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The jailing of 76-year-old British author Alan Shadrake in Singapore is, quite simply, a disgrace. It confirms that there is no freedom of expression in the city-state island.
Convicted of contempt of court, he must serve six weeks and pay a fine of SGD$20,000 (£9,600). He also faces separate charges of criminal defamation, which are punishable by a maximum of two years in prison and a hefty fine.
All the charges relate to his book, which argues that the Singaporean judiciary is not impartial in its application of the death penalty.
There is a black irony in juxtaposing his conviction with the title of his book, Once a jolly hangman: Singapore’s justice in the dock.
I agree with Index on Censorship’s chief executive John Kampfner who says that the “sentence once again shows Singapore’s desperate difficulties in dealing with criticism and free expression.”
When finding Shadrake guilty of contempt of court earlier this month, Singapore’s high court judge, Quentin Loh, said the book contained “half-truths and selective facts; sometimes outright falsehoods.”
In an interview two weeks ago with The Guardian, Shadrake admitted to one minor inaccuracy in his book, but insisted the rest was “devastatingly accurate”.
Shadrake, who suffers from an irregular heartbeat and a serious colonic illness, did offer a qualified apology last week, but stood by the claims made in his book.
As Justin McCurry points out, Shadrake’s trial has reignited debate over Singapore’s use of contempt laws to stifle dissent and punish journalists deemed to have insulted the authorities.
Shadrake enjoyed what’s been called “a rich and varied career” as a journalist and author. Born in Essex, he spent a lengthy period in the 1960s as a Fleet Street correspondent in West Berlin.
In the 1970s, he turned to writing books, having initial sales success with an authorised biography of Bruce Lee. After moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, he 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 Santa Monica-based paper that serves the large British expat community in California, The British Weekly.
He later moved on to Las Vegas, where he enjoyed continuing success as a freelance writer for various publications across the world.