17 Nov 2010
British author jailed for claims made in Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore's Justice in the Dock
British author Alan Shadrake has been sentenced to six weeks in prison by the High Court in Singapore after being convicted over a book criticising the island's use of the death penalty.
Shadrake, 76, was also fined US$15,400 (£9,600) over allegations he made in Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore's Justice in the Dock, which discusses the republic's controversial use of capital punishment.
The book claims that well-connected defendants, particularly in drugs cases, often get off relatively lightly while the poor and less well-connected are sentenced to death.
It also questions the independence of the judiciary, and highlights criticisms levelled at Singapore's justice system by organisations such as Amnesty International.
In finding Shadrake guilty of contempt of court earlier this month, Singapore's high court judge, Quentin Loh, said the title contained "half-truths and selective facts; sometimes outright falsehoods."
Shadrake, who suffers from an irregular heartbeat and a serious colonic illness, offered a qualified apology last week but stood by the claims.
Loh dismissed Shadrake's last-minute apology as "nothing more than a tactical ploy to in court to obtain a reduced sentence."
Loh added that Shadrake would have to serve an additional two weeks in prison if he failed to pay the fine.
In a recent interview with the Guardian Shadrake, who was arresred on July 18, said the court had come down heavy on him because "they know the book is accurate".
He added: "This story is never going away. I'll keep it on the boil for as long as I live. They're going to regret they ever started this."
The case has cast further doubt on Singapore's commitment to freedom of expression.
Shadrake's lawyer, M Ravi, insisted his client had not intended to scandalise the conservative state's "hypersensitive" judiciary, adding that comments critical of the criminal justice system were "fair criticism.
The book features a profile of Darshan Singh, the former chief executioner at Singapore's Changi prison, as well as interviews with human rights activists, former police officers and lawyers.
According to Amnesty International, Singapore, with a population of five million, has one of the world's highest per capita execution rates, putting to death more than 400 people over the past two decades.
By Jason Taylors