Beyond The Blue Gate & 445 Days Under The ISA Book Launch

On 27 October 2010, Strategic Information and Research Development Centre (SIRD), Abolish ISA Movement and Civil Rights Committee organised the launch of two books by former ISA detainees at the KL and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH), Kuala Lumpur:

* Beyond the Blue Gate: Recollections of a Political Prisoner by Teo Soh Lung
* 445 Days Under The ISA: Operation Lalang, 1987-89 by Dr Kua Kia Soong

The event was moderated by Maria Chin Abdullah.

YB Saari Sungib reviewed Beyond the Blue Gate, comparing the treatment of detainees and conditions of detention in Singapore and Malaysia. He also gave 2 excellent advice to political detainees:

  1. Never trust the ISD.
  2. Never, never trust the ISD!

And he concludes with a very good advice on cooperating and giving information to the ISD. He said:

  1. If you do not cooperate you will be sent for 2 years to Kamunting (Malaysia’s detention camp).
  2. If you cooperate, you will be sent for 2 years to Kamunting!

YB Dr Nasir Hashim reviewed Dr Kua Kia Soong’s book and praised him for his excellent recollection and writing.

Like Dr Kua Kia Soong, both YB Saari Sungib and YB Nasir Hashim were detained in Operation Lalang which took place five months after Operation Spectrum.

Watch their videos here:

YB Saari Sungib

YB Dr Nasir Hashim

Following the launch there was a discussion on the theme “In Retrospect of Operation Lalang-Spectrum: Re-Examination of Malaysia’s & Singapore’s 23 Years of Civil Rights & Social Movement in Post-Operation Lalang-Spectrum Era”. The speakers were Teo Soh Lung, Dr Kua Kia Soong and Hishamuddin Rais.

While Teo Soh Lung acknowledged the lack of any effective civil society activities before 1987’s Operation Spectrum and the long silence of more than ten years after, Dr Kua Kia Soong gave a long list of impressive achievements by civil societies in Malaysia after Operation Lalang.

Hishamuddin Rais spoke about detention and assured the audience that there is nothing to fear about being arrested under the ISA. He has been imprisoned many times, in many countries and he worries about nothing except maybe, his stray cats.

Their speeches can be viewed here:

Teo Soh Lung

Kua Kia Soong

Hishamuddin Rais

We thank Malaysiakini for recording the event.

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Beyond The Blue Gate – Book launch

 

The launch of Beyond the Blue Gate, Recollections of a Political Prisoner at The Legends, Fort Canning Park, Singapore on 26 June 2010 marked the beginning of Function 8 which was formed by a group of former 1987 ISA detainees and their friends. The publication gave them a reason to return to activities of their good old days when they were filled with the idealism until several of them were arrested and detained without trial on 21 May 1987.

Welcome by Low Yit Leng

02:15 Opening remarks by Alfian Sa’at (transcript below)

23:50 Speech by Teo Soh Lung (transcript below)

39:40 Chng Suan Tze reads well-wishes

55:35 Q&A with panel moderated by Alfian Sa’at

Alfian Sa’at’s speech

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for the pleasure of your company this afternoon. I think I will start with a little anecdote. I’m a playwright and in the year 2005, I did a play with the theatre company, Teater Ekamatra. I hope not to get too long-winded about this.

I was doing research basically. One day someone handed me a booklet and the title of that booklet was: Why the ISA? There was an English version but someone handed me the multi-lingual version. The Malay title of which was called: Mengapa ISA (mengapa is why)? I was intrigued by this booklet because obviously it was printed to legitimize the ISA in the wake of the JI arrests. For me, I looked at it and it had the potential for mischief because in Malay ISA is spelled “Isa”, which is the quranic name for Jesus. So “Mengapa ISA?” is also “Why Jesus?” It did look like an evangelical pamphlet. Propaganda, evangelical are close cousins.

I was browsing through it and what struck me was that there was no mention at all of 1987 Operation Spectrum. So in an attempt to legitimize and justify this draconian law, it seems there was this striking omission. It seems there was something still needed to be hidden. Of course, it gave rise to a lot of questions, what are they hiding if really there was this anxiety to justify during that time – the entire parliament almost chorusing in unison in support of what happened in 1987. Why then it glossed over that very important piece of history? And it was an informative book because it talks about stuff like terrorist activities, some laju ferry whatever, a lot of crook-and-dagger espionage that kind of stuff. But there was zero mention of 1987 as well as how the ISA was used in 1963.

And of course that was mystery to me, that if you had conducted this particular operation spectrum, then why are you not proud of it? Why are you not wearing it as a certain badge of honour? It is part of the history of the ISD.

It made me think and I’m going to make, I suppose, a general statement here. I always believe that all politicians lie. It’s in the nature of being a politician. I’m not saying that all politicians are liars but they do lie because it’s in the nature of politics and it’s in the nature of power. Some lies are whiter than others. But for most part they lie and how do they lie – by narrowing alternatives into ultimatums, for example. They either go this way or that way and by not looking at other alternatives, and by omissions as I’ve observed in that “Why ISA?” booklet. By also taking undue credit, for example, we were the ones who came up with this particular idea of a civil society had no part, for example, in coming up with these initiatives. Everything is so centralized and everything came from the top because we have the best gene pool.

So I have to qualify that. I’m saying all politicians are liars. I seem to be covering my backside a lot! I’m saying there are always instances of lying which is part and parcel of being a politician, because the edifice of power, however monumental it looks, is also very fragile because every day you’ve to pepper over it with these little lies. And what’s very interesting for me is living in Singapore, this idea of Operation Spectrum and the Marxist conspiracy has been one huge lie. And I say that because of the absence of any credible evidence that can be used to convince the population that this was something that was completely essential to maintain the security of this country.

What does Operation Spectrum mean to me and, I think specifically members of my generation? I think it represents a kind of a little black hole in our history. We don’t have all the answers as to why it happened. And also a kind of an open wound for me as well because there has not been any admission of error on the part of the authorities. Once in a while, you hear statements like “Oh, actually the people who were arrested – they weren’t really trouble-makers. They were idealists or they were do-gooders.” But it begs the question then why do-gooders were being punished.

