“I made the decision, I did it, and I’ve taken the responsibility for what I’ve done. If they don’t like it, I don’t care,” he said.
Shadrake will also be writing about his personal experience in the Singapore courts for the book’s later editions.
He added that he is unable to pay the S$20,000 fine and will serve an additional two weeks behind bars.
In the meantime, Shadrake is also under investigation for criminal defamation. If convicted, he could be jailed up to two years and fined.