SINGAPORE (Reuters) - British writer Alan Shadrake was found guilty of contempt of court on Wednesday for criticising Singapore’s judiciary in a book on the city-state’s use of the death penalty and faces a possible prison sentence.
High Court Judge Quentin Loh said Shadrake, 75, was “guilty of the offence of contempt by scandalising the court”. He said the author would be given the opportunity to make amends for his comments in the book, but did not say if that would affect the sentencing, which was deferred until Nov 9.
Shadrake, a freelance journalist, was arrested in Singapore in July over his book, “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock”, but is free on bail. He could also face separate charges of defamation.
In a written judgment, Loh said Shadrake had used a “selective background of truths and half-truths, and sometimes outright falsehoods” in his book, which he said accused Singapore judges of being influenced by executive and diplomatic pressure.
There is no maximum sentence for contempt of court, but Shadrake’s lawyer M. Ravi said prosecutors had asked for a jail term of 3-6 months. Contempt of court is punishable by a fine, prison or both under Singapore law.
“I’m going to read the judgment with Ravi and we are going to discuss how to go forward,” Shadrake told reporters after the hearing.
Wealthy Singapore, an island-nation of 5 million people, imposes the death penalty for crimes such as murder and a mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking. It boasts of one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
Loh, the judge, said the court had no interest in stifling debate on the death penalty and was constitutionally bound to protect every citizen’s right to engage in such debate.
“But when such debate goes beyond the limits of fair criticism, the law will step in,” he said in the judgment. “It does so not for the dignity of the judges. It does so only to ensure the public’s confidence in the administration of justice does not falter.”
Critics such as Amnesty International have in the past accused Singapore of using strict defamation laws to stifle dissent.
Reporting by Harry Suhartono; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson
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