What kind of a society do you live in if you punish people whose only aim was to do good? And I think it all boils down to this question of moral legitimacy. And I think this is the question I’m always struggling with. What does it mean to be a ruler? What does it mean to be a leader of a people?

We look at the legitimacy of the government in Singapore based on what they can deliver in economic terms. So if they can give us certain continued GP growth, economic prosperity, etc, then they’re apparently a good government. But I don’t think this is just the standard that we should hold them up to. I think as a leader, you should also be able to demonstrate certain kind of – I will come back to this theme over and over again – moral legitimacy.

I don’t expect the state to be the conscience of a country. But it has to act in ways which are ethical. And I think 1987 for me represented a certain kind of betrayal of those kinds of expectations.

When I come to moral legitimacy, it becomes a little clearer to me why a lot of the people who were persecuted were actually people who were engaged in, for example, social work, engaged in ideas of social transformation even if this was, let’s say, through the round of ideas. Let’s take an artist.

Artists are the conscience of society because they raise difficult questions. They ask all these hard questions about which direction we’re going, etc. There seems to be that sense for me of how the state saw this as a kind of threat to their own legitimacy because they could not claim certain moral legitimacy for themselves. Therefore they couldn not allow other sectors of the population to act as this particular conscience of society. And it’s always very disillusioning for me to see how this idea of moral legitimacy has been corrupted over time and how it’s been streamlined, defined and circumscribed in a very narrow manner.

By that I mean, we have moral legitimacy because we are not corrupt, for example, because we do not take bribes. But I think there are definitely other much, much larger dimension of those things – things that involve issues like what are the rights of citizens, what kind of freedom do we have, what is the meaning of social justice, for example, which are all moral and ethical issues as well.

Reading Soh Lung’s book, I found it to be a very harrowing experience because I see the book as a kind of counter-testimony to the kind of things that were printed and published during that time 87. I don’t know whether… Some of you have done research but if you look at the Hansard transcripts (the parliamentary transcripts in ‘87), it was so frightening to see how so many of the MPs were basically echoing one another. And for me, it made me all the more convinced that we need some kind of political pluralism. It’s not just about checks and balances or whatever, but basically the more people you have who are potentially say from the opposing side, the closer I think you get to the sense of the truth.

When you have an almost a near monopoly of the parliament, I think it’s much easier to lie. And as I said, politicians lie all the time. So I see Soh Lung’s book as this lone voice, but I hope there’ll be more in the future that acts as a counter to the kind of propaganda that were actually manufactured during that time and are still being manufactured today, with phrases like these people are dangerous because they are part of a united communist front. What does that mean? So much of it is rhetorical and there is so much we really need to start unpacking, and not take these things for granted. I think there is also the other issue about what are the effects of this so-called Marxist conspiracy. I just list down a few.

I think it had very far-reaching consequences on civil society, for example, the nightmare scenario of having people visit you at night, knocking at your door, barging in and arresting you, was materialized. So it definitely had a chilling effect. You want to do good but please do it through the proper channel.

So civil society was one casualty. He had effects on social dimensions of religious activity. And I won’t go too much into it. It always made me a little sad that. I used to think people who were involved in religious organizations as involved in altruistic ideals, like welfare for the poor, etc. And these days that connection between capital and religion is becoming quite scary. It seems it’s more a self-enrichment than anything else. Obviously I come from an artistic background so this particular incident did have a very, very chilling effect on artistic expressions in Singapore. That idea, that myth was being played out. Our worst fears: the knock on the door in the middle of the night, no recourse to the law because in a sense the Internal Security Act transcends the law.

These are all the effects but I think on a more general note, it was also about this kind of epicenter where the aftershock, this sense of fear that gripped everyone. And when I say fear, there are many, many dimensions to it. One which is basically the fear of taking initiative. One, a permission seeking behaviour.

A lot of us don’t start acting on our consciences unless we have some kind of permission from somewhere, so there are many mechanisms in place, like for example, registration of societies act, etc. So I think it’s so difficult for members of civil society to translate their knowledge into action precisely because of this permission seeking behavior. And an automatic trust in authority I think is also one of the ill-effects of this. We trust so much people who are in power that we believe they know what is best for us. I think in other societies, let’s say someone says so, we need the so-called law, that move on order because we trust that our policemen will not abuse their power. But I don’t believe this at all. For a moment, I think we should always be skeptical of those who have more power than us. I think it’s only a very natural instinct, for a small dog to look at a big dog. I don’t think I trust you because you’re bigger than me. You can harm me. You have that power to commit some kind of violence against me.

Lastly, it’s this instant assumption of guilt I think which is a product of living in this regime. It’s a certain climate of fear. So when someone in uniform approaches you, almost immediately, “OK, what did I do wrong?” That almost became reflective instead of “What does this guy want? What’s going on?” One of the first things is almost automatic self-recrimination: “What did I do wrong? How can I start to prove my innocence?”

So for me, looking at 1987, I don’t think as a society we can actually move forward unless we come to terms with what happened. Of course, ideally there should be some of kind of truth and reconciliation committee that’s being set up to examine what actually happened. Where were the directives taken? Why were certain people behaving in a certain manner? And I’ve to say personally I feel very invested in this particular moment in our history because I think about Whitley Detention Centre and I think in a sense two kinds of people were there – the detainees as well as the officers. The detainees who are subjected to various forms of not just incarceration but even violence, and of course the officers who committed these acts of violence.

Let’s see the history of certain countries, like Nazi Germany or Japan is that they have had this stained past. But a way to heal to come to terms with that past. For example, in Germany, you’re being taught about the holocaust as early as in primary school. You know this and you’re aware and you’re conscientized. You ask yourself “Do I have that propensity for evil in me? Can I always remind myself never again?” Japan is a little bit more complicated because there’s this kind of distancing. “Oh, that was the product of that particular era and a particular kind of propaganda machine that was operating the cult of the emperor, etc, and those people are different from us.”

