STATEMENT OF EX-DETAINEES OF OPERATION “SPECTRUM”

Embargoed until 10 a.m. 18th April 1988

PREAMBLE

We, the undersigned, were detained by the Internal Security Department (ISD) on 21 May and 20 June 1987 and released in stages under Suspension Directives and/or Restriction Orders in June, September and December 1987.

While we had privately always maintained our innocence and kept a rueful and fearful silence on the unjust treatment we were subjected to, and would have been inclined to keep our ‘silence’, the Government has since repeatedly raised the issue of our arrests and detention and made false and damaging statements about us.

On the one hand we had been intimidated by implicit and explicit threats against our safety should we speak up on our arrests and detention. On the other hand the Government and its spokesmen have continued to make bold and untruthful statements regarding the reasons for our arrests and detention and have denied that any of us had been subjected to ill-treatment or torture.

We make this statement now because of this constant barrage of Government taunts and its public invitation to speak the truth on the conditions we were subjected to under arrest and detention.

We make this statement as principled men and women who will speak the truth and state our position for the record.

In making this statement, we do not intend to challenge the Government; we do not seek any official response; neither is there any desire to make “political capital” of this. Our sole purpose in making this statement is to clear our names.

STATEMENT

We are accused of being involved in an alleged “Marxist conspiracy to subvert the existing social and political system in Singapore, using communist united front tactics, with a view to establishing a Marxist state”.

We categorically DENY the Government’s accusation against us.

We have never been Marxist conspirators involved in any conspiracy.

We were never a clandestine communist or marxist network and many of us did not even know or know of one another before the arrests.

We were rather community and Church workers, legal reformers, amateur dramatists, helpers of the Workers’ Party, professionals and ordinary citizens exercising our constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association in Singapore.

We have never propagated, in words or in action, a communist state for Singapore. Rather, we had, through open and legitimate organisations and legitimate means, advocated more democracy, less elitism, protection of individual freedoms and civil rights, greater concern for the poor and the less privileged, and less interference in the private lives of citizens.

We hold completely the beliefs expressed by fellow ex-detainee Chew Kheng Chuan in his representation to the ISA Advisory Board, where he stated and we paraphrase : “… (we are believers) in an open and democratic polity and in the virtues of an open and accountable government. (We) strongly believe that for a society to be meaningfully called democratic, interest and action in politics cannot be the sole prerogative of the professional politician. A citizen of a democracy, to be worthy of that society, has not just the right, but indeed the duty to participate in the political life of his or her society. It is a grave danger to democracy to suggest that for one to comment on political and social issues or to hold differing political opinions, one should go and form a political party to take on the government! Has the citizen no political voice, other than a vote once in every four years, that cannot be articulated freely and responsibly, but only through the medium of a professional politician? Such is a situation even worse than that of the common man’s crippling dependency on “experts” – whether plumber or temple medium. It will lead to a society where only the authorised, registered, professionally-affiliated expert can comment on the subject under his or her purview”.

We believe that as with the case of the individual citizen, so too has an organisation this same legitimate role to play in the democratic life of our country.

Absurdly, it seemed to us that we were arrested and detained for the legitimate exercise of our rights as citizens through registered and open organisations. We did not infiltrate these organisations but joined them as members, volunteers and full-time workers. Neither did we use these organisations as fronts to propagate subversive activities. All activities carried out by these organisations are legitimate, open and approved by elected executive committees, whose members clearly stand in their own right as capable, autonomous and intelligent individuals.

Neither were we “instructed” by any person or organisation, not Tan Wah Piow, Paul Lim nor Vincent Cheng, nor any political party to do what we did in our respective activities or groups.

TREATMENT DURING DETENTION

During our detention, we were subjected to treatment which should never be meted out to any person under interrogation.

Following our sudden arrests, we were subjected to harsh and intensive interrogation, deprived of sleep and rest, some of us for as long as 70 hours inside freezing cold rooms. All of us were stripped of our personal clothing, including spectacles, footwear and underwear and made to change into prisoners’ uniforms.

Most of us were made to stand continually during interrogation, some of us for over 20 hours and under the full blast of airconditioning turned to a very low temperature.

