LIVING IN A TIME OF DECEPTION

Living in a time of deception
Dr Poh Soo Kai shatters the history of Singapore espoused by Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party. Nine years younger than Lee, Dr Poh exposes the tactics of Lee as a master politician—how he made use of his friends and foes to achieve his goals and how they were discarded or punished when they switched allegiance or were no longer useful to him. Dr Poh’s refusal to let Lee have his way cost him his family and an illustrious career in medicine. He spent a total of 17 years in prison without trial. Singapore today is the result of what Lee Kuan Yew did to his political opponents in the 1960s and 70s. The publication of this memoir more than 50 years after Operation Coldstore is late but exceedingly important to Singaporeans who wish to understand why they are deprived of basic human rights which are taken for granted by people in other first-world countries. I admire and respect Dr Poh for his determination and courage in recalling a painful past.

Teo Soh Lung

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UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW (Singapore – Second Cycle)

24th Session, January – February 2016
Submission by Function 8  (15 June 2015)

  1. Function 8 submits on “Preventive Detention” or more accurately “indefinite imprisonment without trial” that is permitted by three Singapore statutes: the Internal Security Act, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act. This power to arbitrarily arrest and imprison people without trial negates Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The People’s Action Party (PAP) government has since 1959 freely exercised this arbitrary power. Imprisonment without trial has severe and detrimental consequences for Singaporeans and the world as other countries, not knowing fully how this power is used, attempt to emulate Singapore.
  2. Internal Security Act (ISA)
  • Position of Muslim prisoners today

2.1.1    Singapore’s response to questions on preventive detention at the interactive dialogue on 11 July 2011 was that “it [preventive detention] was used only as a last resort in very exceptional circumstances, and with appropriate procedural safeguards.” (WGUPR 81). The recommendations by Slovenia and Canada that Singapore review preventive detention so as not to violate the right to fair trial and right to counsel did not enjoy Singapore’s support. (WGUPR 97.10 and 97.11)

2.1.2    Singapore’s National Report states: “Since December 2001, over 50 persons have been held in preventive detention for involvement in terrorism-related activities.”  From our documentation, 81 Muslims (including 3 who were re-arrested) have been imprisoned since August 2001, 13 of whom were arrested after the date of the National Report. Instead of using the vague phrase of “over 50 people”, the government should have stated that 68 people or nearly 70 people were imprisoned. The manner in which the number of prisoners is officially reported to an august body, the UN, shows the government’s reluctance to give full and frank disclosure.

2.1.3    No evidence has been produced against any of the 81 imprisoned and none has been charged or tried in open court. Three of these prisoners are still in prison and each of them has now spent more than 13 years in jail without trial, a record equivalent or even worse than the Guantanamo prisoners.

2.1.4    In April and May 2015, two young Muslims, aged 19 and 17, were arrested and imprisoned without trial under the ISA.[1] The government alleged that these unarmed young people were self-radicalised and harboured the intention to carry out violent attacks. Again, these allegations were not substantiated by any evidence. No weapons or documents showing plans to carry out violent attacks were disclosed. Singapore is peaceful and incident-free. These are clear cases of the government using the ISA, not “as a last resort in very exceptional circumstances” but for political reasons. In view of the crisis in Syria and elsewhere, its intent is to show that young people may be influenced by such conflicts and the ISA is necessary to suppress such developments.

2.1.5    Today, there are 11 people, all Muslims, being imprisoned under this law. Their names and dates of arrests are: Haji Ibrahim bin Haji Maidin (Dec 2001), Alahuddeen bin Abdullah (Oct 2002), Mohd Aslam bin Yar Ali Khan (Dec 2002), Mas Selamat bin Kastari (Sept 2010), Abdul Rahimbin Abdul Rahman (Feb 2012), Husaini bin Ismail (May 2012), Abdul Basheer s/o Abdul Kader (Sept 2012), Asyrani bin Hussaini (Mar 2013), Masyhadi bin Mas Selamat (Oct 2013), M Arifil Azim Putra Norja’i (Apr 2015) and a 17-year-old unnamed youth (May 2015).

