Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Statement on Alan Shadrake

English PEN Statement on Alan Shadrake

November 24, 2010English PEN calls on the government of Singapore to abolish Criminal Defamation LawsFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 24 November 2010

English PEN, the authors charity promoting the freedom to write, today issues a statement in support of the writer Alan Shadrake, and urges the government of Singapore to abolish its laws of Criminal Defamation.


On 15th November, the British author Alan Shadrake was sentenced to six weeks imprisonment after being found guilty of ‘contempt’. His book Once A Jolly Hangman criticises the government of Singapore’s use of the death penalty to suppress opposition. This week, the author Victoria Glendinning, Vice-President of English PEN, visited Shadrake in Singapore as he waited to learn whether he can appeal against his sentence. In a report to PEN published today, she explains what motivates Shadrake to write:


So what is powering Shadrake? After the sentence had been passed, he had, between sleeping and waking, what he calls a 'visitation' - in which the faces of those powerless unfortunates condemned to caning, jailing or hanging, while the affluent got off lightly, pressed In on him. 'I am trying to show the people of Singapore that they can be defiant, and not knuckle down under injustice as most do.'


Glendinning also writes that Shadrake is “not downhearted”, but he does have a heart condition. The author requires urgent medical attention for an irregular heartbeat, a condition that can only be exacerbated by the judicial process that he has been subjected to.


Jonathan Heawood, Director of English PEN, said:


In a modern country like Singapore, it is outrageous that someone can be prosecuted just for writing a book. The subject matter is clearly in the public interest and the people of Singapore deserve to read what Alan Shadrake has to say about their government. Unfortunately, colonial era laws of sedition and criminal defamation have allowed the government to victimise a seventy-six year-old man with a serious illness. Singapore simply cannot claim to be serious about democracy while it continues to make use of these outdated and illiberal laws.


Laws of ‘sedition’ (criticising the state) are routinely used by governments all around the world to threaten critics of official policy and state actions. In former British colonies, these are based on archaic English laws. Last month, the author Arundhati Roy was threatened with sedition by ideological opponents for comments she made on Kashmir. In 2009, English PEN was part of the coalition of NGOs which successfully to ensure the remnants of such laws were removed from the English statute books... but elsewhere in the Commonwealth they remain law. A briefing on these laws and their applications is available online.


Statement by Victoria Glendinning - Report, 21 Nov 2010

Alan Shadrake 's book 'Once a Jolly Hangman ', published in Kuala Lumpur, exposes the way he sees the judicial process of Singapore protecting the rich and influential while visiting extreme punishment on the poor and powerless for similar offences. Shadrake is an Essex lad of 76, in touch with his family - three daughters and a son, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Over tea and a muffin in a Singapore courtyard he tells me he doesn't smoke, eats healthily, and likes a drink. He does have a heart problem. Doctors' bills have sent him into massive overdraft, and he has to pay for the medication prescribed for his irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. He has had an angioplasty, and the next step is a pacemaker. The rough way he was arrested in Singapore at 6.30 the morning after his launch party (and a subsequent session in a karaoke bar) was not calculated to improve his condition.


He is not downhearted. At 5 pm on Monday Nov. 21 he and his dynamic young lawyer, the human rights specialist M Ravi, will file papers in the High Court of Singapore requesting permission to appeal against his sentence of six weeks In jail plus a fine of 20,000 Singapore dollars (£9,500), thus inaugurating a process which may or may not result In the appeal being allowed. Ravi concedes that even if the appeal is allowed it is unlikely to be successful. Neither of them is put off by this.


So what is powering Shadrake? After the sentence had been passed, he had, between sleeping and waking, what he calls a 'visitation' - in which the faces of those powerless unfortunates condemned to caning, jailing or hanging, while the affluent got off lightly, pressed In on him. 'I am trying to show the people of Singapore that they can be defiant, and not knuckle down under injustice as most do.'


Notes

  • English PEN is the founding centre of PEN International, the worldwide association of writers. Established in 1921, PEN will celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2011.
  • English PEN’s international campaigns are led by its Writers in Prison Committee, which celebrates its 50th Anniversary in 2010. There are currently over 900 people on the Writers in Prison Committee case list of writers under threat worldwide.
  • The English laws of Criminal Libel and Seditious Libel were abolished as part of the Coroners & Justice Act 2009. Our PDF briefing gives more information about this campaign and argues for the abolition of such laws worldwide.
  • Other Commonwealth countries to have abolished laws of sedition include New Zealand and Ghana.

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