British author arrested in S’pore over death penalty book

Ban Bland

The Asia File

Alan Shadrake, a British investigative journalist who has just released a book about the death penalty in Singapore, was arrested at his hotel in the city-state this morning, according to government-owned Channel News Asia.

Shadrake, who last night attended a book launch for Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, is being investigated by the police for alleged criminal defamation following a complaint by the government’s Media Development Authority, according to the CNA report.

He has also been served with a contempt of court order by the attorney-general, CNA says.

Shadrake came to prominence in Singapore in 2005 after revealing the identity of Singapore’s hangman, Darshan Singh, shortly before he executed Australian drug trafficker Nguyen Van Tuong in a controversial case that caused friction between the Australian and Singaporean governments (PDF of Shadrake’s front-page article in The Australian here).

His new book, which has been published by a Malaysian company, was withdrawn from the shelves of one of Singapore’s biggest book shops last week after the retailer, Kinokuniya, was contacted by the Media Development Authority, which controls censorship in Singapore.

The book calls into question the way the government deploys the death penalty, suggesting that justice can be less than even in Singapore. The government has shown little tolerance in the past for those who cast doubt on the independence and fairness of the judiciary.

I’ve written previously about the government’s reluctance to reveal information about the use of the death penalty in Singapore and the reasons why it takes this approach.

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