  • “Preventive Detention” a misnomer

2.2.1    The term “preventive detention” is misleading. It presupposes that certain individuals ought to be incarcerated as a pre-emptive move to prevent the committing of offences which might endanger national security. In reality, since the PAP came into power in 1959, thousands had been imprisoned without any charge being brought against them. It was not coincidental that those individuals were key political opponents of the PAP. It is this extensive use of such arbitrary power of arrests and indefinite imprisonment without trial that helped perpetuate the rule of the PAP. Such detentions should be called “Executive imprisonment without trial” since it is ordered by the executive or simply “imprisonment without trial”.  With this draconian power in their hands, the ruling PAP is effective in curbing the growth of organised dissent and maintaining near-absolute majority rule.

  • Background on the use of the ISA and its consequences

2.3.1    In the 1960s and 70s, the ISA was used against political opponents, trade unionists, journalists, professionals, activists and students in order to prevent them from challenging the PAP’s hold on power. By the 1980s, only professionals and activists remained to be imprisoned under the ISA. From 1990 to 2000, there were no arrests. From 2001 till today, 81 Muslims were arrested.

2.3.2    The length of imprisonment under the ISA is indefinite. No opposition political leader is released unless he is mentally unfit, or agrees to eschew politics, leave Singapore or until he is past his prime and will never return to the political scene. Singapore’s political prisoner, Mr Chia Thye Poh, a Barisan Sosialis member of parliament, spent 32 years in prison. He was in his 20s when arrested. By the time he was freed, he had passed the prime of his life and his party had been made totally irrelevant.  Many other ISA prisoners were made to spend 10 to 20 years in jail. The PAP thus prevented key political opponents from entering parliament. This is how the PAP retains power since 1959.

2.3.3    In February 1963, the PAP together with the government of Malaya and Britain used the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance 1955 (the forerunner of the ISA) to arrest more than 133 opposition leaders. After the general election in September that year, more opposition leaders were arrested. The arrests included three elected members of the legislative assembly.[2] Two other elected members, Wong Soon Fong and Chan Sun Wing, escaped and went into exile. They are still in political exile today.[3]

2.3.4    Appendix 1 is a list of ISA prisoners compiled by former ISA prisoners. As can be seen from this list, from 1963 to 1981, there were arrests every year. In 1987 and 1988, 24 professionals, church workers, activists and students were arrested. The frequent arrests and imprisonment of people who could have become community leaders and opposition members of parliament, instilled fear in the general population. It is this fear that enables the PAP to stay in power since 1959. Within these 56 years, there was a period of 15 years (from 1966 to 1980) when there was not a single opposition member in parliament. These years of absolute and near-absolute PAP rule have enabled parliament to enact laws without debate. Fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Constitution had been curtailed. Death penalty and corporal punishment were introduced for crimes that did not carry such penalties previously. Parliament even went to the extent of amending laws to abolish appeals to the Privy Council and judicial review for ISA cases with retrospective effect. Hurried parliamentary intervention sabotaged a prisoner’s attempt to take her appeal to the Privy Council.[4]

2.3.5    Living in fear is deeply ingrained in the psyche of Singaporeans. Fear has silenced and tamed Singaporeans. For decades, Singaporeans fear joining opposition parties, or even participating in non-PAP endorsed NGO activities,[5] and would only speak in whispers when they oppose PAP policies.

2.3.6    Until the last six years, former ISA prisoners had largely remained silent. It is only recently, that books and articles written by former ISA prisoners have appeared in Singapore. Historians who have inspected archival documents have also begun to interpret events differently from the official narrative.[6] But fear is still part of the Singaporean psyche. Singaporeans have internalised fear for 56 years and it will take a long time to undo this damage.

2.3.7    Another severe detrimental effect of indefinite imprisonment without trial is the exceedingly high cost to the families of those arrested. They are left to fend for themselves while the breadwinners are in prison. The education of young children is adversely affected. The families undergo tremendous financial and emotional hardship. The government has never taken responsibility for this heavy cost to families of those imprisoned.

