(Censored–Sort Of) Singapore Crime Fiction

Today’s blog post is on Jake Needham, whom I interviewed in December!

WHO IS JAKE NEEDHAM?

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Jake Needham writes crime/noir fiction set in Asia, including squeaky-clean Singapore.

He is a lawyer by education and held a number of significant positions in both the public and private sectors. He has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Thailand for over twenty-five years.

And he posts great, snappy updates on Facebook.

BRAGGING RIGHTS

Described by The Straits Times as “Asia’s most stylish and atmospheric writer of crime fiction.”

Described by The Bangkok Post as “Michael Connelly with steamed rice.”

Wikipedia: Jake Needham

WHO IS INSPECTOR TAY?

Libris Reviews describes Inspector Samuel Tay as “a world-weary Singaporean homicide detective.”

Tay is a senior inspector in the elite Special Investigation Section of Singapore CID. He’s pretty much the best investigator the Singapore police have, albeit he is somewhat of an outsider.

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THE DEAD AMERICAN is the third book which features Inspector Tay.

The blurb for the book mentions the following:

“A young American software engineer hangs himself in his Singapore apartment. At least that’s what the police say happened. Emma Lazar, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, thinks otherwise. She thinks Tyler Bartlett was murdered to keep him quiet, and the Singapore police are covering it up.”

That description immediately brought to my mind the case of Shane Todd, an American engineer who was found hanging in his Singapore apartment.

The author does mention in a blog post that the book is not a fictionalized account of the death of Shane Todd. It is, however, set in Singapore, which Jake Needham feels is a “country whose rulers have perpetuated themselves since its first day of nationhood through ruthless censorship and the relentless suppression of effective dissent.”

SINGAPORE CENSORSHIP (OR, “OB MARKERS”)

Jake’s readers have noticed some spooky parallels between the Shane Todd case and a novel he first published years ago about the death of another American in Singapore.

One would think that there would be a natural market for Jake’s book in Singapore, since all the Tay books are built on real events and real places related to Singapore.

However, the content of the Tay books cut Jake off from his publisher in Singapore — he can’t get any local press coverage either. One can assume that this is due to two factors:

(1) the controversial content of his Works of Fiction, and
(2) the unsavory depiction of Singapore authorities in his Works of Fiction.

After all, we are all told that Singapore is to be recognised as clean and incorruptible.

STDesmond Wee-CPIB

“Singapore is [a] clean and incorrupt system and country.” — excerpt from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s speech at the CPIB’s 60th Anniversary celebration, 2012.

And if you’re like Alan Shadrake who published a well-researched, non-fiction book about the human rights abuses in Singapore, you get thrown into jail at the very least for “scandalizing the Singapore judiciary.”

This makes it difficult for Jake Needham to connect with a Singaporean audience and introduce them to his characters and stories set in Singapore, since his books have disappeared from local booksellers and he receives virtually no local press coverage because everyone knows they are expected to toe the party line.

It brings to the forefront the sense of self-censorship in Singapore.

Can you imagine a scenario where Mike Connelly’s books cannot be sold in California because some of the cops he writes about are stupid, or motivated by politics, or even downright crooked?

JAKE’S VIEW(S) ON THE SITUATION

In an interview with I-S Magazine (original link and blog link), Jake said:

“When The Ambassador’s Wife (the first Inspector Tay novel) was published, all my contacts abruptly stopped returning my calls, and not another word about the book ever appeared in any publication in Singapore. . .

I certainly don’t consider [the Inspector Tay books] to be negative depictions of Singapore. Quite on the contrary, I think they are authentic and honest depictions. That’s always what I strive for, regardless of where I set my novels.”

Jake’s reply to my email on the situation:

“As I recall, it’s very difficult for Singaporeans to buy from Amazon and almost everyone there is forced to source ebooks locally from locally controlled sources. Needless to say, none of my ebooks are available through any of those sources. There is very little popular fiction published internationally that features contemporary Singapore, and I have little doubt a fair number of Singaporeans would enjoy meeting Inspector Tay and seeing their city though his eyes if only they knew he existed.

I’d be happy to support any source in Singapore who could make the Tay books available there — heck, I’d even give a bunch of them away if that was the only way to get them into the hands of people in Singapore.”

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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Screenshot of Amazon page in Singapore — Kindle edition unavailable (thanks to my friend in SG who took this screenshot)

At the moment, Kindle books in the Amazon US store are unavailable for purchase or download for people in Singapore.

THEREFORE, if you’re in Singapore and would like to support Jake Needham’s work of authentic/fresh/exciting fiction set in Singapore, you can help out by doing one of the following:

— Buy his books from iTunes

— Buy his books from Smashwords (coupon code available for people reading this post: see below)

— Sign up for his awesome newsletter

— Follow him on Facebook and Twitter

Share on social media. Here’s a sample tweet.

