Singapore rejects contempt appeal by Brit author

AP News
Posted: May 27, 2011 12:14 AM
Singapore rejects contempt appeal by Brit author

British author Alan Shadrake lost an appeal of his contempt of court conviction Friday and will begin a jail sentence in Singapore next week.

Shadrake, 76, refused to apologize for his book, "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock," which is critical of the country's use of the death penalty for crimes such as drug trafficking.

High Court Judge Andrew Phang upheld a six-week jail term that begins Wednesday. Shadrake will also serve an extra two weeks in jail after declining to pay a 20,000 Singapore dollar ($16,100) fine.

M Ravi, Shadrake's lawyer, said his client's jail term would likely be reduced by one-third for good behavior.

"They tried to scare me into apologizing," Shadrake told reporters after the ruling. "They're bullies who don't like freedom of speech."

The attorney-general's office alleged that statements in the book impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary. The government says any statement that damages the reputations of its leaders hinders their ability to rule effectively.

A criminal defamation investigation against Shadrake is still pending.

Rights groups say Singapore uses criminal defamation laws to silence critics. Singapore's leaders have sued journalists and political opponents several times in past years for defamation.

"The prosecution of Alan Shadrake for doing nothing more than calling for legal reform is a devastating blow to free speech in Singapore," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch. "More broadly, until the government releases its iron grip on basic freedoms, the Singaporean people will remain all the poorer."

The government says restrictions on speech and assembly are necessary to preserve economic prosperity and racial and religious harmony in the multiethnic city-state of 5.1 million people.

Shadrake was arrested July 18 and freed on bail two days later. 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 government 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 2005.

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 countries and has a very low violent-crime rate.