The Online Citizen

Book Review: Once A Jolly Hangman

May 04
13:06 2014

By Jess C Scott

once_a_jolly_hangman1The contents of this well-researched book were so depraved and disturbing, that it took me several weeks to finish reading the book in its entirety, and gather my thoughts about it in order to write a cohesive review.

I would have thought that the book was a work of fiction were it not for the ‘non-fiction’ label at the back of the book in the print version.

Back in 2013, former ISD director Mr. Yoong Siew Wah mentioned “the callousness of the Singapore government” on his blog.

This callous and insensitive aspect that is completely lacking in any compassion for humanity, is certainly apparent in Once A Jolly Hangman. The title alone points to the bizarre nature of the system, where the macabre act of hanging a human being is undertaken with joy as if it were a festive occasion and cause for celebration.

Perhaps the most morbid fact mentioned is the “Death Row Diet.”

As it says in the book, “Beyond the walls of Changi Prison hanged prisoners’ organs are worth tens of thousands of dollars each.”

As if this fact of profiting from dead prisoners’ bodies were not deplorable enough, the prisoners on death row who sign the consent form to donate their organs for transplant or research are put on a special regime known as the Death Row Diet. This diet consists of high-quality, nutritious food to “ensure the organs are in perfect condition for transplant after they are hanged.”

Is this not a form of ultimate exploitation of human life, where one profits handsomely from the dead and forgotten?

The other thoroughly disgusting component of the book has to do with the racial bias of the elites. The author, Alan Shadrake, structures the book around several real-life accounts to show how people with money and the right connections have the means to prevent themselves from being executed by the state. If you’re poor, uneducated, or of an undesirable race (or, to phrase it a little better, your skin colour is not the right one), yours is the “pitiful, hopeless situation” where even the innocent may end up being executed.

Alan Shadrake went to jail because of this book — for contempt by scandalising the court. A scandal can be defined as an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage. How is the author scandalising the court when his book is based on scandalous facts?

What Alan Shadrake did with this book was to give the deceased a human face, since their lives weren’t worth anything to the Singapore authorities (apart from what could be gained from their organs, post-mortem). This further highlights the hypocrisy of Changi Prison’s motto.

I didn’t even know Changi Hilton — I mean, Changi Prison — had a motto until reading this book. That motto is:

“Captains of Lives: Rehab, Renew, Restart.”

From their own website:

“RENEW is a commitment an inmate makes to change his/her life for the better. Through the CARE Network, our offenders are given opportunities to restart their lives.”

Renew? Restart? Tell that to the families of Flor Contemplacion, Angel Mou Pui-Peng, Amara Tochi, Shanmugam Murugesu (a Tamil Singaporean former jet ski champion and army regular), Nguyen Van Tuong, Vignes Mourthi, and countless others who were executed in Singapore. Or to the family members of Huizuan with regard to her tragic death in Changi Women’s Prison in 2011, which could have been avoided if more care had been shown by the prison staff in her medical condition before her death.

What is even worse is that Changi Prison sends out a letter to the families of the individual on death row informing them of when the execution will take place — a letter which has that same motto emblazoned on the bottom of the page.

This was truly one of the most despicable and morbid books I’ve ever read. It reveals a darker side which the authorities would likely prefer to keep hidden beneath the country’s veneer of justice, cleanliness and efficiency.

  • ALF

    Readers may also wish to refer to a little known scholarly book written by an Israeli academic, rarely publicized in Singapore : Alon Peled’s – “A Question of Loyalty”. Published by Cornell University Press in 1998.

    It is not available in any local bookstores. It is only 200 pages long and yet cost more than $200 bucks from AMAZON!

    One copy exists in SAFTI MI Library and another at NLB’s Reference section.

    This book details for the first time exclusive details that shows
    how the Singapore Govt systematically excluded Malay from
    military service in the SAF after 1967.

    The author had exclusive access to the (late) former Defence
    Minister Goh Keng Swee as well as other senior SAF officers and civil
    servants of that period who carried out the policy at the behest of the PAP government.

    The methods used are deeply disturbing to read. Paper trails were avoided scrupulously and Code words were used to implement the policy.

    It smacks of institutionalized discrimination and racism.

    By extension, one has to ask, after reading the book, if the
    methods used in the SAF were also ‘deployed’ in the civil service sector
    to exclude Malays and other minorities and champion a Chinese dominated
    civil service with token representation of minorities??