COUPON AND A NOTE

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Here’s a Smashwords coupon that’s good for a 50% discount on any ebook edition of THE AMBASSADOR’S WIFE (first book in Inspector Tay series) until February 28, which will take the price for you lovely readers down to US$2.50:

Link: The Ambassador’s Wife, by Jake Needham (Smashwords)

Coupon Code: DX49S

* The first two Inspector Tay novels — THE AMBASSADOR’S WIFE and THE UMBRELLA MAN — are available on iBooks and Smashwords. THE DEAD AMERICAN is exclusive to Amazon until March 1 and won’t be available on iBooks and Smashwords until March 2 or just after.


Caning in Singapore

I. DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

It established, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected — a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.

Article 5 of the UDHR states:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Amnesty International’s 2013 Annual Report stated the following:

Singapore took steps to roll back the mandatory death penalty, but [laws] on arbitrary detention and judicial caning remained.

Judicial caning — a practice amounting to torture or other ill-treatment — continued as a punishment for a wide range of criminal offences.

Source: AI Annual Report 2013 (PDF)

In Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, healthy males under 50 years of age can be sentenced to a maximum of 24 strokes of the rattan cane on the bare buttocks; the punishment is mandatory for many offences, mostly violent or drug crimes, but also immigration violations. The punishment is applied to both foreigners and locals.

It seems to take a certain lack of empathy to uphold judicial caning as something which doesn’t violate Article 5 of the UDHR.

I have gathered a few quotations from around the web on the severity of this method of corporal punishment.

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Asiaweek May 1994 | Corpun.com

II. CANING

(1) “Singapore canings are brutal. A martial artist strikes the offender’s bare buttocks with a half-inch rattan cane moistened to break the skin and inflict severe pain. The loss of blood is considerable and often results in shock. Corporal punishment is not necessary to achieve public order, even in Singapore. Other countries do not employ corporal punishment, yet their streets are relatively free of random violence. There are also principled reasons for opposing corporal punishment.”
(~ Jerome H. Skolnick, LA Times)

(2) “Could it be that unkindness is all that [people] see from leaders and they therefore equate that with power over others? Rather like abused children who become abusers themselves, abused citizens are just as likely to do the same. It is totally weird logic to say that violence in the form of draconian laws is the only way to ensure stability.”
(~ Marina Mahathir)

(3) “No matter how heinous the crime, you do not descend to the level of barbarity of the perpetrator. . .An eye for an eye is ancient philosophy replaced by more enlightened ideas and ideals, discarded by civilized societies long ago. Caning is mutilation. Mutilation is wrong. It is barbaric. You do not overcome barbarism by descending to barbarism.”
(~ Richard at The Peking Duck)

(4) “Ravi said that academic consensus has conclusively proved, contrary to what the government claimed, that judicial caning has little to no effect on deterrence.”
(~ Ariffin Sha, TOC)

(5) “State-employed doctors also play an integral role in caning. They examine victims and certify their fitness to be caned. When victims lose consciousness during caning, they revive them so the punishment can continue. After caning, some victims suffer long-term physical disabilities.”
(~ Torture in widespread caning)

(6) “The role that doctors play in facilitating deliberate pain and injury through caning is absolutely contrary to international medical ethics. Instead of treating the victims, doctors are assisting in their torture and ill-treatment.”
(~ Sam Zarifi, A Blow to Humanity)

(7) “Doctors are duty bound to ‘do no harm’. . .We will support all doctors who refuse to participate in any way as witnesses and medical examiners whenever the state carries out an execution or judicial caning. Let not the government say that it is carrying out all these inhuman and inhumane practices on behalf of the people and with their support. It is certainly not done in my name.”
(~ Dr. Albert Lim Kok Hooi, Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility)

(8) “Caning used to be reserved for violent offenders, but Singapore’s dominant political leader Lee Kuan Yew extended caning to cover vandalism during an epidemic of political graffiti from the opposition. I know personally of people who prefer to serve a longer term of imprisonment than to undergo the sentence of caning.”
(~ Francis Seow, former Solicitor General of Singapore | NPR Radio 1994)

(9) “He’ll be caned. Who cares? Michael Fay faces a humiliating and agonising caning in Singapore, and many of his fellow Americans think he deserves everything that’s coming to him. Peter Pringle argues that crime has distorted a nation’s perception of human rights.”
(~ The Independent UK, April 1994)

(10) “I was told by some of the inmates that the screams of the victims after each stroke of the whip makes one lose all appetite for food. Caning in Singapore is a barbaric act.”
(~ Chee Soon Juan, Pg-257 of Democratically Speaking)

(11) “In 2012 the courts sentenced 2,500 persons to judicial caning, and 2,203 caning sentences were carried out; including 1,070 foreigners caned for committing immigration offenses.”

Note: According to those numbers, this amounts to an average of ~42 people caned per week.
(~ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Singapore Report 2013)

* * *

III. FUNDAMENTALLY CIVILIZED

For some contrast — this is how a country like Norway handles crime:

(1) “Norway tries to address the causes of criminal behavior. . .I do feel that it is better to prevent future crimes by solving the underlying issues.”
(~ Comment by kraznodar)

(2) “Norway no longer has the death penalty and considers prison more a means for rehabilitation than retribution. . .Bjorn Magnus Ihler, who survived the Utoya shootings, said that Norway’s treatment of Mr. Breivik was a sign of a fundamentally civilized nation.”
(~ Norway Mass Killer Gets the Maximum: 21 Years, NY Times)

(3) “Treating drug addicts like medical patients rather than criminals is not only more humane, but more effective and cheaper. Maybe we should broaden that logic to include treating prisoners as humanely as possible as well.”
(~ Erik Kain, Forbes)

(4) Under the c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment section in the 2013 State.gov report on the human rights situation in Norway:

“In May two Oslo police officers were filmed examining a suspected drug dealer’s mouth and throat with a thin telescoping metal baton. In response to media reports and inquiries from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Oslo Police stated that such actions were legal. An earlier assessment by the Police University found the actions to be questionable since health personnel must conduct all bodily searches. The police launched an internal investigation and banned the use of the baton for mouth searches.”

I hope Singapore moves toward some…positive reform with its human rights situation in future.

After all, the National Pledge states that progress for the nation is a goal, and that should not mean economic progress at the expense of social progress.

* * *

More Information:

(1) Document – Singapore rejects calls to end death penalty and caning (Amnesty; 2011)

(2) Singapore’s Violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ThatBoyHuman; 2014)

(3) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations)

(4) UN Declaration on the Right to Development (United Nations)

(5) Human Rights (Wikipedia)


In Conversation–Catherine Lim and Marina Mahathir (2012)

This post is about two years overdue, although the experience of the event is still fresh in my mind :)

I was involved with a couple of events during the 2012 Singapore Writers Festival.

At the time, I circled a number of programmes in my SWF booklet, since I wanted to attend as many of the events as I could.

One that I thoroughly enjoyed was a panel with Catherine Lim and Marina Mahathir. This despite the fact that I had largely been a politically indifferent and apathetic youth when I was growing up in Singapore.

This was the text which described the programme:

“Marina Mahathir in Conversation with Catherine Lim”
Sun 4 Nov | 2.30pm – 3.30pm

Two of our region’s leading writers and social commentators, sometimes controversial, always engaging, talk about what it means to use the written word to engage in civic society. How do they deal with naysayers and critics, and what keeps them awake at night?

These were their bios in the SWF 2012 booklet.

Marina Mahathir (Malaysia) | 2012 SWF Programme

Marina Mahathir writes a fortnightly column on social issues in an English-language Malaysia daily, is an avid blogger, is active on Facebook and Twitter, and is also a television and film producer. She writes and speaks regularly on human rights, particularly where it relates to gender issues, Islam and HIV/AIDS. One to walk the talk, Marina was president of the Malaysian AIDS Council from 1993 to 2005, and currently sits on the board of Sisters in Islam, which advocates justice and equality for Muslim women. She is the daughter of the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir Mohammad.

Catherine Lim (Singapore) | 2012 SWF Programme

Well-known and outspoken Singaporean author Catherine Lim has more than 20 titles to her credit — from short stories to novels, reflective prose and poetry, and satirical pieces. Her works deal largely with the East-West divide, Asian culture, women’s issues, and Singapore’s culture, history and politics. She has won national and regional book prizes and was conferred n honorary doctorate in literature by Murdoch University, Australia, and was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Information.

Here’s a photograph I took with each of these dynamic ladies at the end of the discussion. I don’t know how I managed to grab a pic as it was all done in a rush, but I’m glad I did!

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With Marina Mahathir at 2012 Singapore Writers’ Festival

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With Catherine Lim at 2012 Singapore Writers’ Festival

I remember being very engaged by these two speakers when they first stepped into the room that day. My immediate impression (before each of them actually began to be “in conversation” with the other) was that they were both very smiley and energetic, with a good sense of style.

Both of these speakers were/are incredibly vibrant and passionate about politics, civic engagement, and the subject of human rights. Needless to say, it was a lively discussion. There were several quips that seemed to stray across OB “out of bounds” Markers, as evidenced by the entire audience gasping — or laughing — spontaneously.

The room was so packed that people were standing by the sides and the back of the room.