When I think of what happened in Whitley Detention Centre in 87, I feel that I am both the detainee as well as the officer. As a human being I think all of us, we carry the capacity for violence in us. There is certain darkness that all of us are capable of. On the other hand, on the part of the detainees, I think they’re also capable of remarkable courage.

One of the things that immediately affected me reading Soh Lung’s book was how, she’d mention at times she would try to empathize with her case officers. She would try to see them as human beings who have jobs and families. She even think of cooperating just so that they would not risk their jobs. She did try to rationalize it as a kind of Stockholm Syndrome – this kind of sympathy for your kidnappers. And I think it was very clear to me that it was an asymmetrical relationship. You have these detainees who exhibited much greater humanity than their captors who obviously saw them, I don’t know, either as scapegoats or this vessels through which you’re supposed to break and extract confessions from. That for me was a very harrowing moment in the book, when you obviously have this asymmetrical relationship, one party trying to humanize the other and the other party is trying to completely dehumanize the other because how can you beat someone up unless you see the person as less than human. You see the person as not consisting of your own anatomy, of that very nerve that can cost you pain.

So when I looked at this, I realized that this is a society that has this kind of duality – we’re both the captors as well as the detainees. The way to move forward is to try to identify with one of these parties more than the other. That’s why I always keep insisting that the truth will have to come to light. There needs to be some kind of commission of inquiry into what happened because otherwise this present government will not have any kind of moral legitimacy.

Lastly, I will just talk about the title of this book. I think it’s a beautiful title because it’s called Beyond the Blue Gate. The idea of a beyond – you can see it from the perspective of someone who was within Whitley Detention Centre and yearning for the freedom outside. But I think from the perspective of some of us who have enjoyed free lives, it is also about being from the outside looking in so that there is that dual perspective. As we, as people who have not been through this incident and have not suffered, what then is our responsibility? How can we try to imagine what happened inside and tell ourselves that this should never happen again. How can we build a network for solidarity and empathy for one another to ensure that this must never happen again. And I think that one of the ways to really guarantee that no matter how much they try to soft sell the Internal Security Act as a kind of new anti-terror legislation and a very useful took, etc, the ISA really has to go if we wish to see ourselves closer these people, to these courageous detainees.

And if we believe in the idea of certain conscience in society… (The lights went off at this juncture I think.) So I don’t see any other choice actually than to call for the abolishment of the Internal Security Act. And with that, I would like to hand over to Miss Teo Soh Lung who will share with you. Thank you very much.

 

Speech by Teo Soh Lung

Friends, relatives, Dr Lim Hock Siew, my fellow former ISA detainees, a very good afternoon to all of you. Thank you so much for making time to attend the launch of my book.

I would also like to thank all my friends who have worked so hard to organise this event for me.

Today I am very happy because at long last, a manuscript which I wrote some 20 years ago need not be kept a secret anymore! It is a relief for me because I no longer need to smile and keep a dumb look when friends and young people ask me if I would write about my experience in detention. Now I can tell them that they can read my book to find out what happened in 1987.

Let me tell you why and how this book was written. In a way, I owe it to the ISD.

Before my release from detention in 1990, I asked senior ISD officers if I could take a holiday abroad. They assured me that it would not be a problem and they would give me permission in the shortest possible time. Accordingly, I applied for permission to leave for Australia soon after my release. The ISD asked me to show proof that I was really going abroad. Dutifully, I applied for a visa and booked a return air ticket to Australia. After some time, they rejected my application to leave Singapore.

What could I say to that rejection. My trip had been planned and I had received some money from my sister in Perth. I decided to put the money to good use. With the help of friends, I purchased a computer and learnt to use it. I thought it would be good if I knew how to use the computer as it would help me when I return to legal practice one day. So my friends gave me some free lessons. And so I learnt to use the computer and indeed it was very useful when I re-started my legal practice. It was while learning how to use the computer, that I decided to write about my prison experience.

In those days, I spent a lot of time reading documents about the Marxist conspiracy that I could not read when I was in prison. I was pretty disciplined. I spent a few hours every day writing. I wrote furiously, putting down everything I could remember. The chapters were very long, not like what they are in the book today. I wrote and wrote and when it was done, I asked my good friend, the late Aileen Lau to read it. Thereafter, I just put the manuscript away. No one read the manuscript except Aileen and another friend. Many years later, I took the manuscript out but just could not read it. The secret manuscript however bugged me time and again. Friends and young people ask if I would tell my story. I decided that I must look seriously into the possibility of publishing my account so as to avoid all these queries. And that was one of the reasons why I retired from legal practice several years ago.

But I did nothing until one day, an old friend told me that since I have retired, I should try and write about my prison experience. She volunteered to edit my script. I accepted her offer. So for several months, I laboured over the editing of my 20 year old manuscript. I gave my friend instalments of my writing and she was amazed at what I wrote and assured me that it was worthy of publication. Encouraged by her comments, I showed it to a few friends and they too said that it was quite interesting and that I should set the record straight for posterity.

Last year, one of my neighbours told me that my name was mentioned in the Men in White. He asked me if I would give him a lesson on Marxism! I told him that I have not read Marx and wished I am really a Marxist as alleged by the government! Out of curiosity, I decided to borrow the book from the library but before I could do that, my sister in law bought the book for me as a Christmas present! So I flipped the index and found that indeed my name and that of several of my friends were mentioned in the book. The authors did not interview me or my co conspirators. I think they did not even read available documents when writing the book. One glaring error is found at page 437 about my appearance and that of Tang Fong Har and Francis Seow before the Select Committee on the Legal Profession Amendment Bill. I quote the paragraph:

“Both Teo and Tang, together with Seow and several other witnesses, appeared at the select committee hearing at the Parliament House Annexe in October before a panel chaired by the speaker of parliament, Yeoh Ghim Seng. They faced relentless questioning by Lee, law minister E W Barker and Jayakumar. The proceedings, held over two days, were televised. At the end of the hearing, all were agreed that the Law Society should keep out of politics.”