Under these conditions, one of us was repeatedly doused with cold water during interrogation.

Most of us were hit hard in the face, some of us for not less than 50 times, while others were assaulted on other parts of the body, during the first three days of interrogation.

We were threatened with more physical abuse during interrogation. We were threatened with the arrests, assault and battery of our spouses, loved ones and friends. We were threatened with INDEFINITE detention without trial. Chia Thye Poh, who is still in detention after twenty two years, was cited as an example. We were told that no one could help us unless we “co-operated” with the ISD.

These threats were constantly on our minds during the time we wrote our respective “statements” in detention.

We were actively discouraged from engaging legal counsel and advised to discharge our lawyers and against taking legal action (including making representations to the ISA Advisory Board) so as not to jeopardise our chances of release.

We were compelled to appear on television and warned that our release would depend on our performances on television. We were coerced to make statements such as “I am Marxist-inclined ..”; “My ideal society is a classless society ..”; “so-and-so is my mentor ..”; “I was made use of by so-and-so..” in order to incriminate ourselves and other detainees.

What we said on television were grossly distorted and misrepresented by editing and commentaries which attributed highly sinister motives to our actions and associations.

We state once more clearly and unequivocally, we never acted in any way to subvert the security of our country; we were never a part of any Marxist conspiracy to bring about a communist state. If necessary, we would be willing to prove our innocence in an open trial.

We consider ourselves nothing less than some of the most loyal and responsible citizens of Singapore. We greatly regret not our past actions but the fact that our Government felt it necessary to malign our good names and arrest, detain and abuse us for what we did or did not do.

Signed                           Signed
—————————— ———————————-
TANG LAY LEE              YAP HON NGIAN

Signed                           Signed
—————————– ———————————
KENNETH TSANG         WONG SOUK YEE

Signed                          Signed
—————————- ——————————–
TEO SOH LUNG           KEVIN DE SOUZA

Signed                         Signed
—————————- ——————————-
NG BEE LENG             f TANG FONG HAR

Signed
—————————
CHNG SUAN TZE

 

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Statement of Ex-Detainees of ‘Operation Spectrum’

On 18 April 1988, nine ex-detainees (Teo Soh Lung, Kevin De Souza, Tang Lay Lee, Ng Bee Leng, William Yap, Kenneth Tsang, Wong Souk Yee, Chng Suan Tze and Tang Fong Har) issued a joint statement:

  1. denying the Government’s allegation of their involvement in the Marxist Conspiracy
  2. asserting that they were ill-treated while under detention in 1987 and
  3. stating that their TV ‘confessions’ in the 2-part ‘documentary’ were made under coercion.

The following day, all the signatories except Tang Fong Har, who was then in UK, were arrested by the ISD. A lawyer (Patrick Seong) who acted for several of the detainees in 1987 was also arrested on the same day.

On 20 April 1988 then DPM Goh Chok Tong in a press conference promised to set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the detainees’ allegations of ill-treatment.

Ten days later, the Government release a statement that it will not set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegations of ill-treatment.

On 6 May 1988, lawyer Francis Seow who acted for two of the detainees was arrested.

You can read the statement issued by the nine ex-detainees of ‘Operation Spectrum’ below (Click on the 1st image):

JS Pg1  JS Pg2  JS Pg3

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纪念1954年5月13日学生运动 60 周年 — 一个吹起了新加坡独立运动 的新号角,点起了全国性群众反殖运动的星火的事件!

May 13 Chinese

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Commemorating the May 13th 1954 Student Movement – the spark that lit the fire of struggle for independence and self determination in the making of Singapore

May 13 Invitation

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One Thousand Paper Cranes

One thousand paper cranes

You said the class would make.
I smiled at your earnestness,
“That’s the number for good luck
According to a Japanese legend,”
You piped on:
“And cranes symbolize long life.”
That touched me to the core –
Having been twice struck by cancer.
“We will make you one thousand cranes!”
“You will get better,”
You promised with all your might.

At home recuperating, I imagine
All forty-two pairs of hands busy
Manly hands cutting tiny squares of colour
Under the dark brown desks
While heads look up in attention
And gentle caring feminine fingers
Folding each square intricately
To form the delicate crane.