Halfway through the discussion, a middle-aged woman in the audience started to ramble when she asked a question (a mic was given to her — maybe this was during the QnA portion of the talk). She got increasingly aggressive with her tone and one of the questions she directed to the speakers was:

“Where were you academics when Singapore needed its academics/intellectuals to [speak up]?”

If I remember correctly, what she was saying was in reference to Operation Spectrum or Coldstore, neither of which I was aware of at the time due to my aforementioned woeful teenage political unawareness.

Catherine Lim was responding sincerely even as the woman interrupted her. The festival director informed the audience member in a calm but stern way that they were to “maintain the peace” (not in those exact words, but to that effect) which was a responsible and respectful way of handling the situation so as to prevent any chaotic or ugly outcome.

That incident made me feel quite nervous (I was wondering how the guest speakers on the panel would answer, with a full-house audience looking on). Part of me also felt surprised at how passionate people could be, which was a world of difference from a climate of political slumber where people are too indifferent or fearful to be involved in any way. I remember thinking that the incident would probably never be reported in The Straits Times (please feel free to correct me if there was indeed a mention of it in the local mainstream media).

Throughout the conversation, what was most evident was these ladies’ razor-sharp intelligence, combined with their poise, diplomacy, and lack of arrogance. The combination of these qualities made an inspiring and refreshing impression on me — along with many other members in the audience, I’m sure.

Maybe I felt compelled to attend the event due to my (at the time) latent interest in socio-political issues. I am thankful I had the chance to.

It was nice to see how crowded the room was. The full-house attendance challenged the notion that local Singaporeans are a perennially politically disengaged, apathetic lot.


To Singapore, With Love

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Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore, With Love, a documentary featuring Singaporean political exiles, will not be allowed for public screening. The Media Development Authority (MDA) said the film “undermined national security.”

The biggest feeling in response I have to the MDA’s statement is disappointment. As a person with a functioning brain, and a person who was born in and grew up in Singapore, I also feel insulted with the MDA’s official stance on the matter.

This isn’t a fictitious movie that depicts a disrespectful portrayal of Singapore’s people or its culture. It is a documentary that includes content pertaining to certain “periods in Singapore’s history that are fraught with controversy.”

A documentary is defined as follows: “A movie or a television or radio program that provides a factual record or report.”

It is sad and shameful that Singaporeans are not being allowed to hear these people’s side of the story.

Are Singaporeans too dumb to handle the facts? Can they not be trusted to make their own conclusions from a variety of sources?

Why continue to hide and keep things covered up, when there is, according to PM Lee Hsien Loong’s 2013 New Year Message, a “clean and transparent system of governance”?

As Alex Au wrote in his blog post, “Trust can never be restored by concealment and gagging. Only openness will do.”

Historian Dr Thum Ping Tjin had this to say via a Facebook status update:

“In its statement, MDA said it had assessed the contents of the film, and decided that it undermined national security. It added that legitimate actions taken by security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are distorted as acts that victimised innocent individuals.”

The MDA’s statement is wrong. Research has proven that the primary aim of Operation Coldstore and other instances of repression was to remove political opposition to the Singapore government. If the MDA disagrees, they should ask the ISD to release documentary proof and allow us historians to revise our research. Having seen this film last week, the one thing that all the interviewees have in common is a deep, abiding love for Singapore. This movie reinforces national security by demonstrating the deep loyalty and commitment of Singaporeans to Singapore, even those forced unjustly into exile.

People deserve to know the facts pertaining to their own country’s history.

I, for one, always appreciate facts from sources other than watered-down, sanitised social studies textbooks which sometimes present only one side of the story.

UPDATE #1: There is a Google form set up by the film and art community to collate more signatories in support of this film. More information on Google and Facebook.

UPDATE #2:

Tan Wah Piow’s statement on the banning of the film:

To ban the film would be an infringement to Article 14 of the Singapore Constitution which protects the freedom of expression. The only way to circumvent Article 14 of the Constitution is to invoke the security threat mantra. This would be implausible in any democratic country where the rule of law interprets “security threat” only in the strictest and narrowest sense.

But Singapore is a different story. That is why the Cabinet has to be very highly paid, because our ministers and Prime Minister are very clever.

But the people are not stupid either. One day, the people will know who is the serial abuser of the Singapore Constitution.


Don’t tell us what is true, let us judge by opening official records

Originally posted on Yawning Bread:

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Here we go again. Another film banned by the Singapore government. Tan Pin Pin’s “To Singapore, With Love” will not be allowed for public screening in this god-forsaken place. In a press statement released 10 September 2014, the Media Development Authority (MDA) said the film

… undermined(d) national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals.

– MDA, 10 Sept 2014. Link

I have not seen the film myself, unlike quite a number of people at film festivals abroad

View original 749 more words


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