New book puts death penalty on trial

To give a new twist to an old saying: Justice unevenly applied is justice denied.

Alan Shadrake, in his new book, Once a Jolly Hangman — Singapore justice in the dock, shows how uneven it is. It’s a tour de force covering cases from the early 1990s to nearly the present, many of them ending with the prisoner meeting Darshan Singh, Singapore’s hangman for the last half-century. But some of them do not meet this fate, and therein lies the twist.

When clemency campaigns are mounted and the occasional blog takes an interest, the story centres on a particular death row prisoner and for a particular crime, and understandably so. However, the result is that while we see a particular case, we seldom have the opportunity to see how the death penalty is used across a number of years.

With the release of this book, we cannot now say we can’t take in the bigger picture. Once a Jolly Hangman allows us to compare how one case was handled with another that had similar circumstances or gravity. What emerges is a very unflattering pattern of inconsistent “justice”, the dispensation of which is compromised in three important ways:

1. When foreign governments have clout over our economic interests and are willing to use that clout, their citizens will not face the death penalty;

2. When local citizens come from rich, well-connected families, or when a case threatens to involve others from this stratum of society, a way is found to avoid having them face the death penalty or even severe penalties;

3. When the state is convinced that an accused who is poor and “low-class” is guilty, and provided that exception no. 1 above does not apply, due process is less important than putting him on the fast-track to the noose.

The net outcome of these controlling conditions is that the application of capital punishment in Singapore is not a matter of justice. The most important decision as to whether someone is to be hanged is really a political one: some people can be hanged, others just cannot be hanged, and it is the government that determines who, not a court.

Condition no. 1 and 2 above can be expressed graphically:

Compare the case of Amara Tochi from Nigeria (Chapter 20) with Julia Bohl from Germany. Tochi was caught by chance at Changi Airport with more than 15 grams of heroin (the threshold that makes the death penalty mandatory) in his bag given to him by a man he hardly knew in Pakistan. The judge made the following finding of fact at his trial: “There was no direct evidence that he knew the capsules contained diamorphine. There was nothing to suggest that Smith had told him they contained diamorphine, or that he had found out on his own.” Nonetheless,  Tochi was found guilty because the judge felt he ought to have known and he could not prove the negative, i.e. he could not prove that he really didn’t know. This is because Singapore law on drug cases imposes a presumption of guilt, not innocence. It is for the accused to prove his innocence, not for the prosecution to prove guilt. Tochi was hanged January 2007.

Julia Bohl (Chapter 10) had been closely watched by the Central Narcotics Bureau for several months as a supplier of various party drugs to high society. Piecing together various reports, Shadrake shows that an undercover officer was planted in her company, eventually gaining her confidence. In a raid mounted on a party one night in March 2002, Bohl and several others were arrested, with Bohl charged for having 687 grams of cannabis in her possession, above the 500-gram threshold that mandates the death penalty. The German government applied maximum pressure on Singapore, threatening economic reprisals.  The seized drugs (all or part of it?) were then re-analysed by a laboratory which issued a  new report that said there were just 281 grams. She was sentenced to five years in jail, serving only three.

One of Bohl’s likely customers and sub-seller was Mike McCrea. He killed his driver Kho Nai Guan and Kho’s girlfriend Lan Ya Ming, most probably due a dispute over a theft of a stash of drugs. However, by the time the bodies of Kho and Lan were discovered, McCrea had fled, first to Britain, then to Australia. Singapore tried to get him extradited, but Australia would not agree if doing so meant that someone faced execution. So a bargain was struck and McCrea faced only the reduced charge of culpable homicide that carried a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment for each killing.

After another lengthy investigation, a series of arrests were made in October 2004 (Chapter 17). Sixteen Singaporeans and seven foreigners, including two permanent residents were arrested and faced a variety of charges ranging from consumption to dealing. One of the accused was Dinesh Singh Bhatia, the son of former judicial commissioner Amarjeet Singh. He faced 10 years behind bars for consumption. His defence lawyer, K Shanmugam (now the Minister for Law) submitted to the trial judge that Dinesh Bhatia did not know it was cocaine that he was snorting. (I can’t for the life of me think of any other substance that one would snort, and no, snuff is not snorted in the same way). In the end, after appeal, Bhatia’s sentence was reduced to eight months, but less than three months after that, he was reported by the Straits Times to be at home, albeit wearing an electronic tag.

