Alan Shadrake (born mid-1934) is a British author and former journalist, who was convicted in Singapore in 2010 of contempt of court for scandalising the Singapore judicial system, through his published views on the country's criminal justice system. Following a failed appeal, he served 5½ weeks in prison.
Judicial process and international criticism
Shadrake was arrested on charges of 'criminal defamation' on 18 July 2010, a day after the publication of his book, Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, which was critical of the Singapore judicial system.
Shadrake, a resident of adjacent Malaysia, was said by the Government to have "cast doubt on the impartiality and independence of the judiciary", and was thus also served with legal papers citing him for contempt by scandalising the court. The arrest and charge followed several previous instances where Singapore's leaders have sued journalists and political opponents for defamation.
His arrest and subsequent detention for two days received widespread media coverage and elicited calls for his release, including from Amnesty International and a dedicated Facebook page, and renewed attention on Singapore's practice of capital punishment. He was released pending trial after a local activist posted his bail of S$10,000 (US$7,240).
Shadrake's case was in October and he mounted a vigorous defence, founded on the legal concept of 'fair criticism and fair comment'. His lawyer, Ravi, who was well known and previously acted for some of the death row inmates that the book discussed.
On 2 November 2010, a verdict of guilty of contempt of court was rendered by High Court Judge Quentin Loh. Shadrake subsequently apologised if he had offended the sensitivities of the judiciary and did not mean to undermine the judges or the judiciary. The prosecutors felt that the apology was insincere and intended to lighten the sentence from the court. On 16 November, Shadrake was sentenced to six weeks in prison and fined S$20,000.
At the time of this verdict, Shadrake also faced separate charges of criminal defamation, punishable by up to two years in prison and a substantial fine.
On 10 April 2011, Shadrake appealed against his sentence. The Court of Appeal affirmed the original sentence on 27 May 2011 and he was jailed on 1 June. He was unable to pay the fine and his sentence was therefore increased by a default two weeks' jail to a total of eight weeks. On 9 July, he was released early 'for good behaviour' and deported back to Britain.
In 2005, Shadrake interviewed and wrote about Darshan Singh, Singapore's executioner for nearly 50 years, in The Australian, causing a minor controversy as it was shortly before the execution of Van Tuong Nguyen. Details from further interviews with Singh were included in Once a Jolly Hangman.
Yale University has plans to establish a liberal arts college in Singapore. Four Yale professors have taken issue with the question of academic freedom in a nation that hinders freedom of expression and, in light of the Shadrake verdict, have asked the University administrators to reconsider establishing the college, but administrators said Yale will continue with its plans.
He has four children.
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- Singapore Suppresses Dissident