Singapore jails defiant UK writer

2010-11-16 09:09

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 $15 000 for the book based on the long career of a hangman who allegedly put over 1 000 convicts to death.

High Court Judge Quentin Loh dismissed a last-minute apology by Shadrake as a "tactical ploy in court to obtain a reduced sentence" and said the freelance journalist must serve two extra weeks in prison if he fails to pay the fine.

In addition, he will have to pay legal costs of $55 000 dollars, but Shadrake was given a week's stay before the sentence is carried out while he decides whether to appeal.

Shadrake told reporters after the sentencing that he had expected the jail term and an even bigger fine.

"I don't have that kind of money," he said.

The judge said "a fine should be imposed to prevent Mr Shadrake from profiting from his contempt".

Controversial hanging method

The previous longest jail term for contempt of court was 15 days.

Singapore executes murderers and drug traffickers by hanging, a controversial method of punishment dating back to British colonial rule.

Shadrake, who lives in Malaysia and Britain, was arrested by Singapore police in July after launching the 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.

It also features interviews with human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers on cases involving capital punishment, and alleges that some cases may have been influenced by diplomatic and trade considerations.

In a November 3 ruling that found Shadrake guilty, the judge said the author's technique "is to make or insinuate his claims against a dissembling and selective background of truths and half-truths, and sometimes outright falsehoods".

Sentence condemned

"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," the judge added.

Shadrake's jail sentence was strongly condemned by the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) group.

"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 HRW's Asia division.

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.