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Alan Shadrake 75 jailed in Singapore for writing his views
I was deeply moved when I heard of the case of British journalist Alan Shadrake who wrote a book about the Death penalty in Singapore and subsequently was jailed. At 75 years of age, was he treated fairly for expressing his views? I don't think so.
He was in his hotel when in the early hours of the morning he was rudely woken up by Singapore police and arrested. He was given no time to do anything to prepare himself - no time to brush his teeth or take a pee.
He wrote Once A Jolly Hangman - a story about the death penalty and a hangman. The book in Singapore was considered to be in contempt of court.
His arrest came on a day he was due to discuss the book's contents with reporters.
Once A Jolly Hangman is an account of drug trafficking cases that have come up before Singapore's judicial system and Shadrake argues sentences handed down to those found in possession vary according to the traffickers country of origin and more importantly, the relationship that country has to Singapore.
Shadrake shows the contrast between a German trafficker who received a 3 year sentence. After further laboratory testing apparently, the amount this trafficker was alleged to be in possession of dropped 406grams to 281grams - well under the 500grams which is a mandatory death sentence.
Compare this to the story of Tohi, a Nigerian. Hapless Tohi did not try to run when he was told police were coming to talk to him and he insisted he thought he was carrying African herbs after the discovery of heroin was made.
Tohi got the death penalty.
Shadrake points out the judge in Tohi's case admitted there was no evidence to suggest Tohi knew he was carrying heroin. In this case was an unwitting drug mule executed?
A similar case more recently centers on a single mother who, again, unwittingly may also have been a drug mule when her Nigerian boyfriend handed her a suitcase containing heroin.
She may have been set up but she is now facing the mandatory Death Penalty for her 'crime'. Singapore's draconian laws make possession of 500grams or more a mandatory death sentence.
The punishment for drug crimes in Singapore may or may not be severe depending on your view but Shadrake was locked up for writing Once a Jolly Hangman. He was locked up for expressing a personal reading of the justice system in Singapore.
I believe it is totally outrageous and inhumane to arrest someone for this - in fact, an abuse of our fundamental human rights.
It goes against every fibre in my body to know that a society could even begin to contemplate it would be justified to arrest someone for expressing their own opinions, let alone actually do it.
But in Singapore Under the Public Order Act 2009 you need a police permit if you want to have a public assembly or procession and you also need a permit for anything 'cause related' you might want to speak on in public places. Travellers to the country are advised to avoid street gatherings and protests and filming them is also illegal.
It was hard for me to believe these laws could still operated in a country which also has much to commend it - laws which basically are intended to intimidate and silence freedom of speech and the right to gather and protest in a public place.
Alan Shadrake's stay in prison did not go smoothly. Whether it was his age or what he endured inside - he suffered heart problems and was taken to hospital. He was later released. Apparently, the authorities had decided if he had had a cardiac arrest it would have been a disaster for Singapore. Shadrake confessed in one interview that yes it would have been a disaster alright.
For him also!
Are we really living in a world which is this heartless - pardon the pun? I hope not. I hope we do not take what we have for granted and continue always to remind ourselves how fragile the freedoms and rights we enjoy might be and how much they are worth defending.