If the authors had bothered to read the official report of the select committee, they would have discovered that the relentless questioning of the three of us was by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew alone.

Sometime in 2007, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew advised his MPs on the writing of memoirs. He said:

“When writing memoirs, you are talking to posterity. Among them will be historians who will check what you write against the accounts of others. Do not shade the past.”

My book is my account of what happened in 1987 and what I did before that. I leave you to form your own conclusion as to who is telling the truth, the men in white or me.

The alleged Marxist conspiracy which saw the arrest and imprisonment without trial of 24 people in 1987 and 1988 have caused tremendous hardship and misery to many. Some of those arrested were young polytechnic students of 16 or 17 years old. You can imagine the trauma they experienced when they were arrested. Today, six of the 24 have left Singapore and several friends who were accused of instigating us are now living in exile. Many of us still suffer from the trauma of arrest and imprisonment and like rape victims, some still cannot speak about their experience to their families. They would rather be left alone and not be reminded of the episode.

As a victim of the ISA, and many in this audience are also victims, indeed victims who have suffered much more than me, I call for the ISA to be abolished. The ISA and its predecessors, the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance and the Emergency Regulations have destroyed and damaged many lives from British colonial days till today. We do not know how many have suffered under the ISA but it would not be wrong to estimate the figure as several thousands. To imprison a person without trial for an indefinite period of time is cruel and inhuman. Singapore as a rich first world nation cannot tolerate such a law. As early as 1955, Lee Kuan Yew in arguing against the passage of the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance said eloquently in the legislative assembly:-

“… If it is not totalitarian to arrest a man and detain him when you cannot charge him with any offence against any written law – if that is not what we have always cried out against the Fascist States – then what is it?”

(Hansard September 1955 Col 726)

Further in his speech he said:

“I believe that for seven years now we have developed an Emergency mentality. Many people believe that the only way to keep down any form of agitation, which anybody may have exploited for their own personal or political ends, is by the use of repressive laws, more policemen, and more arrests. But this has been proved false after seven years. I hate to think that after another three or four years, or whenever it may be when the Chief Minister decides to go back to the people, that it is again to be proved false. It is such a futile answer to the Communist challenge. If we are to survive as a free democracy, then we must be prepared, in principle, to concede to our enemies – even those who do not subscribe to our views – as much constitutional right as you concede yourself. My plea – to quote from someone in another context – is that the time has come in Malaya for an agonising reappraisal of strategy and strength. To go blindly in the hope that somehow or the other suppression can prevent latent social, economic and political discontents from manifesting themselves and disrupting the structure of society is a piece of folly to which my Party does not subscribe.”

It is my sincere hope that the Senior Minister will today reflect on what he said and believed in 1955. More repressive laws, more policemen and more arrests can never prevent latent social economic and political discontents from manifesting themselves and disrupting the structure of society.

Thank you.

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Beyond The Blue Gate book launch

 

Die gedanken sind frei version. Video of the whole event coming soon.

The launch of Beyond the Blue Gate, Recollections of a Political Prisoner at The Legends, Fort Canning Park, Singapore on 26 June 2010 marked the beginning of Function 8 which was formed by a group of former 1987 ISA detainees and their friends. The publication gave them a reason to return to activities of their good old days when they were filled with the idealism until several of them were arrested and detained without trial on 21 May 1987.

 

Posted in Beyond The Blue Gate | Leave a comment

Dr Lim Hock Siew at Muse House

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Dr Lim Hock Siew on Operation Cold Store

25 October 2011

Now I think most of you have read the book, The Fajar Generation. If you have read it, then you would probably know everything about Operation Cold Store. In the book, Dr Poh Soo Kai quoted extensively from the British archives, revealing the collaboration and conspiracy between Lee Kuan Yew and the British ever since he came to power in 1959.

The whole crux of the matter in Operation Cold Store was to prevent the opposition from coming into power through peaceful, constitutional means and to ensure that the PAP carry on its power. All these talk of security and violence are just propaganda. The British archival documents have shown that there was no violence and no evidence of any communist conspiracy.

In the ninth year of my detention, the head of the Special Branch, told me, “Dr Lim, you don’t have to deny to us that you are a communist; we know from our records that you are not a communist.” I said, “What the hell is Lee Kuan Yew talking about communism?” He replied, “He had to say all that, otherwise he can’t justify your detention.”

To fully appreciate Operation Cold Store, one has to go back to the 1950s and appreciate the political atmosphere prevailing at that time in Singapore and throughout Asia. The Second World War ended in 1945 and the British returned to Singapore. During the Japanese Occupation, the only people fighting against the Japanese were the Communist Party of Malaya. They were very brave in fighting the Japanese, who were very cruel in suppressing them.

After the war in 1945, the communists were operating with the sanction of the British. In fact, they had a very big headquarters in Middle Road, with a communist holding a rifle and a communist flag standing outside. The communists were very well-organised and were prepared to take over power from the British. Thus, in 1948, the British decided to clamp down on the communists. It was the British who started the emergency, not Chin Peng. If you read Chin Peng’s book,1 he said they were not prepared to fight and were caught unaware. The British suddenly arrested as many as they could lay their hands on. As a result, they went underground and started fighting.

I met Chin Peng about four years ago, when he came to Singapore to speak at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. It was at the invitation of Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. During the talk, he said that they were not prepared at that time. The British were arresting all the communists. He said when Lee Kuan Yew formed the PAP in 1954, he asked the Communist Party of Malaya to help him start the PAP. How did Lee Kuan Yew contact all these people? I don’t know. Chin Peng said “We sent a few cadres to help him – Lim Chin Siong, Devan Nair and Samad Ismail.” So what role they played, I don’t know.

