Death Penalty Book Author Arrested in Singapore

photo by Alan Shadrake

British author Alan Shadrake, whose book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice on the Dock, was recently released, has been detained in Singapore on charges including criminal defamation and contempt of court.

His book contained an interview with Darshan Singh, pictured above, the now retired head executioner at Singapore's Changi Prison.

The book also features interviews with local human rights activists, lawyers and former police officers on various cases involving capital punishment in the city-state, which carries out the death penalty by hanging.


From the book's press release:

Over the past few decades, investigative journalism has come to mean the kind of brave reporting that exposes injustice, wrongdoing and, above all, the abuse of power. Alan Shadrake’s hard-hitting new book cuts through the façade of official silence to reveal disturbing truths about Singapore’s use of the death penalty. From in-depth interviews with Darshan Singh, Singapore’s chief executioner for nearly fifty years, to meticulously researched accounts of numerous high profile cases, Once a Jolly Hangman reveals the cruelty and imprudence of an entire judicial system. At the same time he displays a touching empathy with the anguish of the victims and their families. This important book should be required reading for human rights activists everywhere.

Alan sent me an e-mail in June, inviting me to the Kuala Lumpur opening event:

Date: Saturday, 26 June 2010
Time: 11am – 1pm
Venue: KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Jalan Maharajalela.
Welcome by Nora Murat (Amnesty International)
Edmund Bon Tai Soon (Chairperson, Constitutional Law Committee, Bar Council)
M. Ravi (Dedicated abolitionist and Yong Vui Kong’s lawyer in Singapore)
Alan Shadrake (Author)
Official Book Launch and Presentation
Book sale and signing

He also e-mailed his plans for Singapore:

...the first launch was in KL on Saturday and Amnesty International, who helped sponsor this event, are also involved in a similar but we hope a bigger launch in Singapore July 10.

He said the book is still seeking publishers for the US, UK and Australia. Here's a review by Yawning Bread.

As for what got Singapore so mad, Online Citizen has some thoughts and says it may be related to the Vignes Mourthi case he wrote about. Mourthi, a 23 year old factory worker was executed for trafficking one ounce of heroin. He asserted his innocence. Online Citizen says:

Mourthi’s conviction rested largely on the strength of evidence of the officer who arrested him, Sgt S Rajkumar, a senior officer of the Central Narcotics Bureau. Sgt Rajkumar was a key witness in the prosecution’s case, and Mourthi’s defense was that an incriminating piece of evidence collected by Rajkumar had been added at a much later date.

Shadrake reveals that just three days after Mourthi’s arrest, on 23 September 2001, Sgt. Rajkumar was himself arrested for allegedly handcuffing, raping and sodomizing a young woman and for subsequently bribing her to keep silent.....Shadrake points out how the ongoing case against Rajkumar was never revealed to Mourthi’s defense lawyer, and surmises that the prosecutor and other parties must have known about Rajkumar’s case but chose to keep silent.

Here's another Jolly Hangman book review. Mourthi's defense lawyer, M. Ravi, an activist against the Singapore death penalty, also wrote a book, Hung at Dawn.

Good luck to Alan, and when he gets a U.S. publisher, I hope everyone reads the book. If you'd like to order it from Singapore,and are not in a "restricted country," you can do so here.

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  • Display: Sort:
    eeeuuuu (5.00 / 3) (#2)
    by Capt Howdy on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 02:45:36 PM EST
    thanks for the pic

    Um, yeah. . . (none / 0) (#4)
    by andgarden on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 03:11:53 PM EST
    Finally something we agree on (none / 0) (#5)
    by BTAL on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 03:22:21 PM EST
    and even andgarden's part of the group  :)

    Tummy tuck, perhaps! (none / 0) (#8)
    by Untold Story on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 04:36:27 PM EST
    The goggles... (none / 0) (#14)
    by desertswine on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 07:59:29 PM EST
    they do nothing!

    "And the truth... (none / 0) (#1)
    by kdog on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 02:32:26 PM EST
    shall get you caged".

    Seems Singapore is letting the author take the rap for their crimes.  I mean Singapore justice defames itself more than any author ever could...guilty conscience.

    My thoughts exactly. (none / 0) (#6)
    by JamesTX on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 03:46:06 PM EST
    How do you defame the infamous evil that is the Singapore justice system?

    actually (none / 0) (#7)
    by Capt Howdy on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 03:50:23 PM EST
    I seems pretty easy

    Photo isn't of the detained author. (none / 0) (#12)
    by oculus on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 06:01:32 PM EST
    Retired chief hangman.

    Even a hangman (none / 0) (#17)
    by jbindc on Tue Jul 20, 2010 at 08:57:07 AM EST
    Needs a little downtime to relax....

    Ha! Actually, I can (none / 0) (#18)
    by JamesTX on Wed Jul 21, 2010 at 02:48:48 PM EST
    identify with the poor guy. But I at least try to keep the revulsion down to a dull roar by always remembering to don my XXXL tee shirt. No excuse for this!

    In "Ghost Train to the Eastern Star," (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 03:08:17 PM EST
    Paul Theroux discusses censorship in Singapore.  He has personal experience.

    Please tell me that isn't the only (none / 0) (#10)
    by Anne on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 05:10:37 PM EST
    picture that exists of Darshan Singh...or that that's the best one that exists...please.

    I suppose it works in the context of the "Jolly Hangman," but it's working for me more along the lines of "I think I need a Pepcid."

    Tee-Shirt and Shorts (none / 0) (#11)
    by squeaky on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 05:26:12 PM EST
    The pot-bellied grandfather and former Singapore caner has an all-time record of hanging 18 people in one day. He hangs his victims while wearing very casual attire, usually a t-shirt and shorts.

    But that picture would also include a dead person hanging by their neck.


    he looks the way (none / 0) (#13)
    by jondee on Mon Jul 19, 2010 at 06:34:07 PM EST
    I picture the average executioner or arms dealer on vacation looking..

    like Rush in a Dominican Republic male brothel: all overfed, self-satisfied and ready to implode at any moment from the sheer pressure of Roman Senatorial decadence.