2.3.8    The government’s current and historical use of the ISA is beyond public scrutiny because of the absence of Freedom of Information legislation and the courts’ reluctance to challenge any government’s claim based on national security grounds.  In answer to a parliamentary question posed by Mrs Lina Chiam, a Non-constituency Member of Parliament on 21 November 2011, the Minister of Home Affairs revealed that 2,460 people were imprisoned under the ISA from 1959 to 1990.[7] We do not know if this number is accurate. As can be seen from above, the government is capable of glossing over numbers. Appendix 1 is a list of 1314 names of people arrested from 1959 to 31 May 2015 under the ISA. The 1315th prisoner is an unnamed 17-year-old Muslim youth.

2.3.9    Imprisonment without trial is cruel, inhuman and the manner it is used in Singapore should per se be deemed as torture and a crime against humanity because it is unwarranted and designed to sap the political will of its victims. Many were imprisoned beyond the PAP’s political needs. It is torture and a breach of Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The late Mr Lim Chin Siong, who was a founding member of the PAP and a legislative assemblyman, was arrested and imprisoned thrice under the ISA. He said in an interview with historian Melanie Chew:

“The fact is that all of us were detained without trial, for ages. Not knowing when we would be coming out. That I would say is a torture. A torture. You are detained for years until such a time that you are willing to humiliate your own integrity. Until you are humiliated publicly. So much so, when you come out, you cannot put your head up, you cannot see your friends. Alright, then they may release you. It is a very cruel torture.

It is worse than in the Japanese time, when with a knife, they just slaughter you. One shot, you die. But this humiliation will carry on for life. It is very cruel.”[8]

2.3.10  Indefinite imprisonment without trial has enabled the PAP to imprison people who pose a challenge to them. Although such imprisonment is also contrary to constitutional guarantees of the right to life and personal liberty, the Singapore courts appear unwilling to take a robust approach to rein in the executive. This was clearly seen in the application for judicial review of several political prisoners in “Operation Spectrum” in 1987.[9] It has resulted in the citizens of Singapore being deprived of fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of Singapore.

  • Lack of checks and balances

2.4.1    There are no safeguards in the ISA. The Advisory Board conducts hearings behind closed doors. A High Court judge may be a member of the Board but he is ineffective. No prisoner appearing before the Board is permitted to see the evidence against him or to question the person who made allegations against him.  Hearing is private and may take just a few minutes. Prisoners in 1987 were specifically advised by their ISD handlers that launching any legal challenge against their imprisonment would result in prolonged incarceration.  The fact that the lawyer for several of the prisoners, Mr Francis Seow, was himself arrested when he went to interview his clients in prison, makes a mockery of any claim of safeguards.[10]

  • Singapore a bad model for the World

2.5.1    The Singapore government boasts in its National Report that “Governments around the world increasingly recognise the need for preventive powers within a comprehensive institutionalised legal framework to deal effectively with terrorism and all forms of violent extremism.”

2.5.2    Arbitrary arrests and indefinite imprisonment without trial merely enable an undemocratic regime to carry on governing a country unchecked. The PAP’s use of the ISA is targeted, sophisticated and ruthless. It does not use the sword or the bullet to kill off political opponents. But its method as opined by the late Mr Lim Chin Siong, is worse than the bullet and the sword. The PAP targets the cream of society but does not kill them physically.

Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (CLPTA)

3.1       This law also authorises indefinite imprisonment without trial. When it was enacted in 1955, it was meant to be temporary and specifically to deal with gangsterism. It now applies to cases of alleged drug trafficking, illegal moneylending and international soccer match fixing.[11] By using the power of indefinite imprisonment without trial to deal with various crimes, the government has undermined the basic tenets of the rule of law. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. This tenet should at all times be upheld in any democratic society. The government does not report on the number of people imprisoned under this law.

  1. Misuse of Drugs Act

4.1       Any person who is suspected of being a drug addict can be detained in an institution for three years under Part IV of this law. There is no safeguard to ensure if the person needs rehabilitation in such an institution and whether institutionalising him is the best way to treat drug addiction. This is not the way to resolve a universal drug abuse problem. Again, the government does not report on the number of people detained under this law.

  1. Conclusion and Recommendations:

5.1       All human beings are born free and those suspected of committing offences (as defined by the law of the land) have the right to a fair and public trial. The Internal Security Act, the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act and Part IV of the Misuse of Drugs Act have no place in a democratic country. Singapore has ample resources to train its police force to improve detection and evidence gathering techniques to combat crimes and terrorism. Offenders can be brought to court and given a fair trial. If there is a need to maintain confidentiality of witnesses, the trial can be held in camera. These laws breed complacency and undermine the efficacy of the police force. The government should respect the supremacy of the Constitution of Singapore which guarantees fundamental liberties to all citizens. No one is above the law, least of all, the executive.

5.2       Therefore we urge the Singapore government to:

5.2.1    Repeal the ISA and the CLTPA

5.2.2    Repeal Part IV of the Misuse of Drugs Act

5.2.3    Release all prisoners detained under the ISA, CLTPA and Misuse of Drugs Act or charge them in open court

5.2.4    Sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Submitted by:
Teo Soh Lung, Yap Hon Ngian and Chan Wai Han
Directors, Function 8

[1] http://www.mha.gov.sg/Newsroom/press-releases/Pages/Arrest%20and%20Detention%20of%20Self-Radicalised%20Singaporeans%20under%20the%20Internal%20Security%20Act.aspx
[2] Lee Tee Tong, S T Bani and Loh Miaw Gong
[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17UR_xHJ9Ac
[4] Beyond the Blue Gate Recollections of a Political Prisoner by Teo Soh Lung, Function 8 Limited, Revised Edn 2011; Sections 8B and 8C of the Internal Security Act as at 30 Jan 1989.
[5] Where I was, a memoir from the margins by Constance Singam, Select Publishing, 2013.
[6] The May 13 Generation, The Chinese Middle Schools Student Movement and Singapore Politics in the 1950s, Edited by Tan Jing Quee, Tan Kok Chiang and Hong Lysa, Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2011; Escape from the Lion’s Paw, Reflections of Singapore’s Political Exiles Edited by Teo Soh Lung and Low Yit Leng, Function 8 Limited, 2012; Smokescreens & Mirrors, Tracing the ‘Marxist Conspiracy’ by Tan Wah Piow, Function 8 Limited, 2012; The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore, Commemorating 50 Years, Edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa, Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, 2013; Youth on Trial, Edited by Chan Wai Han, Function 8 Ltd, 2014; Priest in Geylang, The Untold Story of the Geylang Catholic Centre by Fr Guillaume Arotcarena , Ethos Books, 2015.
[7] http://sprs.parl.gov.sg/search/topic.jsp?currentTopicID=00076651-WA&currentPubID=00076180-WA&topicKey=00076180-WA.00076651-WA_7%2BhansardContent43a675dd-5000-42da-9fd5-40978d79310f%2B
[8] Leaders of Singapore by Melanie Chew, Resource Press Pte Ltd, 1996 p. 119.
[9] Beyond the Blue Gate, Recollections of a Political Prisoner by Teo Soh Lung, Function 8 Limited, 2011.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Tan Seet Eng v Attorney-General [2015] SGHC 18.

https://fn8org.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/political-detainees-in-singapore-10082015.pdf

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MEDIA STATEMENT BY ALMOS ON THE UNIVERSAL PERIODIC REVIEW

 

UNHRAs Singapore prepares to engage other United Nations member states on its human rights record at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in January 2016, it is clear that much more needs to be done by the government to properly address human rights issues, including to engage Singaporeans on the meaning of human rights in an inclusive society.

ALMOS logoAs such, in conjunction with World Human Rights Day on 10 December, the Alliance of Like-Minded CSOs in Singapore (ALMOS) has published its UPR submission to the United Nations and launched a public engagement campaign, starting with its Facebook page.

To date, ALMOS has engaged foreign embassies in Singapore to provide them with more informed perspectives on Singapore’s human rights situation at the United Nations. ALMOS has also met with Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to advocate its primary positions and to highlight the major shortcomings in the government’s approach towards human rights. ALMOS acknowledges that the Singapore government is committed to the peer review process outlined to the UPR and is just as interested to play its role in engaging the government on these issues.