A visit for Teachers’ Day
And I’m given a big yellow bag.
Opening it I find
One thousand tiny colourful paper cranes.
My eyes fill with tears
You kept your promise.
My heart bursts with hope
I will get better.

Back Face to Faith

By Aileen Lau Guek Lin
18 September 1993

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FACE TO FAITH poems by Aileen Lau Guek Lin

Foreword
This collection of poems was written during a two-year courageous battle against cancer. Aileen wrote the first poem My Jaw Muscle and I shortly after a major operation which replaced her diseased right jaw with a titanium strip and bone grafted from her hip. The operation left her with a limp and a jaw which required painful and painstaking exercises. It also led her to believe that she was well on her way to a full recovery.

ImageSix months later, Aileen suffered a relapse. She refused another operation as there was no guarantee of success.

The cancer spread and Aileen was finally persuaded to undergo seven weeks of radiation treatment.

The treatment gave her some respite after which her condition worsened rapidly. She lost the ability to speak and became blind in her right eye and partially blind in her left. Her hearing was also impaired. Throughout all this, Aileen never gave up her hope for life. Nor did she complain or speak of pain.

Aileen was a teacher. She loved working with young people. She was always cheerful, warm hearted, sensitive, observant, generous and had a wonderful sense of humour. Helping others was second nature to her. When approached by the late Mrs Margaret Joseph, former principal of St Theresa’s Convent, to help raise money for the school building fund, she staged Emily of Emerald Hill and played the solo role of Emily.

Illness did not prevent Aileen from taking a keen interest in what was happening in the world. She wrote about the contrast between the world of poverty and that of the rich when scandals of the British royal family occupied much of the media here. Illness also did not prevent her from reflecting on the sufferings of others and the senselessness of war. She wrote Ethnic Cleansing and Mostar Bridge when reports of human tragedy in war-torn Bosnia occupied front-page news.

Aileen was always proud of her Peranakan heritage. She was an active researcher on her mother tongue, Baba Malay. Her dissertation for her masters degree in Linguistics and English Language Teaching at the University of York in 1983 – 1984 was entitled Language Death with particular reference to the Baba Malay of Singapore. She had planned to write a novel in Baba Malay but her illness prevented it. She did, however, write three poems in this language.

Aileen wrote this collection in two notebooks. It is likely that she never found the time nor the strength to review most of the poems. She died on 10 April 1994 at the age of forty-four.

Friends of Aileen
August 1994

This collection is available only at Ethos Books

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To Catch A Tartar, A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison by Francis T Seow

Book Review by Teo Soh Lung

This review is 20 years late. But it is better late than never.

The Internal Security Act (ISA) formerly known as the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance and the Emergency Regulations has been in frequent and extensive use in Singapore since the time when she was still a British colony. The law authorises the government to arrest and imprison people for an indefinite period of time at the sole discretion of the executive. From the date of the enactment of the Emergency Regulations in 1948 till today, thousands have been imprisoned, many for as long as two decades. One prisoner, Dr Chia Thye Poh lost his freedom for 32 years.

Released prisoners have largely remained silent and certainly no one, until Francis Seow, has written and published their ordeals. Emboldened by their silence, the People’s Action Party (PAP) government under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew used and continues to use this draconian law to put away political opponents. In later years, Lee extended its use to imprison anyone who criticised any of the PAP policies or laws. Francis Seow was one such victim.

To Catch A Tartar, A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison by Francis T Seow (1994) is the first book to be published by a former ISA prisoner. It remains one of the few autobiographical accounts of political detentions in Singapore. Said Zahari’s Dark Clouds at Dawn, A Political Memoir (2001) and The Long Nightmare, My 17 Years as a Political Prisoner (2007) and Teo Soh Lung’s Beyond the Blue Gate, Recollections of a Political Prisoner (2010) being the other three.

