British author jailed for contempt in Singapore

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The Independent Online

A British author was sentenced to six weeks in jail and fined 20,000 dollars (£9,540) for contempt by a court in Singapore today over his book deemed critical of the city-state's judiciary.

Alan Shadrake, 76, had offered to apologise for offending the sensitivities of the judiciary, but said he would never apologise for his book, Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice In The Dock, which triggered Singapore's ire.

High Court Judge Quentin Loh, who found Shadrake guilty of contempt of court earlier this month, ordered the author to spend six weeks in jail, pay a fine of 20,000 Singapore dollars and court costs of 55,000 Singapore dollars (£26,240). If Shadrake failed to pay the fine, he would be imprisoned for two additional weeks, the judge said.

The prosecution, representing the attorney-general's office, had demanded a sentence of 12 weeks.

"Had Mr Shadrake made amends, I would have dealt with him very differently," Judge Loh said, adding that the writer showed "a reckless disregard for the truth" and "a complete lack of remorse".

The judge allowed Shadrake to remain free until November 24 to give him time to decide about a possible appeal of his sentence.

Shadrake declined to answer most questions from the media after the sentence was announced, saying only that he had expected a jail term.

"If they put me in jail, they put me in jail," Shadrake, who wore a jacket and an open collar shirt, said before entering court.

Shadrake's lawyer, M Ravi, said he planned to visit England next week to urge the House of Commons to condemn the ruling. Mr Ravi said he would also bring the case up at the European Parliament and the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

Under Singaporean law, contempt of court is punishable by a fine and jail term, but the judge has the discretion to determine the exact penalty.

The attorney-general's office alleged that statements in the book impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.

The case highlighted complaints by critics who claim Singapore uses criminal defamation laws to silence them.

"This sentence is yet another blow against freedom of expression in Singapore," said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in Asia. "Sadly, it comes as no surprise, given the long history of the authorities in Singapore using the courts to silence vocal critics of government policies and personnel."

The government says any statement that damages the reputations of its leaders will hinder their ability to rule effectively.

Prosecution lawyer Hema Subramaniam said Shadrake had shown "a complete lack of good faith in making these allegations against the judiciary".

Shadrake was arrested July 18 and freed on bail two days later. A criminal defamation investigation against him is still pending.

Singapore's leaders have sued journalists and political opponents several times in past years for defamation.

The government says restrictions on speech and assembly are necessary to preserve economic prosperity and racial and religious harmony in this multiethnic city-state of 5 million people.

Shadrake, who was born in Essex and has four children, said he did not expect to be arrested after hosting a book launch party on July 17 because the Media Development Authority has not banned the sale of the book in Singapore.

The book features an interview with Darshan Singh, who was Singapore's hangman from 1959 to 2006.

Singapore applies capital punishment by hanging for offences such as murder, drug trafficking and unlawful use of a firearm.

The island nation at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula is one of the world's richest and has a very low violent crime rate.