The UPR submission sets out ALMOS’ key recommendations to improve Singapore’s performance in human rights. Areas for improvement include: Systemic and long-standing issues in Singapore’s legal and justice framework; the government’s discriminatory policies on matters concerning families and minority groups; a near-exploitative work environment that impacts citizens and non-citizens alike; restrictive laws surrounding civic and political participation; and the practice of addressing our social and environmental security only on a needs basis. Underpinning all these issues are the lack of open access to information and the suppression of media interested in reporting on human rights violations.

The government has adopted a few measures as recommended at the United Nations, and there is reason to believe that some recent changes to Singapore’s legal framework, such as laws on the death penalty, indicates that the State is responding positively to UPR recommendations. However, it has not shown a commitment towards safeguarding human rights in Singapore in all aspects of life. Such rights seem to be doled out only in a discretionary and non-accountable way.

ALMOS is particularly concerned by the government’s overly-broad citation of “national security” in response to questions on the human rights impact of its practices. Citizens are not given a clear indication of the parameters of these security concerns; nor are they provided with convincing evidence that what the state practices is in proportion to the supposed security risks. The government has also not justified clearly to citizens or allowed open debate on why it cannot reveal simple statistics like the numbers detained under the Internal Security Act and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, or why individuals so detained are not rightfully accorded an open trial at any time for their alleged offence. It has also failed to explain how national security necessitates the turning away of refugees who have been persecuted in their home countries.

ALMOS believes that human rights should be a matter of intimate concern to each and every Singaporean. The government urgently needs a dedicated focus on human rights, rather than its current piece-meal approach, to make Singapore a more inclusive and harmonious society where progress and liberties go hand in hand.

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Function 8 is raising funds for FFF 2015.

FFF2013(a)

Function 8 is raising funds for an exciting lineup of films at the Freedom Filmfest 2015. Please give generously! This is the 4th year  Function 8  is presenting the event. Freedom Film Festival (FFF) is an annual human rights documentary film festival established in 2003 by Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia. Through an annual film competition, video workshops and film screenings, FFF aims to create a vital platform to showcase outstanding human rights documentaries, often unseen, unheard and untold, owing to its lack of commercial backing and the control of mainstream media

FFF Singapore 2015 inaugurated a SGD 5,000  film grant for the best shortlisted proposals. Three proposals were selected to pitch before Anna Har, Director of Pusat KOMAS, Brenda, a documentary filmmaker and producer, Lena Hendry, festival manager of FFF and Noor Effendy Ibrahim, former Artistic Director of the Substation on 18 April.

Freedom Film Fest film grants encourage the public to use the video medium as a tool for social documentation and film-making. Technological advances have brought about a democratising effect to film-making in recent years; with a video camera in hand, any individual or community can share their story in the way they want to tell it, and express their skills and passion to produce socially relevant films. FFF has been bringing you socially relevant human rights films and documentaries since 2003.

Challenges
Since its inauguration, FFF Singapore has always had the good fortune of getting help from dedicated volunteers. Screening expenses were funded by donations from supporters and well wishers. This year, Function 8 decided to take a bigger step forward by enlarging the footprint of this festival:

– there will be two days of screening
– a bigger screening hall to accommodate a bigger audience
– a professional to curate the event,
– a film grant for the best Singapore filmmakers
– a series fringe screenings.
F8 Bank DetailsWe will need to have a bigger and more sustainable budget to match. We have been working on a budget of SGD 20,000. We look forward to your generous support in helping us raise this amount.

How the funds will be used
All money raised in this funding project will go towards the expenses and organisation of this year’s FFF Singapore scheduled for November 14 & 15. We will be raising funds in tiers:

First SGD5,000 – This is for the film grant for Singapore filmmaker. We are pleased to announce that this grant has been given to the successful candidate at the pitching session held in April.
Next SGD10,000 – This will allow us to engage a curator, pay the rent for the venue which can accommodate more than 150 people and pay for publicity collaterals and incidental expenses to be incurred for the  two days of screening.
Final SGD5,000 – Will supplement the travelling budget of the organising committee  in their participation in the regional FFF screenings. We also plan to sponsor the winners of FFF film grants to showcase and present their work in the regional screenings.

Supporter of FFF Singapore
Every bit counts in supporting us in our work. And to show our gratitude, we will send you an e-card as a token of our appreciation!

$50+ Reward
Every year at FFF Singapore, we will have T-shirts of unique designs and colours, related to the theme of the event!