Chin Siong was a member of the Anti- British League, which was a fringe organisation of the communists. He was not actually a member of the Communist Party. He said this frankly, without coercion or fear of retaliation or anything like that. It was in this context that the PAP came into being in 1954. At that time, it was just the end of the White Terror, which was imposed by the British in 1948 when they introduced the Emergency Regulations.2 Between 1948-1954, there was hardly any open political activity. All political activities were suppressed in the name of suppressing communism. The anti-communist bogey was used to suppress all legitimate political activities. Lim Kean Chye and John Eber, leaders of the Singapore Democratic Union were arrested. The union was practically dissolved because they were not allowed to function. Eber left Singapore for England after his release. Kean Chye was detained for a while. An interesting fact about Kean Chye, a Cambridge graduate and lawyer is that the British asked him to take over Singapore. Kean Chye refused and was asked to disappear. If he had agreed, he would have been cultivated by the British and Lee Kuan Yew would not have been of any assistance to the British. Kean Chye said “no, I will not become a British stooge.”

In 1954, after the Fajar trial3 and after the Chinese School student demonstrations, there was a complete re-awakening of the political situation, something like what happened after the general election of 2011. In the wake of this political awakening, the PAP came into being. Everyone became politically alert.

So who formed the PAP at the beginning? It was mainly the workers led by Lim Chin Siong and the Chinese school students. Members of the Fajar editorial board, the University Socialist Club were numerically in the minority, although they played a very important role. When the PAP was formed in 1954, the main leaders were Lim Chin Siong, Lee Kuan Yew and James Puthucheary. K. M. Byrne and Toh Chin Chye were also there with Lee Kuan Yew. Lee Kuan Yew invited Tunku Abdul Rahman and Dato Tan Cheng Lock to attend the inaugural meeting of the PAP. They gave the PAP their moral support and made it appear as a Pan Malayan movement but essentially it was a Singapore movement. The activities of the PAP were very vigorous because the Chinese school students and the trade unions were there, and they formed the majority of the PAP membership. At that time, there was already a rift. Lee Kuan Yew knew that he was not in control of the party. The real person in control of the party was Lim Chin Siong.

In 1955, there was a mass rally to welcome two British MPs who came to Singapore to assess whether our population was ready for independence. David Marshall was then the Chief Minister. He held a rally at Kallang. Kallang at that time was undeveloped – there was a very big open field. The PAP also held a rally. On top of the lorry we saw Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong. The rally was very huge, I think at least 40,000 – 50,000 people. We were amazed at the big crowd but poor Marshall’s crowd was very small, about 2000 people. Something happened to Marshall’s stage … it collapsed. People said it was a sabotage, some people came to cut the rattan support (of the stage) and it happened to rain. There was a lot of commotion.

A remarkable thing about the rally organised by Lim Chin Siong and Lee Kuan Yew, was that it was very well disciplined. They just used the megaphone, told them to sit down … no disturbance. No riot at all. Very well disciplined. When told to disperse, they dispersed. No disturbance. They knew that if there was any trouble, the British would use that as an excuse to clamp down on all the organisations.

Lim Chin Siong and Lee Kuan Yew together with David Marshall, went to London for the constitutional talks to discuss independence. That talk was a failure, because Marshall demanded very rapid changes. The Internal Security Council must be in the hands of the Singapore elected members and not the British. The finance and foreign affairs should also be given to Singapore leaders. So, the British of course, were not open to entertain such demands. Marshall came back empty-handed and he felt that he lost face. He resigned. His second in command, Lim Yew Hock, took over.

Lim Yew Hock wanted to prove to the British that he could be relied upon to suppress the trade unions. He started provoking the Chinese school students the trade unions, and of course, it led to a riot. If you review the events, they were all systematic provocations. He expected them to protest and used that protest as an excuse for suppression. In 1956, there was a big riot arising from the clamping down of all the left-wing organisations, especially the banning of the Chinese school students’ union. I was there at Bukit Timah, when the Chinese students camped inside Chinese High School. Students there camped for about one week. The government gave them an ultimatum to disperse. They did not disperse. That night, the ultimatum ended and the troops and police were outside the school. I was there with two other university students. The students did not create any trouble. They were all inside, but it was the crowd outside that booed at the police and started throwing stones at the police. The police charged and then, the riot started. Whether this crowd was agent provocateurs or whether they were genuinely dissatisfied with the police, I don’t know. But that’s how the riot started outside the school. Of course, that night, the police went into Chinese High School and dispersed the students, who were then forced down to Bukit Timah Road and marched to Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Their spirit was very high. I saw them marching down to Chinese Chamber of Commerce singing away.

The riot lasted for about one week and dozens of people were killed. It was almost a spontaneous riot. The population was very angry with Lim Yew Hock’s government. Lee Kuan Yew of course, condemned the subsequent arrests. He praised the students and the workers. Lee Kuan Yew was on the side of those who were arrested. You should read his speeches in the Legislative Assembly, how he condemned the arrests and talked about democracy – that you must put people on trial and not just jail them indefinitely. This is precisely the opposite of what he’s doing now. It is very interesting, what he is capable of doing. He was then a very hard advocate of democracy, freedom of speech, of thought and assembly.

In 1956, there was a mass arrest of over 300 members of the Left-wing and trade unions. James Puthucheary, Lim Chin Siong, Devan Nair, S. Woodhull were arrested. In 1957, there was another sweep on trade unionists. That was a made-up affair, because they alleged the trade unionists wanted to take control of the PAP, which was not true. It was all instigated by someone inside the PAP. I was against the move and tried to stop it, but they wouldn’t listen because I was not an important person at that time. They went ahead and started electing six members of the 12 Central Executive Council members of the PAP. Those six were all trade unionists. Lee Kuan Yew thought that was a threat to his position and he resigned to allow Lim Yew Hock to arrest all the six people namely Tan Chong Kim, Tan Kong Guan, Goh Boon Toh, Tan Say Kum, Ong Chye Ann and Lim Chin Joo.After these people (except Lim Chin Joo) were arrested, Lee Kuan Yew came back, changed the whole PAP constitution to two strata of membership. One is the cadre membership and the other is the ordinary membership. Only cadre members can have the right to vote for the members of the central committee I appoint you so that you can elect me. It is a self-propagating system which Lee Kuan Yew justified was akin to the Pope and the cardinals in the Vatican. The system lasted for 2000 years.