Others rounded up, all members of high society (financial broker, managing director of an oil trading firm, award-winning chef, etc), similarly got just months in jail when convicted. Investigations pointed to a Tunisian, Guiga Lyes Ben Laroussi, as the main supplier, himself a high-ranking executive. Laroussi was arrested on the capital charge of trafficking, but when the haul was assayed a second time, the quantity he was accused of diminished miraculously below the mandatory hanging threshold. Then he was given bail on his own recognition, upon which he promptly disappeared from Singapore, even though his passport had been impounded. No serious attempts have been made to find him or to press Interpol for assistance, despite having him listed there for years.

Without Laroussi, it has been hard to follow up with other arrests. As Shadrake wrote in the book (pages 145 – 146):

During the CNB investigation [Laroussi] refused to name any of his other customers — while hinting there were more prominent members of Singapore’s high society he could expose as serious drug users, which, I was reliably informed, would create an even bigger scandal among the country’s elite. He decided to hold on to his secret list of clients as a bargaining chip — his ace in the hole — when the time was right, when the shadow of the gallows loomed. But it was this plea bargaining strategy that the authorities were only too pleased to entertain. ‘They were terrified that if he were to be tried for a capital offence with the gallows as the end game, he would first “blow the lid off” Singapore’, a lawyer close to the case told me.

Shadrake interviewed a number of lawyers and persons involved in investigations while researching for this book. He had to promise confidentiality to his informants, one of whom, perhaps the most useful, was a former Central Narcotics Bureau officer who was angered by the way things worked.

The case that the book details in support of the third contention — that due process is sometimes less important than putting someone on the fast track to the noose — is the most disturbing. Chapter 18 recounts how Vignes Mourthi, a Malaysian who commuted to Singapore for work, was found guilty of trafficking 27.65 grams of heroin in 2002. Vignes claimed at his trial that he did not know he had heroin on him; he thought that what he had been given to hand over to a contact was a pack of precious incense stones used in Hindu worship, a claim of innocence he maintained throughout.

The prosecution’s case and the verdict rested mainly on a handwritten note by the arresting officer recording the alleged conversation that took place between the officer Rajkumar and Vignes just before the arrest on 20 September 2001. Rajkumar was posing as the buyer and in his undated note said that Vignes’ replies during the short conversation indicated the latter knew that what he had handed over were drugs. There was no corroboration of the account contained in this handwritten note, nor even any indication it was not written up far later, yet it was what the judge relied on to convict Vignes.

Vignes was hanged on 26 September 2003.

The day after Rajkumar arrested Vignes, a woman accused Rajkumar of raping and sodomising her. Two days later, on 23 September 2001, Rajkumar himself was arrested on these complaints. He was apparently not suspended from duty and continued to be part of the prosecution’s case against Vignes.

Eventually, the woman withdrew her accusations, but by then, police investigations had begun of Rajkumar and fellow officer Balbir Singh for offering large amounts of money to the woman to persuade her to do so. The men were later found guilty of corruption and sentenced to fifteen and six months’ imprisonment respectively. Page 161:

But it was not until Vignes Mourthi was hanged that Rajkumar’s trial began. When Rajkumar, whose contested testimony had sent Vignes Mourthi to the gallows, was sentenced, Judge Sia Aik Kor described his actions as ‘so obviously corrupt by the ordinary and objective standard that he must know his conduct is corrupt’. The judge also cited a precedent which found actions to be ‘akin to an attempt to subvert the course of justice’. So if he could subvert the course of justice to save himself from a long prison term, was he also capable of inventing those damning words that confirmed, in the eyes of trial judges, that Vignes Mourthi knew what he was doing?

First of all, isn’t it interesting that a case of rape, sodomy and corruption from an arrest of 23 September 2001 languishes for years while a capital case arising from an arrest of 20 September 2001 is finished and done with more quickly?

Shadrake pointed out that the police and very likely the Attorney-General’s Chambers knew even as Vignes was on trial, that their chief prosecution witness Rajkumar was himself under investigation for corruption and subverting justice. Surely this must be pertinent to Vignes’ case? Would knowledge of this not have been grounds for impeaching Rajkumar’s credibility and for reasonable doubt in Vignes’ case?

Shadrake asks why there was silence throughout; why Rajkumar’s trial didn’t commence until Vignes had been hanged.

I would ask: Was the silence judged necessary to avoid an embarrassing collapse of the case against Vignes? Was it felt that it was more important not to have it collapse, more important to protect the idea of the death penalty from disrepute, the image of police and prosecutorial infallibility, than the question of true justice to a man?

* * * * *

Defenders of capital punishment have to assume that this extreme penalty is applied fairly and the process is unimpeachable; that issues such as  presumption of innocence and integrity of evidence are totally above board. That verdicts reached are safe. Anything short of an extremely high standard of probity and equal application would undercut the moral basis for taking a life.

