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A British journalist who wrote a book on the death penalty in Singapore made “baseless” attacks against the country’s judiciary, a government lawyer said Monday at the start of his contempt trial.
At least 14 statements contained in Alan Shadrake’s book constituted a direct attack on the judiciary, Hema Subramanian, a lawyer from the Attorney General’s Chambers, told the High Court.
She said the statements implied that Singapore courts succumb to political and economic pressure, are biased against the poor and are being used to suppress the government’s political opponents.
In her opening argument, Subramanian said the statements in the book constituted “baseless, unwarranted attacks… that directly attacked the Singapore judiciary”.
She also described the allegations as “outrageous and offensive” and were “irresponsible”.
Shadrake, 75, is being tried for contempt of court for the allegations made in his book entitled: “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock“. The offence is punishable by a jail term and fine.
Subramanian said the book’s title “not just criticises but impugns the Singapore judiciary”.
His 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.
Shadrake, who is based in Malaysia, was arrested in Singapore when he was in the city-state in July to launch the book. He is out on bail but his passport has been seized to stop him leaving the country.
His lawyer, M. Ravi, said in his opening arguments that the book was “a serious-minded and compassionate examination of the death penalty in Singapore.”
He said the charges based on selected lines in the book “strikes one as being somewhat hypersensitive.”
“Only by reading the book by its entirety can one properly determine how a reader would understand and interpret the selected quotations,” he added.