In 1959, the elections came. The left-wing gave their full support to Lee Kuan Yew’s group because there was no other available group in Singapore at that time. Lee Kuan Yew was elected. PAP won 43 seats out of 54. Very big shift. That was predicted, because Lim Yew Hock and all the other groups were not organised at all. The Chinese school students, the trade unions, were all very well-organised when they started the elections. After being elected, they released eight detainees – Lim Chin Siong, S. Woodhull, James Puthucheary, Devan Nair, Fong Swee Suan and a few others. What is important was that immediately after Lee Kuan Yew took over power, he gave a talk at the Internal Security Council where he, Lee Kuan Yew, gave his thoughts about how to deal with Lim Chin Siong’s group. This was recorded in the British archives. Already at that time, he was thinking of how to deal with this group.

The British understood Lee Kuan Yew’s position. In fact, prior to this, we did not know he was already in contact with the British Special Branch, Richard Corridon. We didn’t know at that time that he was playing a double game, with the British and at the same time, posing himself as a very Left-wing, radical, democrat and rebel. He was very inspiring at that time. At least I was very inspired by him. Very democratic and fierce with uncompromising anti-colonial stand. When he came to power, he was supposed to release all political detainees. There were 20 odd detainees who were not released from the 1956 batch. The trade unions were asking him to release them. Under pressure, he pretended that he wanted to release them, but secretly again it was revealed in the British documents that he was telling the British that “I will ask for their release and you, Lord Selkirk will counter that they will not be released”. So you take the blame and I play the good guy. Selkirk refused to be a participant in this deception. According to regulations, the Internal Security Council had to wait for the Singapore government to propose release and the British were ready to release them but Lee Kuan Yew refused to propose, and put the blame on the British and Malayan government. Eventually, Ong Eng Guan, who was quite a treasure in the PAP as he was a very good Hokkien speaker, attended one of the Council meetings. He proposed that those detainees be released. That shocked Lee Kuan Yew because it was against his plans – to hide the whole truth. Subsequently, Ong Eng Guan was not allowed to attend the Council and only Lee Kuan Yew could speak at the Council.

Ong Eng Guan was then expelled from the PAP. That was in 1961. He resigned and contested the by-election in Hong Lim, on the basis of those demands, very good demands – release of political detainees, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, anti-colonialism. He put forward 16 demands which we could not oppose. Lim Chin Siong was caught in a dilemma because he could not openly support Ong Eng Guan as he was still with the PAP. So he called for unity of the party, and at the same time, quietly demanding Lee Kuan Yew to release the detainees. Ong Eng Guan won the by-election by a very wide margin. Lee Kuan Yew was very upset. Two months later, there was another by-election as a PAP MP Baharuddin bin Ariff had died. Under the constitution, they had to call for a by-election in Anson. David Marshall stood in that election. This time, the left-wing did not oppose David Marshall, in fact, they were demanding the release of detainees. The electorate took the hint, defeated the PAP and elected David Marshall. These two electoral defeats made Lee Kuan Yew very upset. In fact, at that time, he was proposing to the British … and this is clearly in the records. In conversation with Selkirk on 28 July 1961, at the time of the formation of the Barisan Sosialis, the Assistant Commis sioner reported Lee Kuan Yew’s tactics in the following terms: “He went on to suggest that in order to avoid the Communists taking over, he will create a situation in which the UK Commissioner would be forced to suspend the Constitution. This might be done either by the Singapore Government inviting a Russian trade mission to Singapore thus forcing a constitutional crisis, or by instigating riots and disorder, requiring the intervention of British troops. I did, however, form the impression that he was quite certain he would lose the general election and was seriously toying with the thought of forcing British intervention in order to prevent his political enemies from forming the government.”4

This is Lee Kuan Yew. It was evident at that time, that he was thinking of stopping the election or doing something to prevent his opponents inside the PAP from taking over the government. The British of course, refused to go along. At that time, it must be remembered that anti-communism was at its height. The war in Korea, the war in Vietnam, and the American encirclement of China … the Bamboo Curtain was imposed by America and not by the Chinese … all these rabid anti-communism was very rife in this area. So to send a trade delegation to Russia or to invite a Russian delegation was something unthought of, a very radical thing. That was what Lee Kuan Yew proposed to do, just to give the British an excuse to ban the Constitution, ban the election, so that he need not have to lose the election. Subsequent to that, he was trying to get the British to do something to prevent the election from being held in 1963.

The British gave him a saving line – a merger of Singapore with Malaya. This pan- Malayan merger was something the British thought of in 1945, before the end of the war. They called it the Grand Design. They wanted to put the Borneo territories and Singapore with Malaya as one big component. Using the Malaysian government to control these territories on behalf of the British. This design was not unique. In South Arabia, they also had this kind of design where they put South Yemen under North Yemen. South Yemen had a very left-wing party while, North Yemen was very conservative. They wanted to merge these two so that North Yemen could control South Yemen. Today, there are lots of trouble in South Yemen. Also, in the West Indies the British had this kind of design where they put a big conservative government to control the radicals, including British Guiana now Guyana.

In 1959, the British thought it was time to bring out the Grand Design. They persuaded Tunku Abdul Rahman to accept it. Tunku Abdul Rahman was initially reluctant for two reasons. He said, firstly, there were too many Chinese in Singapore and they were all not loyal to Malaya. Secondly, there were too many communists.

We the Barisan said that as far as the Chinese were concerned, nothing could be done about it. They were part of our people. We had to accept them whether or not there was merger. As far as communists were concerned, we said: “You name the communists.” The Tunku said there were 300 communists. Lim Chin Siong replied that they could put all those Tunku named as communists in prison, and merge the two countries. We would not object. That was a serious statement – put all the 300 that you name in prison, so long as you accept the merger for the two territories. Of course they wouldn’t do it. The problem facing the Tunku was how to accept merger while limiting the political influence of Singapore.

