Book review: Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary


Francis Seow’s meticulous and skilful narration of facts and events introduces the reader to the unique political climate in Singapore. Who would have thought that discussions and questions concerning the sale of several luxurious apartments to politicians and well-known individuals, including Supreme Court judges would result in 13 lawsuits being served on a single Singapore citizen, Tang Liang Hong.

Seow’s detailed and eloquent description of how hard senior lawyers worked for their clients, the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Senior Minister and several cabinet ministers against Tang Liang Hong, his lawyer, J B Jeyaretnam and his wife, Teo Siew Har is disturbing. It was spine chilling to read how at the unearthly hour of midnight, lawyers and inland revenue officials served summonses on Teo Siew Har at her residence after her forced return to Singapore by the immigration authority at the Johor-Singapore causeway.

The participation and non participation of lawyers in the lawsuits against Tang Liang Hong, J B Jeyaretnam and Teo Siew Har culminating in the bankruptcy of all three (J B Jeyaretnam was bankrupted by a litigant in an unconnected lawsuit) should prick the conscience of lawyers and judges. The manner in which court officials and Supreme Court judges handled the plethora of lawsuits against the three give much food for thought.

Never before has a book that gives such deep insights into the workings of the Singapore courts been published. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand Singapore and Singaporeans.

Francis Seow joined the Singapore Legal Service in 1956 and was Solicitor-General from 1966 to 1972.

Teo Soh Lung
30 October 2007

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TAN JING QUEE (18 January 1939 – 14 June 2011)

Tan Jing Quee was a writer, poet, politician, lawyer and historian. He wrote extensively when he was an undergraduate and was an active member of the Socialist Club. When more than 130 opposition politicians and active citizens were arrested in Operation Coldstore in February 1963, Jing Quee entered the dangerous mine of politics. He stood as a candidate for the Barisan Sosialis in the September 1963 general election against the PAP incumbent and minister for foreign affairs, Mr S Rajaratnam. He lost by a mere 220 votes.

Descending to the depths of undemocratic practice, the PAP despite winning the general election and having arrested all the key opposition leaders seven months earlier in Operation Coldstore, conducted yet another major operation called “Operation Pecah” two weeks after the election. Its intent was clearly to decimate the opposition.

Jing Quee together with other opposition members who contested the general election were arrested and imprisoned under the Internal Security Act. Three elected opposition Barisan members – Lee Tee Tong, ST Bani and Loh Miaw Gong were also arrested and prevented from being sworn into parliament. They were thus deprived of their MP allowances.

Jing Quee was detained from 8 October 1963 to 4 May 1966 and again from 15 February 1977 to 14 May 1977.

Despite these setbacks, Jing Quee continued to pursue his interest in writing and research after his retirement from legal practice. His achievements are impressive despite his declining health. Lysa Hong wrote soon after his death…/in-memory-of-tan-jing-q…/

We have to thank Tan Jing Quee for his courage and determination to correct the history of Singapore. Without him, there would not be so many books and articles today that debunk the official history of Singapore. Official historians may continue to deny what actually happened in the past. But there will definitely come a day when the tide will change and truth will prevail.

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Remembering Dr Lim Hock Siew

Today is the 7th anniversary of the death of Dr Lim Hock Siew. He was one of the great English educated leaders of the opposition much feared by Lee Kuan Yew. An effective organiser, writer and eloquent orator, his skills combined with his intellect easily matched that of Lee. Dr Lim strenuously opposed merger with Malaya on unequal and unfavourable terms to Singapore and Singaporeans.

Lee’s success in controlling the English and Chinese educated opposition leaders was carried out by foul means. He mounted Operation Coldstore on 2 February 1963 with the help of the British and the Malaysians. More than 133 opposition leaders including Dr Lim, trade unionists, professionals, educators and student leaders were arrested and detained without trial for extremely lengthy periods.

After Singapore’s departure from Malaysia, Lee’s fear that Dr Lim and his colleagues would oppose his government led him to continue to abuse his power by refusing to release Dr Lim.

Dr Lim Hock Siew was released only in 1982 at the age of 61. His party, the Barisan Sosialis had already collapsed by then.

In 2009, Dr Lim Hock Siew called for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the arrests and detentions of the victims of Operation Coldstore. In 2011, Dr Lim and 15 other former ISA detainees who were arrested from the 1950s to 1987 issued a joint statement calling for the abolition of the ISA and the setting up of a commission of inquiry.

