Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No freedom of speech in Singapore

Alan Shadrake is a British author. This year, he wrote a book, Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock, which was highly critical of Singapore's use of the death penalty and argued that its application was not impartial, but political. For that, he has been jailed for six weeks and fined S$20,000 for "scandalising the court".

For those who don't know, "scandalising the court" is a judge-created offence similar to contempt, used to punish those who strongly criticise the judiciary. Its basically sedition for judges. New Zealand (and most other countries) still retain this feudal relic - but in a democracy, the judiciary understands that it is subject to public criticism, and that this is a check on judicial abuse. The problem is that Singapore isn't a democracy, but an authoritarian state where those in power are not accountable, and instead abuse the law to punish critics and suppress all opposition. And sadly, this disease extends to its judges as well as its politicians.