British death penalty book author defiant in Singapore
A British author facing a possible jail term over his book criticising Singapore's use of the death penalty was defiant following his first court hearing Friday.
Alan Shadrake appeared in a packed courtroom to hear contempt of court charges levelled against him by the Attorney General following the local launch of his book "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock".
A High Court judge granted an adjournment, giving Shadrake's lawyer two weeks to further prepare for the case and another week for prosecutors to respond.
With his passport impounded to prevent him from leaving the country, the 75-year-old freelance journalist remained defiant despite facing possible imprisonment.
"Whatever they do to me, it will prove whatever I say in my book," he told reporters outside the court after the hearing.
"I'm not a wimp, I'm not a coward," Shadrake added. "I want to have my day in court... I'm not running away. If I run away, it means I'm guilty."
Shadrake's book features candid conversations with a retired hangman, Darshan Singh, who the author says executed some 1,000 local and foreign criminals in a career spanning nearly half a century.
Based in Malaysia and Britain, Shadrake is out on bail for the contempt charges, and is undergoing a separate investigation for criminal defamation.
Defamation carries a sentence of two years' imprisonment or a fine or both, while contempt of court is "punishable by imprisonment and/or a fine, with no limits on either," said a statement from the Attorney General's Chambers.
Amnesty International and other human rights groups have urged Singapore to abolish the death penalty.
Amnesty said that with a population of nearly five million, Singapore has one of the highest per capita execution rates in the world. It executed 420 people between 1991 and 2004.
However, Singapore officials maintain that capital punishment has deterred drug dealers from operating in the country and spared the lives of thousands of young people from drugs.
The death penalty is mandatory for anyone caught trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin, 30 grams of cocaine or 500 grams of cannabis.
Shadrake said his arrest had been counterproductive for the Singapore authorities.
"They've blown me up into a worldwide celebrity," he said, adding that his book was "selling like hot cakes" in neighbouring Malaysia.
© 2010 AFP