Sadly, Dr Lim Hock Siew could not complete his work. He died on 4 June 2012 at the age of 81.

On 3 July 2012 a memorial gathering was held in Singapore. A memorial booklet was published. Below is an essay by Teo Soh Lung.


To know Dr Lim Hock Siew is to know the political history of Singapore and the meaning of Lord Acton’s words : “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. I never fully understood those words until I learned about the imprisonment without trial of Dr Lim and other patriots of Singapore by the Men in White.

Dr Lim’s sms to me before the event commemorating the 25th anniversary of the ‘Marxist Conspiracy’ this year was

“Suggest at your rally on Saturday u all press for public inquiry on detainees and abolishment of ISA.”

Dr Lim had been ill for some time; the organisers of the event and I had hoped that he would grace the occasion despite his ill health. He was not able to do so but he was keenly aware of the event and its postponement from 19 May 2012 to 2 June 2012 because of the Hougang by-election. When I reminded him on the eve of the event, he sent me this message at 4.42 am on 2 June:

“Please don’t be Disappointed. I am still feeling very tired n giddy on getting up.”

I am very sure that if Dr Lim’s health had permitted, he would have joined us at Hong Lim that day. The abolition of the ISA had always been central to Dr Lim’s political philosophy. The ruthless use of the ISA by the people in power took away 20 prime years of his life and left his wife, Dr Beatrice Chen, to raise their young son of five months all by herself. We cannot imagine how much emotional and mental anguish he and his family endured during those years. But we can and should appreciate Dr Lim’s unfailing concern for all Singaporeans when he called for the abolition of the ISA and the setting up of a commission of inquiry for ISA cases. In answer to a question at a talk in the Changing Worlds series organised by Function 8 as to whether the younger PAP leaders would use the ISA today, he replied:

“My assessment is that they are going to use the ISA as a reserve weapon to safeguard the PAP’s interests. … I hope it will not be used but I think it will be their reserve weapon.”

It would be foolish for us not to heed the words of a person who had suffered 20 long years in prison under the ISA and whose integrity, courage and principle led him to reject an offer of release that came with conditions which would have justified his detention. In addition, Dr Lim issued a public statement through his courageous wife, Dr Beatrice Chen on 18 March 1972, critical of the PAP regime and its ruthless use of the ISA.

The defiance of Dr Lim was to result in his further imprisonment for another 10 years.

Twenty years of imprisonment without trial! The sentence imposed by a cabinet of PAP ministers, is almost twice the length of a life sentence! What did Dr Lim do to deserve such a sentence by ministers and not by judges?

Dr Lim’s “crime” was to oppose the grand plan of the British, to merge Singapore with Malaya at any price, so that they could keep the leftists at bay and protect their vested interests. The PAP did merge Singapore with Malaya but two years later, Singapore was ejected. So what wrong did Dr Lim commit? He had been proven right to fight against a merger where the terms were disadvantageous to Singapore and Singaporeans. After the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia, any democratic government would have had the decency to release Dr Lim and his comrades, convene a commission of inquiry, apologise and compensate him. That was not the case. Dr Lim and his family continued to suffer.

It would be foolish to think that imprisonment under the ISA will never happen to us because we have done no wrong. I used to think that as long as I was doing everything in the open and in accordance with the law, I would never be arrested under the ISA. I said that to the late Mr Tan Jing Quee just about a week before I was hauled up before the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Amendment to the Legal Profession Act in 1986 which marked the beginning of the persecution of the Law Society of Singapore. Jing Quee’s response was short and swift. He said, “We also did nothing wrong but we were arrested.” Jing Quee was detained twice for a total of four years and I was subsequently detained for more than two years.

Power and the desire to retain power has caused many good leaders to degenerate into tyrants and dictators, causing untold misery to the people they were supposed to care for. For close to half a century, those who have suffered under the ISA have remained silent. Before my own imprisonment, I had only heard snippets of what they went through and how long they were imprisoned.

I was awed when I first met people like Inche Said Zahari who was jailed without trial for 17 years. That feeling of awe, however, did not translate into my understanding of what he went through for 17 years – how his wife, Salamah and young children suffered during those long and cruel years without their husband/father and sole bread winner.

Dr Lim was a gentle yet firm leader with a vision. The Men in White have cut short Dr Lim’s contributions to the political development of Singapore into a more humane and just society in peaceful co-existence with our neighbours . They have deprived us for twenty years of a good and caring doctor who often treated patients without charge, even giving money to those who could not afford to pay for their transport home.

