British author and journalist Alan Shadrake will start serving a six-week jail sentence tomorrow after Singapore’s Court of Appeal rejected his appeal against a conviction for contempt of court.
Judge Quentin Loh, sitting in the island republic’s High Court, convicted 76-year-old Shadrake of contempt in November last year, after finding he had insulted Singapore’s judiciary in his book ‘Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock’.
He jailed the writer for six weeks and ordered him to pay a fine of 20,000 Singapore dollars – around £9,830 – as well as costs of 55,000 dollars (£27,000) to the Attorney General.
The sentence is the heaviest to be handed down for scandalising the judiciary, the Straits Times reported.
But it seems that Shadrake will have to serve eight weeks in Singapore’s jail, as he is unable to pay the fine, and will serve an extra two weeks in lieu.
The Straits Times reported that a three-judge Court of Appeal rejected Shadrake’s appeal on Friday last week.
It said that Judge Loh found he had impugned the impartiality, integrity and independence of Singapore’s courts in 11 out of the 14 passages in the book about which the island’s Attorney General had complained.
But the Court of Appeal found that nine of the 14 passages amounted to contempt.
The appeal court disagreed with Justice Loh’s approach by giving Shadrake a “sentencing discount” – which the Straits Times said was intended to signal that the courts had no interest in stifling legitimate debate on the death penalty.
But the Court of Appeal said Shadrake’s conduct merited a substantial jail term as this was “still the worst case of scandalising contempt” to have come before Singapore’s courts.
The court agreed with a request from Shadrake’s lawyer, M Ravi, that he could start serving the jail sentence today.
Shadrake walked out of the court building flashing his usual V for victory sign, and was reported as having said: “They gave me what I expected. I expected the results.”
He said he did not regret writing the book, but admitted having made “minor” errors.
He would have to serve eight weeks as he could not pay the fine, he added.
Shadrake was arrested on 18 July last year when he went to Singapore to promote his book, and freed on bail two days later.
It is thought that he is still being investigated for criminal defamation.
The case has once again highlighted complaints by critics who say that Singapore’s rulers use contempt of court and criminal defamation laws to silence opponents.
But the government says any statement which damages the reputations of the state’s leaders would hinder their ability to rule effectively.
Singapore’s leaders have sued journalists and political opponents for defamation several times in past years.
The government says restrictions on speech and assembly are necessary to preserve economic prosperity and racial and religious harmony in the multi-ethnic city-state of five million people.
Shadrake, who was born in Essex and has four children, said he had not expected to be arrested after hosting a book launch party on 17 July because Singapore’s Media Development Authority had not banned the sale of the book in the republic.
The book features an interview with Darshan Singh, who was Singapore’s hangman from 1959 to 2006. Singapore applies capital punishment by hanging for offences such as murder, drug trafficking and unlawful use of a firearm.
The island nation at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula is one of the world’s richest and has a very low violent crime rate.