All kinds of tactics were used. At first they wanted to have two types of citizenship – Malayan citizenship divided into two: one Malaysian, one Singapore – but it was too obvious. Later on they wanted to change to Malaysian citizenship: one Malaysian, the other Malaysian (Singapore). These Malaysian (Singapore) citizens cannot have voting rights in Malaysia. They cannot have proportional representation – they cannot take part in Malaysian politics. That was not a real merger. It was a sham merger. And there would not be proportional representation in the federal parliament. We were allowed only 15 seats when our population would have entitled us to at least 25. Barisan opposed merger on the basis of these two issues. If you have a general merger based on uniform citizenship and proportional representation, we would campaign for merger. Of course, the Tunku refused. But Lee Kuan Yew wanted merger because he wanted the Tunku to arrest all the left-wing while posing himself as an innocent, innocuous person. He wanted the arrests to take place, but making the Tunku as the person responsible for the arrests. In fact, he wanted to do the dirty job but did not want the responsibility for it. The Tunku of course, was not that stupid. He said, you want it, you have to take the responsibility and you have to arrest those people before merger. Lee Kuan Yew wanted merger to take place, then the arrests so that he would emerge as though he was an innocent person. In the end, the Tunku forced him to have the arrests before merger.

All the debates about the merger, the conditions for merger, were all very ridiculous. It is all in Lee Siew Choh’s speech in the Legislative Assembly5 where we tore down to bits all the PAP lies. Then they had the referendum. It was a ridiculous referendum. It provided a sham choice of three options, all drafted by the PAP: 1.The PAP’s merger plan, 2. the so-called Barisan merger plan, which according to their interpretation meant 2/3 of the Singapore citizens would be deprived of their citizenship and without any proportional representation. The third option was merger on the same terms as the Borneo territories, the conditions of which at that time were not spelled out. So how do you consider it a choice when you don’t know the conditions? You had to vote for one of those three choices. Voting was compulsory. You cannot vote against any of them, you have to vote one of them and if you don’t vote, it is a crime. If you put a blank vote, it was considered a vote for the government’s proposal.

I went to the United Nations to speak about that referendum and they all had a good laugh. They used the sham referendum to give them the excuse that the people were supporting the government’s proposal. After that referendum, they were going to arrest the left-wing. They were still not sure because Selkirk was saying there was no evidence that they were doing anything subversive. There was no evidence they were connected to the Malayan Communist Party. In fact, the documents in the British Archives confirm that there was no evidence at all to justify a repression. What were they going to do? How to justify the arrests?

The Brunei revolt broke out, on 8 December 81962. Lee Kuan Yew jumped on that, saying that it was a god-sent opportunity to arrest the left. The Brunei revolt had nothing to do with the Barisan. They said the Barisan was an accomplice to it. That’s not true. A.M. Azahari had been coming to Singapore ever since 1954 or 55. I met him several times. He came to the University Socialist Club to give a talk. He was openly talking about armed revolution. I thought he was a joker. How could he be an armed revolutionary when he talked so openly. When the Barisan Sosialis was formed in 1961, he came and gave an address at the inaugural meeting. A few days before the Brunei revolt on 3rd December, he came to Singapore to see Lim Chin Siong and Said Zahari. They had lunch at Rendezvous Restaurant in Bras Basah Road. That lunch was monitored by. Special Branch

Azahari met Chin Siong at that time and privately told Chin Siong they were going to launch a revolution. He expected Chin Siong to engineer an event in Singapore to tie down the British troops here so that they wouldn’t be sent to Brunei to suppress the revolution. Chin Siong told Azahari that we would not do that. We were firmly sticking to a constitutional struggle. At most we could give moral support – issue statements and rallies. But we would certainly not have rallies or demonstrations to create trouble in Singapore to tie down the British troops. In any case, at that time we were particularly restrained. We didn’t want to give the British the excuse to arrest us to knock us out of the 1963 elections which we were confident of doing well in.

When the revolution broke out, we gave them good publicity. I personally wrote an editorial in the Plebeian supporting the revolution. The Brunei Partai Rakyat had won all 16 of the 33 seats in the Legislative Assembly. 16 represented the total of the elected members in the assembly. However, they were still in the minority (the British having the remaining 17 seats) even though they had the support of the population. They asked the British to get out but were turned down. So they had to revolt, something they had been preparing for the last five years. The British knew about the planned revolt as they were training openly. Why did the British allow them to have this preparation? I think they purposely let the revolt happen so that they can be clamped down. The British sent Gurkhas from Singapore, and the Tunku sent Malay policemen from Malaysia to Brunei. That was a sad blow to the Malayan government, sending Malays to fight Malays in Brunei. It was bad propaganda for the Tunku.

Anyway, the revolt was put down very quickly and Lee Kuan Yew ridiculed it. He called them Lilliputian soldiers, from Gulliver’s Travels. To us, that was a side show. It showed the people of Brunei were against merger with Malaysia. The reason was very simple. Brunei was an oil producing country. Every year, they get one hundred million dollars in surplus. It would go to Malaysia if they merged. The Tunku, of course, welcomed it. In the end, Brunei refused to join Malaysia. Sarawak and Sabah were pushed by the British to join Malaysia. Singapore was all for it.

When the merger took place, Lim Chin Siong, I and all the leaders of Barisan had already been arrested. The arrest was very interesting. The government of Britain, Malaya and Singapore discussed the number of people to arrest. The three governments had a list each. PAP’s list was the longest – 180-200 people. The British list was not very long and the Tunku’s in the middle. The arrests were supposed to take place in December 1962 but it happened in February 1963. Lee Kuan Yew had insisted that two MPs from Malaya should also be arrested to make it appear as a pan-Malayan suppression. Those two were Lim Kean Siew and Ahmad Boestamam. Lim Kean Siew was the leader of the Labour Party and Ahmad Boestamam was the Chairman of Partai Rakyat. Ahmad Boestamam had previously been arrested and imprisoned for 8 years by the British. The Tunku was sympathetic to him and refused to arrest him again. He was not a communist. Neither was Kean Siew. Kean Siew was a Cambridge graduate in law. I think he antagonised Lee Kuan Yew at a forum at the University of Malaya in KL. I was there at the forum representing Barisan and Kean Siew represented the Labour Party. We irritated Lee Kuan Yew at that forum until his face was flushed red.

