British death penalty author rejects plea bargain in Singapore contempt case, could face jail

By Alex Kennedy, AP
Friday, July 30, 2010

UK author vows to fight Singapore contempt charge

SINGAPORE — A British author vowed Friday to fight charges in Singapore related to his book on the city-state’s death penalty policy, even if it lands him in jail.

Alan Shadrake, 75, said he rejected a plea bargain from the attorney general’s office to drop a contempt of court charge in exchange for an apology for statements about Singapore’s judicial system in his book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.”

“They can put me in jail, I don’t care,” Shadrake said in an interview before a preliminary hearing. “They will not shut me up.”

Shadrake was arrested July 18 and freed on bail two days later in connection with a criminal defamation investigation that is still continuing. The attorney general also charged Shadrake with contempt of court, which, like criminal defamation, carries a possible punishment of jail, a fine or both.

The attorney-general’s office alleges statements in the book impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.

“The allegations and imputations in the book are calculated to undermine the authority of the Singapore courts and public confidence in the administration of justice,” the attorney general’s office said in court documents. “By reason of bringing to existence, publication and distribution of the book which scandalized the Singapore judiciary, the respondent has committed contempt of court.”

Prosecutor David Chong said in court Friday that the attorney general’s office would accept an “unqualified apology” from Shadrake given the author’s ailing health. Shadrake said he takes daily medication for heart disease.

Chong also warned journalists against publishing any “contemptuous material” related to the case.

Judge Quentin Loh granted Shadrake a two-week adjournment to prepare his case, and the attorney general will have week after that to respond.

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

“I’m not trying to be a martyr,” said Shadrake, who has also written books about Berlin in the 1960s and Bruce Lee. “But in the process of writing this book, I learned about the injustices and the families of the victims and that turned me into an activist.”

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

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

Human rights groups say Singapore uses criminal defamation laws to silence critics.

“Free speech is an endangered species in Singapore,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “It’s sadly predictable that the government did not hesitate to threaten prosecution, fines, and imprisonment against an author whose views run contrary to its own.”

Singapore applies capital punishment by hanging for offenses 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.

The People’s Action Party has held power since 1959.

“I would never apologize and I would never say sorry,” Shadrake told reporters as he left court Friday. “I didn’t do this to grovel to them like Singaporeans mostly have to do to lead a normal life.”

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