Former British Weekly writer Alan Shadrake, who is facing two years in jail for penning an expose of the Singapore justice system, was in defiant mood this week when we contacted him for an exclusive interview.
“I’d write that book again,” Alan told us on Thursday, after undergoing a ten-hour grilling from the city state’s Criminal Investigation Department into his book: Once a Jolly Hangman, Singapore Justice in the Dock.
“I don’t believe in backing down from bullies,” Shadrake said, who is best known to BW readers as the author of the long-running and controversial column Shooting From The Lip.
“Everything I wrote (in the book) was true and when I go to court I intend to give as good as I get.”
The 75-year-old author was granted bail on Monday after 24 hours in jail following the high-profile launch of the new book. He could face two years in jail for defamation because of his allegations of institutionalised injustice in the Singapore’s legal system – specifically its application of the death penalty, which many international observers consider to be merciless and arbritary.
The country’s Attorney-General has now served Shadrake with a contempt of court order, saying that the book 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 passport has been impounded to prevent him from leaving Singapore until the case is resolved.
Shadrake revealed that he hade made the decision to go back to Singapore for the book’s launch after extensive consultation with famed legal scholar Francis Seow – himself a former Singapore Solicitor-General and now perhaps the country’s most famous dissident and opponent of Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew. Mr. Seow is now an American citizen and a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School.
“The legal advice I received was that provided I had extensive evidence to back up the claims I make in the book – which I do – then the CID here would have a very hard time making anything stick,” said Shadrake.
“Although they are giving me a very gruelling time here – every day I am interrogated for eight to ten hours, often covering the same ground – I would write the book again in a heartbeat. I am not allowed to have an attorney to be present when I am questioned. But I’m not going to be cowed. I’m looking forward to my day in court.
“I feel I am making history with this book. I have had messages of support from all over the world. I have the British government, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists on my side and I’m hopeful I will prevail.
“Everything I have written is true. There is a wave of change coming in this country. It’s time for Lee Kwan Yew to stop running Singapore like his own private fiefdom.”
In his book, Shadrake examines the history of the death penalty in Singapore and exposes its unequal and frequently merciless aplication. The books alleges that foreigners and the wealthy are less likely to receive the death penalty. Perhaps most embarrassingly for the Singapore authorities, Shadrake scoops 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”.
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.
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 Schorr. 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 and various karaoke bars in West LA, where his rendition of “Summertime” was often in great demand. He continued to write for US and UK publications including the Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Mirror, the Globe and the National Inquirer.
Shadrake moved to Las Vegas in 1998, where he specialized in local showbusiness stories before moving on to Singapore after falling in love with a local woman who he met on a BW press junket. For the last couple of years he has divided his time between Singapore and Indonesia.