Death Row in Singapore—We Need Answers, Not Silencing

I have just finished the not-banned-just-not-available-on-the-island book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Docks.

I feel like someone who took a long blink and missed a solar eclipse. How on earth could all this have been buried for so long?

So this is what happens when you don’t have freedom of the press, when you have a mainstream media cowered and adept at self-censorship. This is what happens when you get so used to the high level of secrecy involved in “politically sensitive” matters you don’t demand answers anymore (at least not after the first attempt is refused).

This book, and the arrest of the British author Alan Shadrake, has jolted me out of weary resignation. It demonstrates so compellingly the costs of not knowing, not investigating, not demanding.

How many innocent people have been murdered because of our ignorance? And how much has our ignorance cemented our unreflective beliefs about the mandatory death penalty and its alleged “necessity” in keeping Singapore crime-free? Why are petty offenders being hanged, while drug barons roam free and benefit from lucrative business deals sanctioned by the state? Why can’t we know what happens on death row, if the claim is true that its endurance is “good for Singapore”?

And the minute someone does a thorough investigation and stirs a necessary debate on a controversial policy, what happens? He gets arrested.

The book is “not banned” but bookstores are intimidated into not stocking it – in other words, it is akin to being banned without the actual admission that this is so. (I’m so insulted that they think we are that stupid)

And then comes this at yesterday’s High Court hearing for Alan Shadrake:

“At the outset of the hearing Senior Counsel David Chong acting for AGC, reminded the media that it too would be liable for contempt if paragraphs being complained of in this case were repeated by them.” (CNA)

So now we are being warned against reproducing sections of a book that is “not banned”. But if you refuse to admit it is banned, what right have you got to restrict its circulation?


Are you afraid that people will read about Singapore’s investments in Burma and its alleged links to internationally known drug lords? (It’s already on the Internet, see here and here).

Are you afraid that people will make judgments about how Julia Bohl, a German citizen and known drug trafficker, had her sentence lessened after the amount of drugs she was found with was reduced after “further laboratory tests” (from 687 grams to 281 grams)?

Are you afraid that people will start questioning the sting tactics of the Central Narcotics Bureau, when an informant in the book alleges that sometimes small time drug mules are encouraged to smuggle larger amounts by undercover officers – amounts that lead to death by hanging if caught?

Are you afraid of international condemnation when it becomes public knowledge that there were cases when drug offenders with signs of significant intellectual impairment were not given special consideration?

Are you afraid of the scandal when it is revealed the son of a former High Court judge was arrested for consuming cocaine – in addition to the revelation that he managed to serve time at home with an electronic tag?

Are you afraid of public outrage when we read about the case of Vignes Mourthi, who was hanged largely based on the account of a key witness who was also concurrently being investigated for charges of corruption, rape and sodomy? (Only this key witness, a senior officer, was not tried till a year after Mourthi was hanged)

Are you afraid that when we read vivid descriptions of the hanging process, the agony of waiting as you hear the sounds of others being executed, the securing of arms and legs to ensure there is no struggling, the careful measuring required because “if you get it wrong the head would go one way and the body the other”, the suspension of bodies for 20 minutes to ensure death (or until the body stops writhing), the engorged faces, the swollen, protruding tongues, the bulging eyes, the neck covered with lacerations… we will be haunted by the thought of the approximately 1,000 times our renowned executioner Darshan Singh (now retired) has carried them out?

Well, if you have the tenacity to persist in this barbaric practice, if you place yourself in a position of such power that you can take away someone else’s life and publicly insist it is for the good of this nation, then have the guts to defend yourselves when put under the spotlight.

Respond to the allegations, which you oppose and propose is untrue. Give us the evidence required to convince us that the system is fair.

But don’t arrest a 75-year old investigative journalist with heart problems who was just doing his job – and doing it so well you had to find ways to (attempt to) silence him.

AFP, UK author vows to fight Singapore contempt charge.

Alex Au, Shooting the messenger in Singapore

BBC, UK author Shadrake’s Singapore contempt trial adjourned

Human Rights Watch, Singapore: Legal Charges Threat to Freedom of Expression

The Guardian, Singapore’s reputation on the line as British author fights on

Keep up-to-date on FACEBOOK Free Alan Shadrake!

BBC, British author of death penalty book held in Singapore

British Weekly, SHADRAKE: I’d do it all again

The Online Citizen, Author Alan Shadrake arrested for “alleged criminal defamation” (Update 8)

Yawning Bread, New book puts death penalty on trial

The Online Citizen, Review : Once A Jolly Hangman

The Online Citizen, A safe system of equal justice for all?

The Death Penalty in Singapore

The Online Citizen, Save Vui Kong Campaign (Updated: 25/7)

Online Petition: Give Yong Vui Kong a Second Chance to Help Singapore’s Anti-Drug Trafficking Policy

For where to buy the book, see here.


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