Bryan Caplan  

Drugs, Death, Censorship, and Singapore

Technocracy... The Austerity of 1945-1947...
Singapore doesn't just execute drug dealers; it censors and arrests those who expose the ghoulish process:

A veteran British journalist and author promoting his book on the death penalty in Singapore was arrested in the country today for alleged criminal defamation and other offences.

Alan Shadrake's arrest came two days after Singapore's Media Development Authority lodged a police report...

The 75-year-old's latest book, Once A Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice In The Dock, contains accounts of high-profile cases in Singapore involving the use of the death penalty, and includes interviews with a former executioner, Darshan Singh...

Death penalty opponents who helped to organise the Singapore launch were told by police that no bail had yet been set for Shadrake, whose passport has been impounded.

Last week one of Singapore's biggest book retailers, Kinokuniya, withdrew the book from its shelves after it was contacted by the Media Development Authority, which controls censorship in Singapore...

What's striking to me is that people seem more offended by the censorship than by executions for victimless crimes!  Of course, the magnitude of these human rights abuses is still small compared to the Number #1 blight on Singapore's polity.  I suspect that these horrors will disappear in a generation, but ultra-stable Singapore could easily change course right away without tearing the social fabric.

HT: Tyler

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
david writes:

The Singapore government considers itself as having a "right of reply" to commentary about it. This is fairly fundamental to the system and is not likely to change.

Shadrake would probably not have been arrested had activists not helped him organize the launch; this would have been interpreted as an attempt to politicize an issue outside of permitted arenas of discussion (i.e., those where the government can reply promptly).

There are tons of books that sharply criticize the ruling party; you can even find them in the government-run public libraries. Singapore does not bother attempting thought control. But it does worry about political organization, and thus the authors and publishers know enough not to risk being 'political'.

Incidentally, Shadrake has been released on bail and charged with contempt of court and (of course) criminal defamation.

david writes:

For an insight into Singapore's ideology:

Court proceedings initiated against author by Zul Othman 05:55 AM Jul 21, 2010 SINGAPORE - Court proceedings have been initiated against British writer Alan Shadrake (picture) because of certain passages in his book, which the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) says "scandalise the Singapore Judiciary".

In court documents obtained by MediaCorp yesterday, the AGC is alleging that several passages in Shadrake's book contain allegations and insinuations that the Singapore Judiciary "in determining whether to sentence an accused person to death, succumbs to political and economic pressures" and therefore "lacks independence".

Shadrake also insinuated that the Judiciary "has been facilitating the suppression of political dissent and criticism in Singapore through the award of heavy damages in defamation actions brought without legal basis by the People's Action Party", the AGC says.

The insinuations and imputations in the book are calculated to undermine the authority of the Singapore courts and public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore, the AGC contends.

By reason of bringing into existence, publication and distribution of the book which scandalises the Singapore Judiciary, Shadrake, 75, has committed contempt of court, the AGC says.


The court documents were filed on July 16 - the day Shadrake entered Singapore to attend the launch of his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock in which he alleged double standards in Singapore's use of the death penalty.

They knew he was coming and waited until he entered the country to act; this was planned and probably intended to remind the domestic activists what you can and cannot do in Singapore. Shadrake himself will probably just be fined and possibly deported.

Note that Singapore's government does not care what anyone thinks about its motives; it doesn't care if anyone thinks it is transparently inhibiting free speech through legal chilling effects. Stalinist thought control is not the goal here; ensuring that the government retains control of the fabric of Singapore's civil society is.

Liam writes:

Bryan, having lived here in Singapore for the last 5 years I can tell you that these things will not be different in a generation. As a one party system they pretty much control everything. Just outside of Singapore (Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philipinnes, Thailand, etc...) are examples to Singaporeans of what will happen should people stray from the course. Comparatively, Singapore is a jewel nestled in a s**t pile.

The conscription you mentioned is basically what you stated before which is 2 years of physical fitness. However it doesn’t stop there. They are forced to take 2 weeks a year and report back until they reach the age of 40. However, Singapore takes their non-intervention stance very seriously so very few people are sent to war. And those are always specialists who are career military.

But you are quite correct that there is no freedom of assembly, no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press and they are firm believers of corporal punishment. Remember the 18 year old American who was jailed for 6 months and then caned for vandalism?

