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Singapore arrests author of death penalty book

British author Alan Shadrake speaks during the launch of his book Once a Jolly Hangman in Singapore on Saturday. Singapore police arrested him Sunday. (Jacob George/Sunday)
Last Updated: Monday, July 19, 2010 - CBC News

British author Alan Shadrake speaks during the launch of his book Once a Jolly Hangman in Singapore on Saturday. Singapore police arrested him Sunday. (Jacob George/Sunday) A British author who wrote a book critical of Singapore's death penalty has been arrested while touring with his book in the city state.

Alan Shadrake, a journalist who divides his time between Britain and Malaysia, has been charged with criminal defamation, which carries a penalty of up to two years in jail.

Singapore prosecutors are also considering laying charges of contempt of court on the grounds that Shadrake questioned the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary.

Shadrake's book, Once a Jolly Hangman Singapore Justice in the Dock, includes an interview with Darsan Singh, Singapore's hangman for the last 50 years.

It also investigates high-profile criminal cases that ended in the death penalty, which Singapore imposes for murder, treason, drug trafficking and other crimes. He interviewed police, lawyers and human rights activists, as well as the families of some of those hanged.

Singapore's Media Department said the book has not been banned in the city state, but that bookstores would be advised not to carry it.

Shadrake, 75, told reporters before his arrest Sunday that he was expecting trouble when he attended an event Saturday to promote his book.

"If they do anything, it'll just draw more attention to it all, and they have no defence," he told AFP news agency.

Police said they arrested Shadrake based on a complaint by the government's Media Development Authority. He is due in court July 30.

Criticism from human rights groups

Shadrake's lawyer, M. Ravi, said police have not allowed him to speak to Shadrake, who has been treated successfully for colon cancer. No bail hearing has yet been held, he added.

The city state has been criticized in the past by human rights groups for using its criminal defamation law to silence opposition.

Singapore's government claims the law is necessary to maintain order in the multi-ethnic state.

Just last week, it banned a documentary by Singapore filmmaker Martyn See about political detainee Lim Hock Siew, who spent 19 years in prison, accused of abetting communism.

The film was banned under a law that permits the government to prohibit works deemed "not in the public interest."

British author Alan Shadrake arrested in Singapore over death penalty book
From correspondents in Singapore From: AFP July 19, 2010

SINGAPORE police arrested a British author yesterday, a day after he launched a book alleging double standards in the city-state's use of the death penalty.

Alan Shadrake, who wrote the book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice on the Dock, was detained on charges including criminal defamation and contempt of court, police said in a statement.

"Police confirm that they have arrested British national Alan Shadrake. He is being investigated for alleged offences of criminal defamation and other offences," it said.

"Alan Shadrake has also been served with an application by the Attorney-General for an order of committal for contempt of court," the statement added.

It said that the arrest was made "pursuant to a police report that was lodged" by regulator Media Development Authority. Shadrake's arrest came a day after the launch of his book, which contained an interview with Darshan Singh, the long-time chief executioner at Singapore's Changi Prison, who has since retired.

The book also features interviews with local human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers on various cases involving capital punishment in the city-state, which carries out the death penalty by hanging.

In Singapore, the death penalty is mandatory for murder, treason and drug trafficking, among other crimes.

Despite criticism from human rights activists, Singapore officials have maintained that the death penalty has been a key factor in keeping a low crime rate in the island-state, one of Asia's safest countries.

Shadrake, who wrote articles for London's Daily Telegraph and other newspapers, said after the book's Singapore launch on Saturday that he had expected trouble, but felt that the authorities were not going to take action.

"If they do anything, it'll just draw more attention to it all, and they have no defence," he said.

Defamation carries a sentence of two years' imprisonment or a fine or both.

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