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Asian Human Rights Commission
Judicial harassment of journalist, an affront to freedom of expression
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), representing 164 organisations across the world, is deeply concerned about the arrest of and charges leveled against British journalist Mr. Alan Shadrake on 18 July 2010, a day after he launched his book, Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice on the Dock, which contained evidence suggesting double standards in Singapore’s policy and the use of the death penalty. According to information received, the arrest was made based on a complaint lodged by the Media Development Authority.
According to court documents obtained by the media, your office accuses Mr. Shadrake for making allegations in his book that impugn on the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary. During his detention at a police complex, he was reportedly kept awake for interrogation for extended period of time and he was asked to explain all chapters in his book, his research and the reasons behind authoring the book. Publishing a book of investigative journalism is not a crime, nor is peaceful expression of dissent, and by taking legal action against someone for doing so, Singapore is seriously undermining the freedom of expression and brings into question the independence and integrity of the very institution it is accusing Mr. Shadrake of impugning, namely its judiciary.
While FIDH welcomes Mr. Shadrake’s subsequent release on 20 July after posting bail, we remain troubled about the continued restriction of freedom of expression and the press in Singapore. The arrest and the legal action against Mr. Shadrake is the latest example in a worrying trend of suppression of opposition and criticisms through judicial intimidation. FIDH recalls that “in October 2009, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, successfully brought a defamation suit against the “Far Eastern Economic Review” and its editor-in-chief Hugo Restall for a 2006 article based on an interview of an opposition politician who was critical of the ruling party. There have been other defamation lawsuits filed by the government against international media, including Bloomberg, “The Economist” and “The International Herald Tribune” and “Wall Street Journal”, the latter for allegedly ‘impugni ng the independence of Singapore’s judiciary’.
The judicial harassment of Mr. Shadrake for authoring a book critical of the use of the death penalty also creates a climate of fear and restricts the openness of the public discussion on sensitive issues, such as the death penalty. Furthermore, it underscores Singapore’s refusal to take note of changing international opinion in favour of abolition of this inhuman practice and of empirical evidence and experience that strongly suggest that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent of crimes.
Singapore’s handling of the case of Mr. Shadrake will be a barometer of its readiness to match its economic progress as the most prosperous nation in ASEAN with strong commitment to adhere to the human rights clauses in the ASEAN Charter as well as the rights guaranteed by the United Nations Universal Declaration for Human Rights. FIDH sincerely hopes Singapore will end the use of judicial action against individuals or organisations peacefully expressing their opinions or dissent regarding governmental policies and actions.
Thank you in advance for taking into consideration our concerns and recommendations.
The Honourable Mr. George Yong-Boon Yeo, Minister for Foreign Affairs
The Honourable Mr. K. Shanmugam, Minister of Law and Second Minister for Home Affairs
The Honourable Mr. Mr Lui Tuck Yew, Acting Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, The Media Development Authority