It would be unconscionable if the death penalty is applicable for some and not applicable to others accused of similar crimes.  It would be unconscionable if process is a slapdash construction of toothpicks.

And yet it is. Because so many laws mandate the death penalty, tying the hands of judges, the real decider as to who hangs and who does not is the prosecutor through his ability to pick and choose what charges to level at the accused.  It stinks when the quantum of drugs the accused is charged with handling can go up or down depending on the day of the week or phase of the moon. It is putrid when allegedly key dealers friendly with the upper crust of society can get bail and escape from this island while friendless (alleged) mules get their cases rushed through.

What this book shows is that defenders of capital punishment in Singapore have no basis to make their critical assumptions. If anything, the cases recounted by Shadrake show an unevenness, almost a capriciousness, that should make Singaporeans hang their heads in shame.

Alan Shadrake has done great service to this country through his investigative work. By providing both the comparative overview and the case details that shatter complacent assumptions, he has delineated the baseline which any debate about capital punishment has to proceed from. From today, if you have not read his book, you have no basis to even talk about our (mis)use of the death penalty.

* * * * *

Post-script: I will update readers as soon as I learn where the book can be obtained.

65 Responses to “New book puts death penalty on trial”

  1. 3 sgcynic 10 July 2010 at 09:32

    Can order the book at for RM59.60 including delivery charge.

  2. 4 Pritam Singh 10 July 2010 at 11:13

    A superb post Alex. Thank you.

  3. 5 Beast 10 July 2010 at 12:13

    Let me know too. I would love to read it.

    The death penalty is archaic and has been banned in many countries. There is no reason to execute prisoners. It is cruel, irreversible, and goes against the very core of what prison service stands for.

  4. 6 Alan Wong 10 July 2010 at 14:45

    This is astonishingly revealing! It makes a real mockery that everyone is equal in front of the law. No wonder so many 14.99g convictions so that they can escape the gallows.

    Everytime they speak, it’s so honorable yet behind the scenes, it’s so full of shit. Now I can understand why they want to ban the book.

  5. 7 Beast 10 July 2010 at 15:12

    There’s nothing honorable about the death penalty.

    Cruelty aside, it is also based on the premise that the law is infallible and never makes a mistake. Imagine the uproar if some day, an innocent man has been executed.

  6. 8 Teo Soh Lung 10 July 2010 at 16:03

    I look forward to reading the book. We can all see the grave danger in allowing the prosecution (Attorney General) to decide who deserves the death penalty and who does not. The conflict of interest is so clear that only the mischief maker can refuse to see it. It is indeed shocking that the crime of a material witness is not revealed at the trial of an accused person facing the death penalty. The AG should explain if he was not aware of the fact.

  7. 9 DMH 10 July 2010 at 20:40

    i bought the book at a Popular Bookstore in June at Malaysia, in Malacca to be exact. i have already finished reading it. And its now with a friend who is very afraid of reading it for fear she can’t sleep over the revealed injustices. 🙂 haha
    i must say, the book would be a real eye opener to those who are still blinded by the MSM. So, find it and read it.

  8. 10 DMH 10 July 2010 at 20:41

    by the way… u mean this book is not selling in Singapore????

  9. 12 Mat Alamak 10 July 2010 at 23:21

    Some years back, I remember those who were hanged had their names and photos published in the papers the next day or so, ie Saturday or Sunday. Hanging usually took place on Friday mornings at Changi prison.

    This has been discontinued, except for high profile cases, like the Vietnamese Australian Nguyen Tuong Van, convicted and hanged in 2005 for capital drug offence. It seems the govt wants to maintain as much secrecy as possible on news of hanging. Wonder why.

    It seems also crucial that efforts and intervention should be made by lawyers or foreign govt concerned before the case goes to trial. Because rarely is a capital charge changed to lesser charges during trial or appeal. Most if not all death sentences were upheld even after appeal and that will be the end. Because President’s clemency is very rarely given, if at all. And to fight the case further after clemency is rejected will have zero chance of success, even if it involved strong intervention of the foreign govt of the condemned. Reference the Flor Contemplacion case, the filipino maid hanged in 1995 despite strong appeals from then President Ramos.

    The issue of death sentence and hangings were also never debated in Parliament except few years back one NMP queried on details of hanging and other methods like lethal injection (more humane?). The Minister replied very briefly and nothing went further than that, as reported in the papers.

    • 13 Beast 10 July 2010 at 23:51

      It has to be said that lethal injection gives the delusion of humaneness, but it isn’t necessarily so.

