3 Nov 2010

British author guilty of contempt in Singapore

British author Alan Shadrake has been found guilty of contempt of court and faces a jail sentence after he criticised Singapore’s judiciary in a book about the state’s use of the death penalty.

British author guilty of contempt in Singapore (Getty)

He was accused by the High Court Judge Quentin Loh of being “guilty of the offence of contempt by scandalising the court”.

The 75-year-old author, the judge said, will be given the opportunity to make amends for his comments in the book, but he stopped short of saying if it would help reduce his sentence, which has been deferred until 9 November.

Back in July Shadrake, a freelance journalist, was arrested in Singapore over the contents of his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock. He was freed on bail, but could also face charges of defamation.

The judge said in his written judgment that Shadrake had used a “selective background of truths and half-truths, and sometimes outright falsehoods” in the book. He claimed that Shadrake had accused Singapore judges of being influenced by executive and diplomatic pressure.

In Singapore there is no maximum sentence for contempt of court, but Mr Shadrake’s lawyer M. Ravi said prosecutors had requested a jail term of up to six months. Contempt of court is punishable by fine, prison or both under Singapore law.

Shadrake told reporters after the hearing: “I’m going to read the judgment with Ravi and we are going to discuss how to go forward.”

The death penalty in Singapore is applied for crimes like murder and there is a mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking. Crimes rates in the island nation of five million people, are relatively low compared to other nations around the world.

The judge, Loh said the court had no interest in stifling a debate on the death penalty and is constitutionally bound to protect every citizen’s rights to engage in such debate.

But he said: “when such debate goes beyond the limits of fair criticism, the law will step in.

“It does so not for the dignity of the judges. It does so only to ensure the public’s confidence in the administration of justice does not falter.”

Critics such as Amnesty International have in the past accused Singapore of using strict defamation laws to stifle dissent.