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Francis Seow in his youthful years, faithfully served the Singapore government, first as a deputy public prosecutor and then as district judge and magistrate and finally as Solicitor-General. He was the most feared public prosecutor in the annals of Singapore’s legal history. His eloquence, skill, industry and ability to pursue a flimsy lead has earned him many victories, including a conviction for murder without the corpus delicti (the absence of direct evidence which in the case in question was the production of the dead body) when even his superior, the Senior Crown Counsel had instructed “no further action.” Seow in his own words “was involved in the prosecution of almost all the important cases, the causes celebres of the period. I had by this time acquired a formidable reputation as a prosecutor and was flattered to discover that I had become a legal paradigm who had unknowingly inspired a number of persons to pursue the profession of law.”

Francis Seow was the trusted prosecutor of prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. He saved Lee when he led the commission of inquiry into the secondary IV Chinese Middle Schools examination boycott and made enemy of his witness, a powerful and wealthy businessman. He fought and won many battles for Lee who privately expressed appreciation for his enormous contributions. But when Seow decided that 16 years of sterling service to Singapore and the government was enough and that it was time to carve out for himself a new “niche of life”, his troubles began. He had intended to join force with David Marshall, the outstanding criminal lawyer, but he was warned by Lee that “Marshall and he (Lee) were on a collision course.” Reluctant to antagonise Lee, he struck out on his own.

Fast forward, Seow was elected by an overwhelming majority to become the president of the Law Society of Singapore in 1986. The morale at the bar then was low. It needed a charismatic and bold leader to regain the prestige of its past. At the opening of the legal year (the annual ceremonial event that marked the return of High Court judges to work after their long vacation), Seow did away with the usual pleasantries. He reminisced, “I served notice of a sea change, that the bar demanded more respect from the bench, which together with the attorney general and his chambers, had been treating it in shoddy fashion. I had plans for a more assertive and caring bar, that the Law Society should be consulted on the selection and appointment of Supreme Court judges, and be heard on the appointment, promotions, and transfers of subordinate judicial and legal officers by the Legal Service Commission.”

The election of Seow as the president of the Law Society of Singapore sent shock waves to Lee. While it marked the beginning of life for the Law Society, it was viewed ominously by Lee. The scrutiny of bills by lawyers were initially communicated to the government through its attorney general. In one instance a report which was totally ignored by the latter was made public. That led to the swift enactment of amendments to the Legal Profession Act. Its sole aim was to remove Seow as its president and its secondary aim, to control the Law Society. The setting up of a Select Committee which on the surface was to receive feedback from lawyers on the bill was merely a public exercise. Instead of members volunteering to give evidence at the hearing (which was the intent of the society), the entire council of the Law Society and members of a subcommittee were subpoenaed to attend the hearing. The state television was tasked by Lee to record the private proceedings and to broadcast selected portions at prime time.

Lee had perhaps overestimated his skill as a lawyer politician and underestimated that of Seow. Seow described the hearing in these words: “… the script and screenplay for what can only be described as parliamentary burlesque were written, presented, produced, and directed by a versatile prime minister, with the virtuoso himself stealing the show as its consummate political actor. His genius so completely dominated the theatrical performance that the Speaker of Parliament as chairman and the other members of the Select Committee seemed as relevant to the proceedings as flies on a wall.” Of Lee’s style, he has this to say: “Listening to the line and nature of questioning and the order of witnesses called by the prime minister, I perceived that this crucifixion of Council members was being performed for my edification, if I should prove recalcitrant in the witness box. It had little to do with the merits of the proposed amendments.”

According to Seow, the official feedback unit “had apparently reported unfavourable public reaction to the prime minister’s stellar bullying performance” at the televised hearing. In prison, Seow was told by the “ISD baby-sitters” that “you would not have created all this problem for yourself, if you had not confronted him in the Select Committee.”