      Quite often in the United States (I think in all cases), lethal injection is not being administered by doctors who, by their very professions, are strictly forbidden to conducted the process (breach of the code can risk them losing their medical licenses). So what happens is these executioners tend to be prison wardens, or people with little or no medical expertise. They either give a huge overdose of poison resulting in excessive pain, or lack of pain killers. The victim does not exhibit pain because he is given a muscle paralyzing jab prior to the lethal injection.

      The worst part about lethal injection is that it is a invention from the Nazi concentration camps. To even consider using it in Singapore would mean tacitly agreeing to the insidious deeds of the crazy gang.

  10. 14 Robox 11 July 2010 at 00:44

    I cannot recall any other article I have ever read having angered me as much as this one has.

  11. 15 Beast 11 July 2010 at 00:49

    Talking about the death penalty makes my blood boil, because our country kills too many people on what is widely considered by most civilized nations to be petty crimes (such as smuggling 15g of heroine for example). That’s nonsense!

    The logic that the government needs to kill drug traffickers because drugs cause more harm to more people is so ludicrous that I have to point out the obvious: Cigarettes and alcohol kill more people every year (don’t believe me, ask any doctor. this will be the standard answer) in terms of deaths than all these drugs combined. Why are we not killing cigarette manufacturers and closing down breweries?

  12. 16 Anonymous 11 July 2010 at 03:16

    Privilege literally means private law and Singapore is fundamentally a meritocracy. The fact that Singapore has separate laws dependent on status isn’t surprising at all. In fact, I could argue that since none of these people that were showed “arbitrary mercy” have been tried twice means that the government has established a sufficient deterrent, which is the entire point of imposing capital punishment in the first place.

    That being said, this book distracts from the greater issue by focusing on the humane aspect of capital punishment. Trafficking drugs and ruining the lives of people stupid enough to buy them is hardly more humane than capital punishment. You need to ask yourself: Is it more evil to kill someone or to destroy someone? Dead people usually don’t traffic drugs and I’ve personally never heard of a recidivist corpse.

    The mere fact that these people were caught is evidence that the system works. You could hardly expect this level of efficiency in say, Mexico. As usual, perspective is everything.

    Human life is quite possibly overrated. I’d rather be an apologist for the functional parts of society than the dysfunctional ones.

    • 17 Beast 11 July 2010 at 10:44

      Yes. Your life is probably over rated too.

      • 18 Beast 11 July 2010 at 10:46

        Actually, cadavers (corpses) do smuggle drugs.

        In Mexico, it is not uncommon for traffickers to open up shadow funeral parlors simply to smuggle drugs to the states, by stuffing the bodies with heroine or some illicit drugs.

        Because immigration officers tend not to check corpses (their reluctance is, well, understandable), they tend to succeed most of the time.

    • 19 Pratamad 19 July 2010 at 13:26

      The best test comes when someone close to you becomes another Vignes Mourthi. By no means that drug traffickers should not be punished; put them behind bar for life if you want, but definitely not by death penalty.

  13. 20 yuen 11 July 2010 at 11:49

    whether there should be death penalty, and whether death penalty has been applied equally to different nationalities, are two separate issues; to those against death penalty, not applying it to some offenders might be seen as a step in the right direction, since fewer people get executed

    the McRea case shows that if you are from a country that does not have dealth penalty, you have a better chance of avoiding it in Singapore; it is convenient that these are usually the more wealthy western countries

    • 21 Beast 11 July 2010 at 13:07

      I think it is best to scrap the death penalty. State execution is not the business of prison services, and should not even be contemplated even for the most heinous of crimes.

    • 22 Anonymous 19 July 2010 at 21:31

      “whether there should be death penalty, and whether death penalty has been applied equally to different nationalities, are two separate issues”

      Sympathizers of the death penalty might only support it if it is applied equally, so these aren’t really separate issues.

      • 23 yuen 19 July 2010 at 23:39

        some are against death penalty whether it is applied equally; whether you are in favour or not, you can still question whether SG applies it equally; so the two issues are separate

        (I believe you confused “whether it should be applied equally” with “whether it has been”)

  14. 24 lobo76 11 July 2010 at 13:44

    I read the ‘3 important ways’ in which death penalty is applied differently, and I tot, how is any other punishment different is these ‘3 important ways’?

    My impression is that there is ‘not much’.

  15. 25 George 11 July 2010 at 15:13

    ” how is any other punishment different is these ’3 important ways’?”

    Surely the difference is so obvious.

    As an aside: There have been cases in other countries where executed people were
    subsequently found to be innocent of the crime.

