S’pore court convicts UK author of contempt

November 4, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Chun Han Wong
The Wall Street Journal

Singapore’s High Court on Wednesday found a U.K. author in contempt of court for statements in his book on the city-state’s death penalty that were deemed to have scandalized the Singapore judiciary.

Malaysia-based journalist Alan Shadrake, 76, was found guilty of scandalizing the court in his book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock,” said High Court Judge Quentin Loh.

The next hearing was scheduled for Nov. 9, when Mr. Shadrake would be sentenced—and would also have a chance to apologize and withdraw his statements—Mr. Loh said Wednesday. It wasn’t immediately clear if any such amendments would affect Mr. Shadrake’s possible sentence.

Mr. Shadrake remained out on bail after the hearing Wednesday. His passport has been impounded.

Mr. Shadrake’s lawyer M. Ravi said the Attorney General’s Chambers had asked for a sentence of three to six months jail and an unspecified fine.

“I think I’ve been given a very fair hearing,” Mr. Shadrake said after the court adjourned Wednesday. He declined further comment.

During Mr. Shadrake’s trial last month, lawyers representing Singapore’s Attorney General’s Chambers said statements in the book constituted “baseless, unwarranted attacks” impugning the judiciary’s impartiality, integrity and independence.

The statements, according to Deputy Senior State Counsel Hema Subramaniam, implied that Singapore courts succumb to foreign political and economic pressure, favor the rich and well-connected, and are being used by the government to suppress dissent.

Mr. Ravi had said in response that the statements were “fair criticism.”

The book profiles a retired chief executioner and features interviews with rights activists, lawyers and former police officers.

In Singapore, the death penalty is carried out by hanging and is mandatory for murder and drug trafficking, among other crimes.

Rights group Amnesty International has said Singapore—a Southeast Asian city-state with 5 million people—has one of the world’s highest per capita execution rates, having executed more than 420 people since 1991.

Singapore, which seldom discloses detailed figures on executions, has insisted the death penalty deters serious crime in the country, one of Asia’s safest.

Mr. Shadrake, arrested in July during a visit to Singapore to launch his book, might also face separate criminal defamation charges, which carry penalties of up to two years in jail and a fine.

The Attorney General’s Chambers has declined comment on whether those charges would be pursued, citing ongoing investigations.

Singapore has won several cases of contempt and defamation against foreign publications and journalists.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704462704575591321709854304.html