A British author Alan Shadrake, 76, is the latest victim of a worldwide trend of attacks on free speech. Shadrake wrote a book entitled Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore’s Justice in the Dock detailing the inequities and unfairness of the Singapore justice system. The response of Singapore’s courts was to convict Shadrake and throw him in jail for contempt. The abusive case should be a rallying point for civil libertarians around the world, not to mention any Singaporeans who value free speech and the rule of law. The Singapore government compounded the abuse by banning the book.
What is most disgraceful is that the Singapore Court of Appeal upheld the contempt conviction and six-week jail sentence. Because Shadrake cannot pay the $16,000 fine, he will remain in jail.
The basis for the conviction was the view of members of the Singapore High Court that the book included “half-truths and selective facts; sometimes even outright falsehoods.”
In the United States, you cannot defame a court system. Moreover, citizens are allowed to be critical of their government and given added protections in speaking against both public figures and public officials. Then there is the problem of being held for contempt when you are not a party before a court at the time.
Lawyers, authors, and good government advocates should rally around Shadrake. I am not particularly concerned about the merits of his criticism as much as his ability to voice them.
Reporters Without Borders has launched a worldwide campaign and petition on behalf of Shadrake.