Lawyer seeks access to British author arrested in S’pore

Philip Lim

A human rights lawyer on Monday said he was urgently seeking access to a British writer arrested in Singapore after launching a book on executions and the justice system in the city-state.

Alan Shadrake, a 75-year-old freelance journalist, is suffering from medical problems, said his lawyer M. Ravi, who sent a request to the police hours after the writer’s arrest on Sunday on defamation and contempt of court charges.

“They have not called my office, and they have not responded to my fax,” the Singaporean lawyer said. “They need to allow me access to him.”

A spokesperson from the British High Commission in Singapore said in a press statement that it had been informed about the detention of Shadrake and was “providing consular assistance” to the writer.

Shadrake was arrested at his hotel a day after the launch of his book “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock” in which he alleged double standards in Singapore’s use of the death penalty.

He divides his time between neighbouring Malaysia and Britain and is listed as a regular member of the Foreign Correspondents Association of Singapore.

Singapore carries out capital punishment by hanging, a practice which goes back to British colonial rule. The death penalty is meted out to people convicted of murder, drug trafficking and treason.

In the letter sent to the police Criminal Investigation Department, Ravi implored the authorities to grant him immediate access to Shadrake.

“We humbly and urgently request access to our client… Kindly expedite our request as our client is 75 years old and has medical conditions,” he wrote.

Ravi said he was worries for Shadrake’s health, as the Briton had recurring colon and hernia problems as well as high blood pressure.

“His condition can worsen if he is under intense pressure… It doesn’t help that if he’s under constant pressure, it might aggravate his conditions,” Ravi stated.

The 219-page book contains a profile of Darshan Singh, the former chief executioner at Singapore’s Changi Prison who, according to the author, executed around 1,000 men and women from 1959 until he retired in 2006.

It also features interviews with local human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers on various cases involving capital punishment.

A spokeswoman from the censorship body Media Development Authority (MDA), which filed the complaint that led to Shadrake’s arrest, said the book “has not been prohibited” in Singapore.

But a check by AFP showed that the book was not available in major bookstores and libraries.

Despite criticism from human rights activists, Singapore officials have maintained that the death penalty has been a key factor in keeping a low crime rate in the island-state, widely regarded as one of Asia’s safest countries.

Amnesty International said in a statement last year that Singapore was “estimated to have one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world.”

“The city-state… has executed at least 420 people since 1991,” it added, but stated that the number was probably higher as “not all sentences and executions are reported publicly.”

Singapore officials consistently refuse to disclose any figures on executions.

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