    I doubt we can ever find such cases here not because the system here is perfect, but that the way the govt operates here
    makes it virtually impossible to any fact finders to ferret out information. The govt is not even prepared to provide honest data for even everyday issues like cost of housing.

  16. 26 yawningbread 11 July 2010 at 17:09

    I’d be careful about what the choice of words regarding the MDA’s position on the book. So far, all we know from The Online Citizen is that Kinokuniya, which had previously had the book on sale, had told somebody whom TOC did not name that the MDA had asked them to withdraw the book. It’s second and third hand information.
    To call it a “ban” implies that the book has been gazetted as banned – it’s a formal procedure laid down in legislation.
    It is quite possible that the MDA has not formally banned the book, and might never do so, but would instead choose to quietly strong-arm book sellers from stocking the book through issuing veiled threats verbally but not putting anything in writing. That way, they can claim that their hands are clean, that they have not murdered any book, but if book sellers do not want to stock a book, it’s a commercial decision, not the MDA’s fault. This is increasingly the government’s preferred way of dealing with inconveneient information be they films, news, the arts, and now books.
    “We don’t ban,” they disinform. But they pull other strings that make it very very hard for filmmakers / magazines publishers / theatre directors / bookshops, to do otherwise.
    Why is it important for me to highlight this? Because until a book is formally gazetted under law as banned, it is perfectly legal to import the book, e.g. via online purchases. I don’t want people to fear that they are breaking the law when they buy online. So please do us all a favour and stop saying the book is banned. As far as I know, it is not. Bookshops intimidated by bureacrats (i.e. gangsters in suits) to unstock a book is not the same as “banned”.

    • 27 sgcynic 11 July 2010 at 17:32

      The book is available in Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. Not easily accessible…

    • 28 Ponder Stibbons 12 July 2010 at 09:23

      I do not know about the legal status, but I just asked one online bookseller, Mary Martin Booksellers, if they could ship the book to Singapore if I bought it from their online store. They wrote back saying no, it has been restricted by the MDA.

      I have not tried to find out if Kinibooks, linked above by someone, is willing to ship the book to Singapore.

      So maybe it hasn’t been banned as such, but I’m not sure it can be acquired online either.

  17. 29 Trokia 11 July 2010 at 20:02

    If what you say is so true Alex. How come we can get every edition that is published by the Brotherhood Press without any problem online? Care to explain?

  18. 30 yawningbread 12 July 2010 at 16:13

    Re the comment by Ponder Stibbons, I have now sighted a copy of the letter that the MDA sent to Mary Martin Book Sellers Pte Ltd. Dated 7 July 2010, it’s a short letter that says:

    1. We refer to the “Once a Jolly Hangman” by Alan Shadrake.

    2. Due to the book’s content, you are advised to consult your lawyers on the import and distribution of the book to ensure that the content of the book does not contravene Singapore laws.

    In my opinion, what this means is this: The book is not banned. The letter is a threat that some unspecified legal action may be initiated by the State if any company imports and distributes the book. It does not state clearly what is so objectionable about it, and by failing to do so, it performs the role of intimidation (didn’t I describe bureaucrats as “gangsters in suits” earlier????).

    It’s quite clear to me that any number of us can go across the Causeway and buy a copy from a Johore Bahru bookshop. So long as it is for personal consumption, you are not distributing the book. Likewise, if you asked your friend to buy a copy for you in Kuala Lumpur and mail it to you.

    The letter also indirectly proves that there is something about the book that scares the shit out of the government. Might that something be “Truth”?

  19. 31 yawningbread 12 July 2010 at 16:32

    Further to my comment above, I foresee someone asking: But isn’t buying a copy in Malaysia and bringing it in for personal use the same as “importing”?

    The short answer is: Yes, it’s importing, but importing is legal.

    The long answer is below:

    The governing law is the Undesirable Publications Act. Under this law, three classes of undesirable publications are defined: Obscene, Objectionable and Prohibited.

    The book cannot possibly be described as obscene. It cannot even be described as objectionable because the law explains what “objectionable” has to mean:


    4. —(1) For the purposes of this Act, a publication is objectionable if, in the opinion of any controller, it or (where the publication comprises 2 or more distinct parts or items) any one of its parts or items describes, depicts, expresses or otherwise deals with —

    (a) matters such as sex, horror, crime, cruelty, violence or the consumption of drugs or other intoxicating substances in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to be injurious to the public good; or

    (b) matters of race or religion in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups.


    So, if the authorities want to take action against the book, it has to classify it as Prohibited. The law says that only the Minister can do so by gazetting it publicly.