If you irritate Lee Kuan Yew once, he will get you when he has a chance. It was a personal vengeance and that is his personality. The Tunku refused to arrest those two persons. He refused to play the bad guy to make Lee look good? The plan fell apart and they postponed the arrests to February 2, 1963. Lee Kuan Yew wanted to make it appear as if the arrest was Tunku’s idea not his. [blocked text potentially defamatory]

The Internal Security Council had to have a final meeting regarding the arrests in Kuala Lumpur (KL), not Singapore. The police had to be assembled in Malaysia, and then come down through the causeway before midnight. At 2 a.m., they left Johor. When they had the Council meeting in KL, I received news about it. My friend in KL told me the arrest was going to take place that night. We had friends all over and the information was quite good. We anticipated the arrests that very night. I couldn’t sleep the whole night waiting for the police to come. They came at about 4.30 to 5, and we were all taken to Outram Prison. Outram Prison is now demolished. That was the February 2nd arrests. We were all put into solitary confinement for 3-5 months and subsequently transferred to Changi Prison. More than 130 people were arrested.

1 Chin Peng as told by Ian Ward and Norma Miraflor My Side of History Media Masters Singapore 2003.

2 Emergency Regulations, 21 July 1948

3 Members of the Editorial Board of the Fajar, a publication of the University Socialist Club were charged for sedition.

4 Poh Soo Kai, Tan Jing Quee & Koh Kay Yew Eds The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore, Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Petaling Jaya, 2010, p. 171

5 Legislative Assembly 2 September 1962

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“RELATIVELY FAST AND INEXPENSIVE?”

by Teo Soh Lung

SDP has filed an application to set aside the decision of Minister Josephine Teo who had rejected its appeal to cancel her directions issued under the Protection from Online Falsehood and Manipulation Act or POFMA. See https://yoursdp.org/…/sdp-files-case-against-mom-in-high-co…

The application is scheduled for hearing at 10.00 a.m. on Thursday, 16 January 2020 before the High Court.

Re-reading the report in The Straits Times of 2 October 2019 on the commencement of the POFMA Regulations, I realised that I was misled on the issue of costs in POFMA proceedings. I suspect most readers too would have been misled!

The report gave the impression that Minister K Shanmugam made a special concession for High Court hearings for POFMA cases because of public opinion. It gave the impression that under POFMA Regulations, court fees for the first three days of hearing before the High Court are waived and this is an exception to the general rule.

There is nothing exceptional about the waiver of court fees i.e. fees payable to the court for the first three days of hearing. This waiver applies to all claims under $1 million. See https://www.supremecourt.gov.sg/…/court-fees-and-hearing-fe….

Legal costs are never restricted to court fees. Even though no court fees are payable for the first three days of hearing, an applicant has still to incur $500 for the filing of the originating summons and at least $50 for the filing of an affidavit in support.

Further, court fees are not the only fees that will have to be incurred by a litigant. What if an applicant loses its case? Would the court order each party to bear its own costs or would it order the losing party to pay the costs of the winner?

Let’s assume that SDP loses the application. Would the minister seek payment of costs? Would she magnanimously forego costs which after all will be paid by taxpayers? If she demands costs, how much would SDP have to pay?

I should think that legal costs will run into tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands especially when a senior counsel is engaged.

If SDP wins the application, all costs payable to it will be borne by taxpayers.

If Minister Josephine Teo wins, costs collected from SDP will ultimately be paid to her lawyers as part of legal fees. Therefore as taxpayers, we will have to bear Minister Josephine Teo’s legal costs whether she wins or loses.

So what did Minister K Shanmugam mean when he said in parliament and reported in The Straits Times that “the appeal process would be relatively fast and inexpensive for individuals?” He didn’t promise that the government will waive costs in every case!

Nothing is free in Singapore. Legal costs are never cheap. Singapore is an expensive first world country and the quest for justice don’t come cheap. So let us not be fooled by the minister that under POFMA, the legal process is “relatively fast and inexpensive”.

POFMA is definitely not beneficial to us, the people of Singapore!

 

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Ministry Of Manpower vs SDP

by Teo Soh Lung

The Ministry of Manpower accused the SDP on 14 Dec 2019 of having a “singular objective – to stoke fear and anxiety among local PMETs” when it published two facebook postings and an article.

The SDP responded yesterday (2 Jan 2020) in these words:

“… Clearly, the MOM has used the law for political-partisan purposes to stymie legitimate criticism of the PAP’s foreign PMET policy that has been and continues to be unfair to Singaporeans. That the general election is not far away makes our case even more salient.

If POFMA is to have legitimate authority going forward, then Ms Teo must apologise to the SDP. Accusing a party of making “false statements of fact” is a serious matter and should be done only with the highest of standards and irrefutable evidence.

Under such circumstances, we call on the Minister to not only retract the Correction Directions but also issue an immediate, unambiguous and public apology to the SDP and undertake not to make such similar acts in future, failing which we will be obliged to pursue the matter in a court of law.”

I am impressed with SDP’s statement especially the final paragraph. Yes, retract, apologise and undertake not to repeat a wrong have always been the language of the powerful. Now a small opposition party has used it on the mighty government.

POFMA is a law that only benefits the PAP government. Its legitimacy or rather legality, lies merely on the fact that the law was passed by the PAP’s super majority in parliament. This law can never be just or beneficial to the people because it allows ministers to issue directions and require appeals against such directions to go through the ministers who issued the directions. The ministers as part of the Executive has therefore been given judicial powers which should belong exclusively to the Judiciary since our constitution guarantees the separation of powers.

A government that shuts out all criticisms and opinions by using its laws against citizens who do not use or encourage violence, is a government that is afraid of its own citizens. It is a government that fails to realise that blindly following past practices of enacting more and more harsh laws to protect itself is detrimental to the development of Singapore and her hard working, creative and patient people. It is a government that no longer knows how to govern.

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