SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's High Court jailed a 76-year-old British writer for six weeks on Tuesday, finding him guilty of contempt of court in a book questioning the independence of the judiciary.
Justice Quentin Loh, who ruled that Alan Shadrake's book on the country's use of the death penalty had scandalized the court, also fined the author S$20,000 ($15,370).
"This is by far the most serious sentence (for contempt). It is the harshest punishment so far," Shadrake's lawyer, M. Ravi, told reporters. Shadrake, whose book "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock" is not available in the island-state, will have to serve an additional two weeks in jail if he cannot pay the fine.
He also has to pay costs of S$55,000.
Shadrake has until next Wednesday to appeal. Justice Loh said Shadrake had shown "a reckless disregard for the truth" and "a complete lack of remorse". He had offered to apologize for offending the sensitivities of the judiciary, but not for the book. Singapore's leaders are sensitive to criticism and in the past have sued critical foreign journalists and opposition politicians for defamation. Human rights advocates condemned Tuesday's ruling. "This sentence is yet another blow against freedom of expression in Singapore," said New York-based Human Rights Watch's Deputy Director Phil Robertson. "This case should have never been taken to trial and with this sentence the Singapore judiciary has done more to damage its reputation than to protect it." Singapore, with a population of five million people, imposes the death penalty for crimes such as murder and a mandatory death sentence for drug trafficking. It boasts of one of the lowest crime rates in the world.