British author and journalist Alan Shadrake is to appeal against his conviction for contempt of Singapore’s courts which last week brought a six-week jail sentence and fine of $20,000 (£9,600).
Judge Quentin Loh delivered the sentence against 76-year-old Shadrake after convicting him of having insulted the island republic’s judiciary in his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.
The sentence is the heaviest to be handed down for such a contempt, according to a report in the Straits Times.
Shadrake said nothing after the sentence was announced but as he went into the hearing said: “I will never apologise for my book. If they put me in jail, they put me in jail.”
The British Government expressed dismay at the sentence.
Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne said in a statement: “The government attaches importance to freedom of expression around the world.
‘I am therefore dismayed that Mr Shadrake has been charged, convicted and sentenced to six weeks in jail in Singapore for expressing his personal views on the legal system.
“Our High Commission in Singapore will continue to provide consular assistance to Mr Shadrake, as they have done since he was arrested in July.
‘We will continue to call on all countries, including Singapore, to recognise the right to freedom of expression as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We place considerable value on our relations with Singapore and we work in close partnership on a number of globally important issues including the global economy, trade and investment, climate change and education.Human rights form an inherent part of our on-going dialogue and engagement.
“I look forward to constructive discussions when I visit Singapore next month, which I hope will serve to strengthen further the level of engagement and cooperation between our countries.”
The Singapore Anti Death Penalty Campaign and Think Centre said in a press release: “We are greatly disappointed and regret the heavy-handed sentence handed down to Alan Shadrake by the Singapore Judiciary.
“This is a major blow to Singapore’s international credibility as a country that respects the rule of law and has only served to emphasise the lack of compassion in our judiciary.
“Mr Shadrake should not have been persecuted for the publication of his book. His book should have instead been allowed to be publicly discussed and debated over.
“The judgment had failed to consider that the book dealt with serious topics such as the death penalty as administrated by the Singapore justice system, no casual reader would or should read it with an uncritical mind as one would with a book of fiction.”
Singapore’s Attorney General’s office, which prosecuted Shadrake, had claimed that statements in his book impugned the impartiality, integrity and independence of Singapore’s judiciary.
Shadrake had offered a qualified apology, but said he would not disavow the book.
Judge Loh’s sentence and fine followed prosecution demands that Shadrake should serve at least 12 weeks in prison.
Prosecution lawyer Hema Subramaniam had told the court that Shadrake had shown “complete lack of good faith in making these allegations against the judiciary”.
Shadrake was arrested on July 18, when he went to Singapore to promote his book, and freed on bail two days later. He is still being investigated for criminal defamation.
The case has once again highlighted complaints by critics who say that Singapore’s rulers uses contempt of court and criminal defamation laws to silence opponents them. But its 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 did not expect to be arrested after hosting a book launch party on July 17 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.