    5. —(1) If the Minister is of opinion that the importation, sale or circulation of any publication or series of publications published or printed outside Singapore or within Singapore by any person would be contrary to the public interest, the Minister may, in his discretion, by order published in the Gazette, prohibit the importation, sale or circulation of that particular publication or series of publications or all publications published or printed by that person.


    The offence as outlined in law is given in Section 6:


    6. —(1) Any person who imports, publishes, sells, offers for sale, supplies, offers to supply, exhibits, distributes or reproduces any prohibited publication or any extract therefrom shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction for a first offence to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 years or to both, and for a subsequent offence to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 4 years.


    But this clause cannot be invoked unless the Minister has first gazetted the book as a PROHIBITED publication. He has not. Therefore it is perfectly legal to import the book.

  20. 32 Beast 12 July 2010 at 17:22

    Legal Bullshit.

    If I can get porn with the click of the mouse, I can definitely get it from Amazon.

    Legal or not, I am getting it, anyway.

  21. 33 Mat Alamak 13 July 2010 at 01:11

    There is such a thing as a book not being banned but the contents can attract a libel suit against the bookshop from those they think they were defamed due to the act of distribution and sale of the book by the bookshop.

    The suit can come from the govt or even private individuals as the case may be.

    There was also a book “Escape from Paradise” by John Harding published in 2001. It was even available for loan in the library for a short period before it was withdrawn from the shelf by the NLB. I later got the book from a KL bookstore. Although I am not law trained, but after reading it, I think some people (prominent personalities) named in it might have been defamed and have grounds to sue.

    By the way, John Harding although American, was previously a high ranking ex-civil servant in the Income Tax Authority in Singapore. His wife was also from a prominent local family. So he is no ordinary author, where local knowledge and goings on is concerned.

    • 34 Allen Tee 13 July 2010 at 11:24

      In your learned opinion, would having a jury system reduce the uneveness of justice being applied?

    • 35 Ken 13 July 2010 at 12:07

      @Mat Alamak

      “There was also a book “Escape from Paradise” by John Harding published in 2001. ….. but after reading it, I think some people (prominent personalities) named in it might have been defamed and have grounds to sue. ”

      that’s the thing that puzzles me. if indeed there are grounds to sue, why don’t they? is it because the contents are true?

      • 36 Teck Soon 13 July 2010 at 13:37

        I am not aware of any cases where prominent Singaporeans have successfully sued authors for defamation outside local courts and won any sort of meaningful judgment. Suing non-resident foreigners for defamation in local courts for books written and published outside Singapore is not really possible because local courts have no real jurisdiction, and any judgments wouldn’t be recognized abroad anyway. I suppose if anyone feels defamed by that book, they probably don’t have sufficient legal grounds to sue for defamation in whatever foreign jurisdiction the book was published or they would have done so already.

  22. 37 yawningbread 13 July 2010 at 12:03

    Allen Tee- Mine is not a learned opinion 🙂 but. . .

    No significant difference. The problem in Singapore is mostly that the Prosecution (the executive branch) is given too much discretion and leeway. Judges have very little to do in trials. We could put a mannequin on the judge’s bench and few might notice the difference in results.

    • 38 tk 15 July 2010 at 11:35

      what’s the difference between a kangaroo and a mannequin? i think you might be flirting with contempt there yb 😉

  23. 39 yawningbread 13 July 2010 at 12:12

    Mat Alamak –

    It may well be that publications potentially defame others, but reputation is a private interest. It is not the role of government to protect private interests (reputation) of some persons, ignoring the interests (right to speech) of others.
    Analogy: Government steps in to stop a new brand of cars from being sold, in order to the protect the private interests (market share) of existing brands. How justifiable is that?
    Some may argue that the parties potentially defamed by the book are officers of the government performing their official duties, but this is still no reason to pre-emptively intimidate people from writing and selling a book. Remember this: The sworn constitutional public duty of any government is to protect justice and constitutional rights of the people, not to protect government officers abusing their power. This is the basis of governments investigating corruption and abuse of power within its own ranks. Just because they are the government does not mean they can do anything they like. Acts of government are not always legal simply because they are acts of government; there are such things as illegal acts of government (e.g. concealing relevant evidence from a court of law), which the government itself is supposed to unearth and prosecute. Our government flouts its sworn constitutional duty if it ignores this important duty and moves only to protect its own officers; you could say it acts seditiously (per the meaning of seditious: doing things against the state, undermining the state)

  24. 40 John 13 July 2010 at 15:07

    Was it not Richard Nixon who said during the David Frost interviews that “If the President does it, it is not illegal.”

