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Singapore Releases British Author Accused Of Defamation

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SINGAPORE — Singapore released on bail Tuesday a British author arrested two days earlier as part of a criminal defamation investigation related to his book on the city-state's death penalty policy.

Alan Shadrake, a 75-year old freelance journalist, posted $10,000 Singapore dollars ($7,250) bail, said his lawyer, M. Ravi. Police confiscated Shadrake's passport, interrogated him about the book and will question him further Tuesday, Ravi said.

Shadrake was in Singapore to promote his book – "Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock" – when he was arrested Sunday based on a complaint by the government's Media Development Authority.

The attorney-general's office is also seeking contempt of court charges against Shadrake because it claims statements in the book allegedly impugn the impartiality, integrity and independence of the judiciary. The contempt of court charges will be heard by a judge at the country's High Court on July 30.

Criminal defamation carries a sentence of up to two years in jail, a fine, or both.

Singapore's leaders have sued journalists and political opponents several times in past years for alleged defamation. The government says restrictions on speech and assembly are necessary to preserve economic prosperity and racial and religious harmony in the multiethnic city-state of 5 million people. It says any statement that damages the reputations of its leaders will hinder their ability to rule effectively.

Human rights group Amnesty International said Singapore uses criminal defamation laws to silence critics of government policies. The group also called for Singapore to abolish capital punishment.

"If Singapore aspires to be a global media city, it needs to respect global human rights standards for freedom of expression," Donna Guest, the Asia Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International, said in a statement. "Singapore should get rid of both its criminal defamation laws and the death penalty."

A flier promoting Shadrake's book says it "cuts through the facade of official silence to reveal disturbing truths about Singapore's use of the death penalty," and "reveals the cruelty and imprudence of an entire judicial system."

The media authority said Monday that it had not banned the sale of the book in Singapore.

Singapore applies capital punishment by hanging for offenses such as drug trafficking and unlawful use of a firearm.

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