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Singapore November 18, 2010
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
Prime Minister’s Office
Orchard Road, Istana
Dear Prime Minister Lee:
We learn today of yet another journalist who has been sentenced to prison and fined in Singapore for writing things that in a true democracy would be perfectly legal. In this case Alan Shadrake, an elderly and ailing British journalist, was convicted because of what he wrote in his book, Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock. He wrote that a rich, well-connected drug lord, though convicted, was allowed to leave the country while drug mules, young and poor, are executed.
You are no doubt aware that many civil rights and press freedom organizations in many countries have protested the treatment of Mr. Shadrake and some are circulating petitions demanding his release. The Overseas Press Club of America, which has been defending freedom of the press around the world for seven decades, adds its voice to the protests.
Singapore’s extraordinary sensitivity to criticism of the government and of your family stands out like a sore thumb in a country that is otherwise sophisticated, affluent and stable. One wonders why you fear free speech, which is everyone’s right. If Mr. Shadrake uncovered corruption in Singapore’s justice system, then we would think you would make reforms. If he is right, then your government has prosecuted the wrong person. And if his charges are wrong, then your government could set the record straight by making your case.
It was bad enough in the past when Singapore fined The Herald Tribune, The Economist, Asian Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other news organizations. But to send an ailing 76-year-old to jail, even if only for six weeks, and to fine him S$20,000 when he doesn’t have the means to pay, is cruel.
The Columbia Journalism Review recently wrote of Singapore that “few if any countries have made such astonishing development advances while fiercely refusing many basic human rights.” Then it quoted Maya Angelou: “The caged bird sings with fearful trills of things unknown but longed for still.” We hope that an appeal or a pardon will put an end to Mr. Shadrake’s ordeal.
Co-chairmen, Freedom of the Press Committee
Minister Lui Tuck Yew
Minister of Information, Communications and the Arts
#02-02 MICA Building
Ambassador Chan Heng Chee
Embassy of Singapore
3501 International Place, NW
Washington DC 20008
Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon
Permanent Mission of Singapore to the United Nations
231 East 51st Street
New York, NY 10022
Ambassador David Adelman
United States Embassy
27 Napier Road