Farewell, Dr Lim, I’m sure you have sojourned to a happier world that you so deserve, but your words and deeds will always remain in our hearts.61732826_1226559404187698_3123282260392935424_n

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Public Forum on POFMA: More Harm than Good?

Held at The Agora on Saturday, 18 May 2019. The Panel of Speakers are Dr James Gomez, Khush Chopra and Brad Bowyer.

Speakers list:

1) James Gomez

2) Khush Chopra

3) Brad Bowyer

4) Q & A         




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Remembering May 13

65 years ago, unarmed young Chinese middle school students lined Clemenceau Avenue up to the Istana. They were supporting their leaders who were presenting a petition expressing opposition to national service conscription at the Istana.


In the political history of Singapore, May 13, 1954 stands out as a turning point in our people’s struggle for political freedom and social justice.

Amidst the atmosphere during the early 1950s brought about by the “Emergency Regulations”, some thousands of Chinese middle school students courageously spearheaded a movement which made a breakthrough to the “white terror” created by the colonial rulers.

On that historic day, the students defied threats advanced by the colonial rulers and staged a demonstration in front of the Government’s Residence (now the Istana) to register their opposition against national service conscription. As to be expected, what started as a peaceful expression of a people’s views was brutally confronted by the colonial police who wantonly beat them up.

Far from being intimidated and subdued by such police brutality, the incident sparked widespread resentment among students in the Chinese middle schools all over Singapore. Inevitably, it served to arouse the political awareness of students of that generation in Singapore which, hitherto, had stayed latent.

It was the spark that torched a prairie fire!

The Incident led to the emergence of a situation where students got themselves actively involved in an extensive student movement which swept across literally all the Chinese middle schools and later over at Nanyang University. It was fairly common to see students as they graduated from schools playing leading roles in the trade union movement as well as in political organisations under the PAP. It was also not uncommon in the 1950s to notice cultural and civic organisations cropping up like bamboo shoots after spring rains staffed by hitherto student activists.

Like a gigantic tidal wave these activities swept the PAP into power in 1959, hoping that the newly formed political party would bring about political freedom and social justice to our people.

But it was not to be. Subsequent repressions conducted by the PAP after it came to power proved to be more ruthless than those carried out by the colonial rulers and they have to be seen through and through as a massive political betrayal in Singapore history.

Today, “emergency” laws have become the “normal” laws of Singapore. Political dissent can result in a double and even triple decade imprisonment without trial. Restrictions imposed on the mass media, on public assembly and freedom of expression are, if anything, more severe than during the colonial days.

But it has to be said that no political situation can forever remain static and unchanged. The time will soon arrive when our people will free themselves from the five decades of political oppression in Singapore.

This article dated 26 July 2011 is in the book YOUTH ON TRIAL published by Function 8.60388150_1210246465818992_6367094518726000640_n.jpg60331526_1210246519152320_3642755260604219392_n60213122_1210246559152316_2072997357330366464_n

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Withdraw The Protection From Online Falsehoods And Manipulation Bill

FUNCTION 8 REGRETS the tabling of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill before Parliament on 1 April 2019.

This Bill which will inevitably become law at the next sitting of parliament will adversely affect every person (Singaporean or foreigner), and every social or business enterprise. It will end the already restricted space for freedom of speech and expression in Singapore.

Heavy penalties, both prison terms and fines are proposed in the Bill. Prison terms range from 12 months to 10 years. Fines range from $20,000 to $1 million. Penalties for non-compliance of directions are punishable with fines of $100,000 per day.

This bill entrenches and legalizes censorship in all forms. All ministers and a group of civil servants with no clear criteria of competencies but are nevertheless declared as “Competent Authority” are empowered to issue a whole list of directives: Correction Direction, Stop Communication Direction, Access Blocking Order, Target Correction Direction, Disabling Direction, General Correction Order, Declarations on Online Locations, Prohibition Order etc.

These public officials are given absolute power to decide what is falsehood and what is truth. Such powers should lie in our Judiciary and not in these public servants. And when these people make mistakes, they are protected from the penalties that befall the rest of us.

FUNCTION 8 DEMANDS that the Singapore government withdraw the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation bill. It is the duty of our government to protect our constitutional rights to freedom of speech and expression and not to use its power to take this right from us through the passing of oppressive laws.

Function 8
10 April 2019


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We may not be familiar with enforced disappearances in Singapore but in recent years, several disappearances of people in ASEAN countries has brought this subject to our attention.

