British author jailed for contempt by Singapore court

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Alan Shadrake sentenced to six weeks in prison and fined for contempt over claims in his book about city-state's death penalty
British author, Alan Shadrake
British author Alan Shadrake outside the Supreme Court during his final day of his hearing in Singapore. Photograph: Fyrol Anwar/AFP/Getty Images
British author Alan Shadrake outside the Supreme Court during his final day of his hearing in Singapore. Photograph: Fyrol Anwar/AFP/Getty Images
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Tue 16 Nov 2010 00.29 EST

A court in Singapore today sentenced the British author Alan Shadrake to six weeks in prison after he was earlier found guilty of contempt over claims in his book about city-state's application 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 claimed that the state bowed to foreign influence and favoured the wealthy and well connected in deciding who should hang.

The 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.

Prosecutors representing the attorney general's office had demanded a three-month jail term, claiming that Shadrake's book had cast doubt on the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.

According to Amnesty International, Singapore, a country of nearly 5 million, has the highest per capita rate of executions in the world, having put to death more than 420 people since 1991.

In a 2004 report, Amnesty said the death penalty was disproportionately used against migrant workers, drug addicts and poorer people.

In finding Shadrake guilty of contempt of court earlier this month, Singapore's high court judge, Quentin Loh, said the book 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 made in his book. His lawyer, M Ravi, said earlier this month that his client should have been censured rather than jailed.

Loh dismissed Shadrake's last-minute apology as "nothing more than a tactical ploy to in court to obtain a reduced sentence" – the longest given for contempt of court in Singapore, according to reports.

Loh said Shadrake would have to serve an additional two weeks in prison if he failed to pay the fine.

Shadrake's trial has reignited debate over Singapore's alleged use of contempt laws to stifle dissent and punish journalists deemed to have insulted the authorities.

It was not clear if Shadrake would appeal against his sentence. He also faces separate charges of criminal defamation, punishable by a maximum of two years in prison and a hefty fine.

Shadrake was arrested on 18 July after attending an event to launch his book in Singapore. In a recent interview with the, he admitted one minor inaccuracy in his book, but insisted the rest was "devastatingly accurate".

"They know the book is accurate, which is why they're going to all this trouble," he said.

He added that he was undeterred by the prospect of going to prison: "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."

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