Singapore jails UK author for 'insulting book'

27th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Singapore's highest court on Friday ordered a defiant 76-year-old British author to serve six weeks in jail for contempt after he published a book denouncing judicial hangings in the city-state.

Alan Shadrake, a freelance journalist and author of "Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock", laughed and joked with reporters after the Court of Appeal upheld a prison term and fine imposed in November.

"I expected the decision. I am very sorry for Singapore. I'm not sorry for myself," he said.

Shadrake was granted a request to start his jail term on Wednesday after he undergoes a medical test. He said doctors had recently found a tumour on his face. He is also receiving treatment for polyps in his colon.

He said he would serve an extra two weeks in jail because he could not afford to pay a Sg$20,000 ($16,150) fine imposed on top of the prison term.

But Singapore jail terms are often reduced by a third for good behaviour.

Shadrake had been on bail while seeking to reverse a High Court ruling in November that found him guilty of "scandalising" the judiciary and imposed the prison term and fine.

"We affirm the sentence imposed by the judge," Justice Andrew Phang of the three-member Court of Appeal panel said Friday.

There was no immediate comment from the British embassy.

When he launched his appeal, Shadrake described the charges as "bloody nonsense" and said he was ready to go to jail.

Shadrake's jail term was the stiffest sentence ever imposed in Singapore for contempt and was denounced by international human rights groups campaigning for an end to executions and urging greater freedom of expression in the country.

Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia of campaign group Human Rights Watch, said the court of appeal's decision was "a devastating blow to free speech in Singapore."

"It is shameful. More broadly, until the government releases its iron grip on basic freedoms, the Singaporean people will remain all the poorer for it," he told AFP from Bangkok.

Shadrake said last week that the second edition of his book was already on sale in Australia and was due to be launched in Britain on June 1.

His book includes a profile of Darshan Singh, the former chief executioner at Singapore's Changi Prison who, according to the author, hanged around 1,000 men and women including foreigners from 1959 until he retired in 2006.

Singapore law requires death by hanging for convicted murderers and drug traffickers, a mode of execution dating back to British colonial rule.

Shadrake's book features interviews with human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers, and alleges that some cases involving foreigners may have been influenced by diplomatic and trade considerations.

He was arrested by Singapore police in July while visiting the city to launch the first edition of his book, first published in neighbouring Malaysia.

Singapore law provides that "a person commits the offence of scandalising the court if he makes statements which have an inherent tendency to interfere with the administration of justice," according to a court press statement explaining the case.

© 2011 AFP

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