  25. 41 Mat Alamak 13 July 2010 at 20:36

    John 13 July 2010 at 15:07 raised an interesting point. But in Nixon’s case he was impeached and had to resign and did not complete his term. (Maybe the only US President this thing had happened).

    However in the local context, what if the prime minister (highest ranking public official) breaks the law or do something very wrong? How will this be handled since all officials under normal handling channels are below him? And given that the opposition is less than 2% represented in Parliament. The President will decide? Anybody can throw some light on this?

    But there is a precedent (ref: President Devan Nair’s resignation in 1985) when the President himself did something inapporpriate or disgraceful. The prime minister will advise him to resign, failing which Parliament will be convened to seek his removal.

  26. 42 Terrible 13 July 2010 at 22:52

    So many dark sides not told by msm. The book should serve as an educational reference for everyone including future generation to study and judge for themselves whether PAP is fair to the people AND whether we have an impartial law that judges based on severity of crime and not individual status. The book did bring up a lot of sadness and shame in Singapore.

  27. 43 prettyplace 13 July 2010 at 23:50

    Good article, Alex.
    Glad you are back.

    Will get friends to mail the book asap.
    AG chambers should be ashamed of themselves.
    Got to find ways to stop this nonsense.

  28. 44 Beast 14 July 2010 at 00:18

    My two cents worth:

    The precise problem with our legislation here is that we still upkeep a version of India Law (which is derived from the Common Law in UK) which has long undergone some major changes.

    For example, if you look at today’s Common Law, the Sedition Law no longer exists. Neither does the death penalty.

    The chronic problem seems to be the fact that since we have become independent, the basic fundamentals of our judicial system has never undergone any drastic change (which again can be attributed to a lack of voice from the masses). Which is why when you juxtapose our laws with, say, UK Common Laws, we see such an abject presentation of how we define justice. The Brits have moved on, but we are still keeping laws which prohibit all manner of Sex other than the usual route (S377A Penal Code. Punishes the penis, so to speak. Tsk tsk).

  29. 45 Bernie 14 July 2010 at 16:48

    Tragic, shocking, and totally believable, in Singapore’s context.

  30. 46 teo soh lung 15 July 2010 at 18:11

    The book should be read by all Singaporeans and not just MDA. As the book is not gazetted, it is perfectly fine to possess it. The shops may not want to sell as a matter of precaution because should the author/publisher/distributor be sued/charged, any sale after receipt of warning could be construed as an act calling for aggravated damages or punishment.

  31. 47 yuen 19 July 2010 at 08:34

    despite all the excitement about floods, marina-bund, etc, I assume most of you have been this news item

    ‘Hangman’ writer arrested

  32. 48 Beast 19 July 2010 at 17:23

    Latest news is that the author has been arrested.

    It’d be difficult to charge him, of course, under existing Common Laws (not the one in Singapore, mind you), but in Singapore, if all else fails, in cometh the Sedition Act and of course, the jolly good ISA.

    Its quite disguising that, after so many years of independence, we still resort to unreasonable laws to threaten and cower people into submission.

    All the more reason to buy the book. 😛

  33. 50 TK 19 July 2010 at 18:09

    Oops that was me.

  34. 51 Justine Burley 20 July 2010 at 10:18

    It is possible to order Alan Shadrake’s latest book by contacting the publisher by telephone and also by e-mail (though it is NOT possible to order it online outside of Malaysia). The publisher can courier the book to you.

    GB GerakBudaya Enterprise Sdn Bhd (637869-A)
    11, Lorong 11/4E,
    46200 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.

    Tel: +603 – 7957 8342
    Fax: +603 – 7954 9202

  35. 52 -M- 20 July 2010 at 21:01

    I am not a supporter of death penalty, but I believe the first 2 points is not uncommon even in the most developed society (sadly).

    At the end of the day, the action of a government will probably be determined by the benefits of dis-benefits resulting from it.

    So if a person or a country holds the government (or country as a whole) ransom, then one has to question if the government has left itself too exposed. (in the case of Germany)

    But if the ransom was held at the ranks within the government, then it is time to clean up the ranks. (in the case of Laroussi)

    The last point was a bit of a revelation and very saddening, as very little could be gained from fast tracking the execution of the poor or “low class”, I guess I will have to get the book to before I could form an opinion on that.

    However, one thing does make me wonder from this article, is it right, then, for a country to bully another country into protecting its citizen even though they have committed the crime in the host country? Lets turn this round, if we don’t have death penalty (dream!), then would it be right for a country to force us to carry out an execution if it thinks that is the right punishment.

