Reporters Without Borders deplores today’s decision by Singapore’s highest court to reject 76-year-old British writer Alan Shadrake’s appeal against the six-week jail sentence he received last November on a charge of contempt of court for criticizing the country’s judicial system in a book. He is expected to begin serving the sentence next week.
“We are dismayed,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “This is the longest sentence ever passed for such an offence. How can Singapore’s courts claim to be impartial when they jail a man who is ill and ignore article 14 of the constitution, which protects criticism on matters of paramount public interest. By treating Shadrake like this, the judicial system is guilty of persecution and cruelty.”
The case against Shadrake is riddled with contradictions. His book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock,” was not banned in Singapore and he was arrested when he came to promote it. In a letter to the Herald Tribune, the Law Minister pointed out that he was being prosecuted for contempt rather than libel, recognizing that his book contained no personal attacks or verbal violation. A criminal libel investigation is nonetheless still pending against him.
“While this response from the Singaporean justice system was to be feared, the response from the British authorities and the Commonwealth of Nations is surprising,” Julliard added. “How can they accept such a sentence, which contravenes the 1991 Harare declaration assigning special importance to the rights of the individual and ethical governance? Shadrake has no business being prison. We call on the British authorities to demand his release.”
Despite suffering serious heart problems, Shadrake was held by the Criminal Investigation Department for 39 hours after his arrest on 18 July 2010, during which time he was interrogated for several hours at a stretch about the book and had to sleep on the floor of his cell. He was finally freed on $10,000 Singaporean dollars in bail.
When Shadrake’s trial began on 18 October, the indictment prepared by the attorney-general’s office claimed that his book “impugned the integrity and independence of the judiciary.” Prosecuting attorney Hema Subramanian said it contained “baseless, unwarranted attacks (...) that directly attacked the Singapore judiciary.” She also described it as “outrageous, offensive and irresponsible.”
Shadrake’s lawyer, M. Ravi, responded that the book was well documented and supported by evidence. It was a “serious-minded and compassionate examination of the death penalty in Singapore,” he said.
The sentence passed on 16 November and upheld today was six weeks in prison and a fine of 20,000 Singaporean dollars (11,320 euros). If Shadrake is unable to pay the fine, he will have to serve an additional two weeks in jail.
Six weeks in jail for British writer who criticised use of death penalty
A Singapore court today sentenced British writer Alan Shadrake to six weeks in prison and a fine for 20,000 Singapore dollars (11,320 euros) for criticising the country’s use of the death penalty in his book “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.” Failure to pay the fine would add two weeks to his sentence.
Reporters Without Borders deplores the decision to jail a man who is 76 and unwell, and whose only crime was to exercise his critical powers. As a Commonwealth member, Singapore is supposed to promote democracy and the rule of law. The Commonwealth’s 1991 Harare Declaration accorded particular importance to the rights of the individual and ethical governance.
The press freedom organization will pay close attention to what happens next. Shadrake has a week to appeal. It is to be hoped that clemency and the principles of fair and humane justice will prevail when the judicial authorities consider his appeal.
Shadrake has no place in prison and deserves nothing but praise for his work.
Reporters Without Borders calls on the UK authorities to use all means at their disposal to help to resolve this British citizen’s plight. Surprised by the silence from Britain and the European Union on this matter, the organization urges them to remind Singapore of the importance they attach to freedom of expression and justice.
To free Alan Shadrake, sign the petition:
Link to statement on High Commission website: