Singapore jails British writer for contempt

A Singapore court Tuesday sentenced a 76-year-old British author to six weeks in jail and a fine of $15,400 for contempt of court over his book deemed critical of the city-state's judiciary.

Alan Shadrake had offered to apologize for offending the sensitivities of the judiciary, but said he would never apologize for his book, "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock," which triggered Singapore's ire.

High Court Judge Quentin Loh, who had found Shadrake guilty of contempt of court earlier this month, ordered the author to spend six weeks in jail and pay a fine of S$20,000 ($15,400).

The prosecution, representing the attorney-general's office, had demanded a sentence of 12 weeks.

"Had Mr. Shadrake made amends I would have dealt with him very differently," Loh said, adding that the writer showed "a reckless disregard for the truth" and "a complete lack of remorse."

Shadrake did not say anything after the sentence was announced, but going in he said "I will never apologize for my book."

"If they put me in jail, they put me in jail," Shadrake, wearing a jacket and an open collar shirt, told The Associated Press.

Under Singaporean law, the crime is punishable by a fine and jail term, but the judge has the discretion to determine the exact penalty.

The attorney-general's office alleges that statements in the book impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.

The case has once again highlighted complaints by critics who claim Singapore uses criminal defamation laws to silence critics. But the government says any statement that damages the reputations of its leaders will hinder their ability to rule effectively.

Prosecution lawyer Hema Subramaniam said Shadrake had shown "complete lack of good faith in making these allegations against the judiciary."

Shadrake was arrested July 18 and freed on bail two days later. It is not clear if he will appeal his sentence. A criminal defamation investigation against him is still pending.

Singapore's leaders have sued journalists and political opponents several times in past years for defamation.

The government says restrictions on speech and assembly are necessary to preserve economic prosperity and racial and religious harmony in this multiethnic city-state of 5 million people.

Shadrake, who was born in Essex, England and has four children, said he did not expect to be arrested after hosting a book launch party July 17 because the Media Development Authority has not banned the sale of the book in Singapore.

The book features an interview with Darshan Singh, who was Singapore's hangman from 1959 to 2006.

Singapore applies capital punishment by hanging for offenses 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.