To Catch A Tartar is a book that tells of the deplorable depth at which a politician in a supposedly democratic country will dive. Power and the fear of losing that power has a cascading, terrifying effect. Unknowingly and knowingly, equals and subordinates were cowed and turned into sheep. It is an eye-opener for anyone who wants to know about one of the most outstanding leaders in Asia. Seow was an insider while in the service of the government. His understanding of how Lee works when he pursues “an enemy” is profound. When Seow became a victim himself in 1988, he experienced the full works of the ISD. Solicitor general or not, the ISD did not accord him any respect. They called him a “bloody fucking liar” time and time again. He was locked up in a dirty, filthy, tiny cell without proper ventilation for nearly 60 days. He was made to stand and was questioned for 16 continuous hours. He described the interrogation in the dark cold room:

“As I turned round to confront him in the darkness, another person from behind him bawled into my right ear that I was “a fucking bloody liar,” whilst a chorus of voices accused me of being supported and financed by the Americans. It was not only bewildering but terrifying. I kept whirling around to identify and meet the thrust of those shrill, shrieking voice. I suddenly began to comprehend that they were not interested in hearing any answers. It was an awesome exercise to disorientate, malign, and humiliate me. It was the vaunted “psychological pressure and technique” of Brigadier General Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son and political heir of Prime Minister Harry Lee Kuan Yew. He should have been there to watch his maniacs in action! The word “neutralise” was etched indelibly in my memory. It was intended to frighten and neutralize me from entering opposition politics. And to serve no doubt as a warning to all the professionals whom I had tried to cultivate for the general election. Sha ji xia hou!”

Seow’s vivid description of those who interrogated him is chilling. He was not physically assaulted but was sufficiently near to being assaulted. “He swung his hand at me. I braced myself for the blow. But his fist stopped short just inches from my face. He looked like a thug. He behaved like a thug. He was a thug. He repeated his threat. I remained silent. Amidst deafening obscenities, he swaggered up to me and repeatedly blew thick clouds of cigarette smoke into my face. He had shouted himself hoarse.”

Seow’s description of his tormentors and their acts is colourful but not without a pungent sense of humour. He called them “the goon squad.” And he recalled the words of one of them:

“You have been fixing up a lot of police officers in your time.” [He was alluding to the days when police disciplinary proceedings were referred to me as solicitor general for instructions.] “Now is the time for you to be fixed. You think you can pull strings; but I also can pull strings.”

As he said that, he yanked loose the drawstring which held up my pyjama trousers. For some inexplicable reason, the law of gravity was suspended that night. My trousers did not drop to the floor. I kept very still. I was already bare from the waist up, and barefooted.”
And he would poke fun at them too. He recalled: “At some point later in the inquisition, I became aware of a senior ranking person seated behind the desk, whose face in the lurid darkness was concealed by a black porcine-like mask whose snout-like contraption scrambled his voice whenever he spoke. He was undoubtedly someone known to me, but whose fearful shame of discovery of his identity and participation in this monstrous inquisition had driven him to seek anonymity behind that grotesque mask. This surely was the stuff of Orwellian fiction!”

The reason for Seow’s arrest was that he was allegedly involved in a “Black Operation.” He was alleged to have been “made use of” by the Americans who encouraged him to stand as an opposition candidate in the general election of 1988. Innocent meetings with the First Secretary of the US Embassy and other officials were construed as a conspiracy to overthrow the insecure PAP government. It was a ridiculous, baseless charge but it was seriously acted out by the ISD. The ISD took away all his files on the pretext of checking if he had received money from a foreign power. Statements were recorded, amended and recorded again and again from Seow. How those statements led to the justification of his imprisonment, Seow notes: “The Oscars for production and direction, as well as screenplay and script, must unreservedly go to the ISD and its cast of talented officers. They had worked very hard at it. My contribution to craftsmanship was as minimal as it was unwilling….” Seow was incarcerated for 72 days, nearly 60 of those days were spent in a tiny, filthy cell.

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Seow’s release was not the end of his troubles. It could not end because he had decided to contest the general election. The files pertaining to his personal and office accounts which were earlier seized were released to his office while he was still in prison only to be delivered to the inland revenue authority at the same time. Seow was issued tax summonses without the usual grace period accorded to tax payers to answer queries. Seow’s Epilogue is the first detailed written indictment of the Singapore judicial system. His other book, Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary created another colossal dent in the already weakened judicial system. The person who built Singapore has probably destroyed a system that is meant to guarantee the protection of her people.

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To Catch a Tartar is a must read for anyone interested in knowing the hidden side of Singapore. It is an excellent book, the best account of political detention in a city state I have read. It is a classic.

 

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