Seven years ago, in December 2012 Sombath Somphone, disappeared in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. His Singaporean wife, Ng Shui Meng is still struggling to cope with his disappearance.


The crime of enforced disappearance dates back to Nazi Germany when Adolf Hitler issued the Nacht und Nebel Erlass Decree (Night and Fog Decree) on 7 December 1941. Its aim was and still is to spread terror and insecurity in society. Victims were spirited away by State agents or groups/individuals who act on behalf of the State. They literally disappeared into “the night and fog”.

After World War II, enforced disappearance continues to be used as a weapon of terror by the State to silence political opponents, labour activists, journalists, academics, students, lawyers and anyone who is critical of the government. In the 1970s, it was used especially by the dictatorial regimes in Latin America where thousands of men and women were disappeared, never to be heard of again.

In Asia, enforced disappearance was used as a terror tactic during the Suharto regime in Indonesia, the Marcos regime in the Philippines, and the civil war between the Sinhalese and Tamil in Sri-Lanka. Despite the end of these authoritarian regimes and the civil war in Sri Lanka, enforced disappearance still happen in these countries as well as in other countries like Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos.

The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) see…/working-group-on-enforced-or-invol…/ has since its inception recorded more than 50,000 cases worldwide, with Asia having the largest number.


The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance 2010…/sta…/un-treaties/disappearance/has been signed by 98 countries. Fifty-nine countries have ratified it. Singapore is not a signatory while the Lao People’s Democratic Republic signed the Convention in 2008 but has not ratified it.

“ENFORCED DISAPPEARANCE” is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law. (Article 2)”.

Sombath Somphone, a Laotian sustainable development worker was abducted on the evening of 15 December 2012. Police CCTV footages showed him stopped by uniformed men at a police post in Vientiane and driven away in a white truck. That was the last time Sombath was seen.

The Lao Government has denied any involvement, even though the sequence of his capture was recorded by the police CCTV and is now available on You-tube. (

Since the night of Sombath Somphone’s disappearance, his family has unrelentingly tried to get answers of his whereabouts and his status. Despite repeated pleas from his family, as well as appeals from government leaders from many countries, as well as Singapore’s Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, all effort have been futile.

As a party to the Convention, the Lao Government is under a duty to investigate complaints and reports of enforced disappearances and bring those responsible to justice. To date, the government has not filed any report or inform Sombath Somphone’s family of what it has done.


A disappearance is tormenting not only for the victim, but also members of the family and community. Being placed outside the protection of the law and left at the mercy of his captors, the disappeared is often tortured, tormented, and in constant fear for his life. Family members, ignorant of the fate of their loved ones, experience endless anguish with emotions seesawing between hope and despair, waiting for news that may never come. Attempts at finding the whereabouts of their loved ones, and seeking truth and justice end up against the wall. But they persevere.

“I have been stonewalled by the Lao police, the Lao Government officials, and the Lao court system”, Ng Shui Meng, wife of Sombath Somphone told Function 8. “The Lao Government publicly says that the investigation of Sombath’s abduction is continuing, but it’s nearly 7 years now and I have yet to be shown any report of the investigation”.

Enforced Disappearance strikes at the heart of the community, instilling it with deep fear and anxiety. Seeing friends and colleagues disappeared into the “night and fog” and not knowing their whereabouts and whether they are dead or alive, most people in the community resort to keeping their heads low, not daring to say anything or express their concern, for fear that they or someone in their family may suffer the same fate.

“Many people in the Lao Government that Sombath Somphone and I used to work with avoid me after Sombath disappeared. Even some close friends and colleagues distanced themselves from me and avoid looking me in the eye. Initially I was upset and felt betrayed. But now I understand their fear.”

As no charges were ever brought against the abductors, family members also have to deal with lies and rumours that spread in the community about the victim and the causes for the abduction. “Over the years, I have heard so many nasty lies and rumours about Sombath’s abduction. Some alleged that Sombath is not a Lao citizen, but an enemy agent working to destabilize the Lao State; others insinuated that he was involved in illegal business, and so on.

At first I was distressed and felt betrayed, but now I know that character assassination is standard practice used by state agents to confuse the public and to blame the victims for their disappearance”.

Function 8 stands by Ng Shui Meng in calling for truth and justice for Sombath Somphone. As a signatory to the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the Lao Government is obliged under the terms of the Treaty to investigate and reveal what happened to Sombath Somphone and to return him safely to Shui Meng and her family.

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