There is very little crime though and yet you do not see any strong police presence. As a matter of fact I rarely see a police car. There is also very little poverty yet no social system like welfare or unemployment insurance.

Most decisions taken by the Government are always based on the betterment of the people, the so called Philosopher Kings. And this is evident in their Central Providence Fund (CPF)which takes 20% of your pay (and has your employer pay the same) into an account that is split between a medical fund, a general fund and a special (or retirement) fund which pays 4.5% interest. You are not taxed on this either. The Government uses this money as a Sovereign Investment Fund which is one of the largest in the world. The general fund can be used towards your mortgage payment. Mine is and I only pay $800/month out of pocket while the rest come from that fund. And I only pay 10.5% income tax.

All in all the quality of life is very high here but they make no apologies about the freedoms they take nor do they hide their policy behind titles such as The Patriot Act

And remember this is a very young country. It’s 45 years old this year and the only country created by being forced out. When the 1st Prime Minister was thrust into this position he took a long hard look at what was happening in other countries and based his decisions on that. Forty years ago in Singapore crime was rampant, poverty was everywhere and many people didn’t even have access to clean drinking water. It’s come a long way in a short time and as harsh as the policies may be, they worked

Do I think this system could work in the US? No, I don’t. But it would be nice to see certain things adopted like no minimum wage, low taxes and a CPF fund established to do away with the current healthcare and housing programs.

agnostic writes:

Nirvana fallacy re: conscription. For a "natural state" like Singapore, the alternative is not what we have -- i.e., a voluntary patriotic group of men who protect us from the bad guys. They are not that politically, socially, and culturally advanced.

If conscription into a single national group were done away with, the duties of protection would devolve to the local level -- namely, a series of small groups of violence specialists who protect a community in exchange for getting to exploit it, like The Godfather and the scenes of factional war described by Machiavelli and feared by the American founders.

Or it could regress even further so that nearly everyone were armed for protection of self and kin -- like in Romeo and Juliet. For someone who doesn't want to get caught in violence, this scenario is even worse than conscription. Here it is your enemy who's conscripting you, namely by keeping a sword at hand or actually drawing his sword (opt out and you're dead).

At least under conscription you're compelled to prepare for violence by a neutral, rather than a hostile, party.

Kurbla writes:

Don't you think that hypothetical anarchocapitalist owner of the Singapore should have the right to rule the Singapore on exactly the same way like current Singaporean government does, or even far worse - provided that those who are born in Singapore and do not like the system have the right for exit? If yes, why you're complaining then?

Only answer I can think about is "true, but, the current state of Singapore has not same legitimacy as hypothetical anarchocapitalist owner has." Well, maybe ... it is matter of discussion. But - you do not discuss legitimacy of Singaporean government. You discuss human rights, and you somehow assume that people who happened to be born in modern Singapore should have some human rights, while people happened to be born in your favourite system shouldn't. It doesn't sound right.

John Smith writes:

Speaking as a Singaporean, I am very much in favour of the death penalty and very much against this censorship.

Mark T writes:

I am another Singaporean, i favor death penalty and ban on chewing gum (sale), by the way we can chew gum but i hate that stuff. So much of your criticism are probably ways of life that the majority of Singaporeans prefer.

It is interesting for the vast majority of Singaporeans we see your western rights of a better living denied by a minority who intend to express their so called individuality negatively.

Nevertheless, critiques of Singapore ... which uses the human right issue should use a different tack if it intends to resonates with us citizens. Currently your views are absurd to us and i would be suspicious of its intent.

A possibility of an argument is that all this mollycoddling by our government treats the citizen like children, that can be irksome and counterproductive because what might be good intent by our government may have a reverse effect.

Mark writes:

Singapore is young, unstable and the West lacks moral authority as it is decadent-- all rights in the West now exist at the whim of the majority. In Singapore only the faint echo of British colonial institutions gives them any knowledge of the British enlightenment that created America and certainly the debt-ridden democracies of the West have no utility for young nations. You can disagree with its laws but it is consistent and efficient in their application. Its laws are self protective, and perhaps in the future Singapore will discover individual liberty, but it is 45 years old, a city state with an immigrant population no more than 150 years old and its culture is an evolving melting pot of Asian and Anglophone influences (UK, Aus, and US).

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