Former British Weekly writer faces two years’ jail for questioning death penalty ‘injustice’
Alan Shadrake, a veteran English journalist who was a fixture in Santa Monica’s expat community for almost two decades, was out on bail on Monday after his arrest in Singapore for penning an expose of that country’s death penalty practices.
The 75-year-old author was arrested on Sunday and could face two years in jail for defamation after writing a book alleging institutionalised injustice in the city state’s legal system.
Singapore’s Attorney-General has now served Shadrake with a contempt of court order, saying that his book – Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock – impugns the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.
Shadrake told reporters he was freed after a local activist posted bail of 10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,240) for him.
“I’m feeling pretty shaken at the moment,” said Shadrake, whose case is to be heard in court on July 30, his lawyer M. Ravi said.
Speaking later to reporters after his release, a haggard-looking Shadrake said he had hardly slept “since they dragged me out of bed” the morning after launching his book in a private function.
“I’ve had a few hours of sleep on a very hard floor and I’ve been sitting at the desk being interrogated all day long explaining all the chapters of the book and going through the history of the book, my research, why I did the book.”
His passport has been impounded to prevent him from leaving Singapore until the case is resolved.
Amnesty International earlier urged Singapore’s government to immediately release the elderly author.
“Singapore uses criminal defamation laws to silence critics of government policies,” Donna Guest, Amnesty’s Asia Pacific Deputy Director, said in London.
“The Singapore government should release Shadrake at once.”
She added: “If Singapore aspires to be a global media city, it needs to respect global human rights standards for freedom of expression… Singapore should get rid of both its criminal defamation laws and the death penalty.”
Amnesty International said last year that Singapore was “estimated to have one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world.”
It said Singapore had executed at least 420 people since 1991, adding that the number was probably higher as “not all sentences and executions are reported publicly”.Singapore, which has one of the lowest crime rates in the world among its five million population, has retained the death penalty since its days as a British colony. Convicts are still executed by hanging.
According to Singapore’s Straits Times newspaper, Once A Jolly Hangman alleges that foreigners and the wealthy are less likely to receive the death penalty.
The book, which has now been removed from bookshops in the city, also carries an interview with Singapore’s former chief executioner, Darshan Singh. In an article Shadrake wrote for The Australian newspaper in 2005 – but which has since been removed from its website – Singh is “credited with being the only executioner in the world to single-handedly hang 18 men in one day – three at a time”.
Shadrake has enjoyed a rich and varied career in journalism, dating back to his days as a Fleet Street correspondent in West Berlin in the 1960s, where he numbered among his drinking buddies two giants of postwar American journalism, Harry Reasoner and Dan Shaw. His experiences in the spy infested, cloak-and-dagger world of Berlin at the height of the Cold War gave him a lifelong taste for intrigue which served him well as he subsequently became a master of the Fleet Street scoop. In the 1970s he turned to writing books, scoring a spectacular success in writing the first authorized biography of Bruce Lee in cooperation with the martial art legend’s wife, Lynda.
He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and quickly became a fixture at Ye Olde King’s Head pub in Santa Monica. From 1990 to 2003 he wrote the popular but contentious “Shooting From The Lip” column for the British Weekly. After a few years in Las Vegas, where he enjoyed continuing success as a freelance writer for publications across the world, he moved to Singapore, after falling in love with a Singapore woman who he met on a press junket. For the last couple of years he has divided his time between Singapore and Indonesia.
According to a source in Singapore who is actively involved in the country’s democratic movement, the government have agreed to release Mr. Shadrake on bail, and a group of his supporters have banded together to raise these funds.
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