    • 53 Anonymous 20 July 2010 at 21:47

      -M-, you said: “…is it right, then, for a country to bully another country into protecting its citizen even though they have committed the crime in the host country?”

      Yes, it is right. That’s because it is the first obligation of any government is to its citizens wherever they may be. When the circumstances are such that that the said government’s obligation is to to extend support to its citizen who has committed a crime abroad, then the foreign government’s job is to mitigate the sentence to any reasonable degree.

      Your statement smacks of a persecution complex, if I may so.

      • 54 -M- 20 July 2010 at 22:29

        I am asking in the context of the article, and what I am getting at is if the same punishment should be given to both countries who try to protect and/or have the power to protect and countries who won’t and/or doesn’t have the power to protect.

        I simply turned the question round to find out if a country should then interfere with a country’s application of its law, because if we agree that it is correct then we cannot argue that the application of the law is unfair due to the presence ,or, the lack of another country interference.

  36. 55 jayjonathan-reeves 20 July 2010 at 22:51

    Its available in Malaysia. And will sell like hot cakes.
    Buy one for yourself and for a friend.

  37. 56 yawningbread 26 July 2010 at 12:32

    I will leave these comments here for another 36 hours and then delete them. I would wish for a more intelligent level of discussion, and for comment-makers to avoid the handle “Anonymous”.

    Update: The above referred to 3 comments that I have since deleted. They contained expressions such as “If a person can kill people, he CAN BE KILL! Pure and simple!” and other mindless, uncritical shouting, adding nothing to a discussion.

  38. 57 The Watchmen 27 July 2010 at 09:21

    Why not someone write about the US justice system too? I’m sure there are also tons of similar or even worse cases of injustice there.

    Bottom line is, there is no 100% fair nor 100% right legal system in the world. Murderers often walk away free while the innocent get jailed for life for whatever reasons.

    • 58 Robox 27 July 2010 at 10:31

      The Watchmen, how do you know there aren’t already books written about the US’ record with death penalty cases? Have you done any research on it for your defiant stance?

  39. 59 KT 27 July 2010 at 12:27

    ‘Bottom line is, there is no 100% fair nor 100% right legal system in the world. Murderers often walk away free while the innocent get jailed for life for whatever reasons.’

    It is one thing to convict/acquit someone wrongly because legal systems are inherently imperfect since human judgment is involved.

    It is another thing altogether to knowingly convict/acquit someone wrongly so as to serve some political purpose.

    No legal system is 100% right or perfect. But why shouldn’t a legal system be 100% fair, especially when it involves the death penalty?

    You think it’s ok to hang someone wrongly because it happens ‘for whatever reasons’. Do you also think it’s ok to hang YOU – yes, YOU! – wrongly because it happens ‘for whatever reasons’?

  40. 60 You people are Farney 27 July 2010 at 13:15

    Here’s a newsflash for you:

    Governments invade other countries for oil under false pretenses.
    Catholic priests sexually abuse boys.
    CEOs who earn millions pocket millions more of shareholders money.
    Policemen accept bribes.
    Judges visit prostitutes.
    Church leaders live in million dollar houses.
    People with connections get away with more misdeeds than others.

    the list goes on.

    We live in an unfair and unjust world.

    Why are you so upset over an unfair legal system where some people get hanged or not.

    Grow up.

    • 61 kteo 5 August 2010 at 08:38

      Wrongs around the world do not justify wrongs in your backyard. We would like to correct all the ills of the world if we can. Some attempt to, and some succeed. For the more modest among us, start with our backyard. Capital punishment must go. Kangaroo judiciary must go.

  41. 62 Beast 27 July 2010 at 17:24

    I will tell you why I am upset.

    Perpetuating state murder is wrong.

  42. 63 Steve 2 August 2010 at 09:23

    The Mcrea case did it for me. My girlfriend at the time knew mcrea, her friend had dated his driver. I never realised until that point that there was quite a social drug culture in Singapore and it was aparently widely known that he could provide drugs. Yet when it came to the murder trial drugs were never mentioned despite the murdered driver receiving a huge “bonus”.

    It was clear that someone or something was being protected.

  43. 64 DocSide 26 October 2010 at 11:17

    I don’t want to be associated with a country that has the highest paid gov officials, the highest per capital rate of death penalties. What a disgrace!

  44. 65 Anon k81S 8 October 2013 at 00:41

    Im a lawyer by profession n do practices criminal law. Thats y i will never give a damn to prosection witness.i will screw them to the maximum if they give evidence. But if the court itself politically motivated then we cant do anything.

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