This reward is specifically for the first 100 supporters giving us $50 and above in our fund raising.

T-shirts 2015

$100+ Reward
For supporters contributing $100 and more, beside the T-shirt you will be invited to private screenings of selected films, to be organised separately from the festival.

$500+ Reward
Patron of Freedom FilmFest Singapore

To thank individuals who strongly support this platform, we extend this special award with an invitation to all Function 8’s events, and a free book gift from AGORA Bookvillage.

$1000+ Reward
Advocate of Freedom FilmFest Singapore

To thank individuals who believe in this endeavour to provide independent storyteller, whose stories illuminates people, issues, countries and communities or events in powerful ways, giving others a chance to deepen their understanding of the realities unknown to them, we extend this special invitation to all Function 8 events and  3 free book gifts from AGORA Bookvillage..

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Freedom Film Fest 2015

Welcome to the 13th annual FreedomFilmFest, Malaysia’s leading international human rights film festival. We are proud to present 26 of the best Malaysian, regional and international documentaries. The selected films are thematically related in diverse ways to this year’s theme, “Unseen, Unheard, Untold”.

This year’s theme was chosen in keeping with our mission to give voice to marginalised issues and perspectives. We strongly believe in the power of these stories to challenge conventional views about the different issues and cultures showcased in each of the selected films.

We are also proud to present five FFF produced films from Malaysia and Singapore. As part of our mission to support documentary filmmakers in Malaysia and Singapore we awarded five FFF Film Grants to filmmakers in Malaysia and Singapore. The filmmakers also received production support throughout filming. The FFF Film Grant is a part of the festival’s advocacy for good films and films that do good. But more importantly, we hope to foster a conducive environment for bold socially conscious filmmakers to tell their stories.

This would not have been possible without the strong support of our regional partners and friends who have helped to promote the festival to filmmakers from their countries and facilitated the submission of films to us. To the filmmakers, we admire your passion and dedication to your field, and we will continue to support you through our platform.

To our audience, we know you appreciate good stories, so thank you for your support and participation in FFF 2015. Lastly, a big thank you to all our partners and sponsors, without your support this year’s festival would not be possible.

Anna Har
Festival Director, KOMAS

For more information about FreedomFilmFest 2015
please visit http://freedomfilmfest.komas.org/

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BEWARE OF PARLIAMENT

The government we elect will have a profound effect on institutions that are meant to protect the people. An analysis of the death of activism in the Law Society of Singapore in the 1980s by Teo Soh Lung

Function 8's photo.Part 1
In 1986, the Law Society of Singapore met the full wrath of the government. It was accused of meddling in politics and acting as a political pressure group. It received this stern warning from the prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew: “It’s my job as the Prime Minister in charge of the Government of Singapore to put a stop to politicking in professional bodies. If you want to politick, come out.”

Even before 1986 ended, the Law Society suffered the full brunt of the government’s anger. But it did not die lying down. It died standing tall and in the spotlight of the nation. Mr Francis Seow was removed from his seat as President of the Law Society, not by the vote of its members but by a new law enacted by the PAP government.

Some members of the Law Society had openly and secretly blamed Mr Francis Seow and several young lawyers, including me for the “demise” of the Law Society. We were accused of “acting too fast” thus bringing the heavy hand of the government on us.

Such accusations are completely without any basis. The Law Society had died long before 1986. It had failed to “protect and assist the public in Singapore in all matters touching or ancillary or incidental to the law” which was one of the main objectives for its existence. For that matter, it had also failed to protect its members. I recall that when I entered the profession in 1974, I was unhappy that it was only interested in golf competitions. It was not a society that I had envisaged – fighting for the rights of the poor and disadvantaged. It never spoke up against the government’s implementation of unjust policies like the “Stop at Two” population control policy or the discriminatory policy of priority for schools granted to one and two child families. It never spoke up against the Voluntary Sterilisation Act or the groundless enhancement of penalties for crimes and the removal of discretionary powers of our judiciary. The Society was literally as good as dead in the 1970s. It didn’t even speak up for lawyers who were imprisoned without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1977.

The restlessness of lawyers, especially younger lawyers started in the early 1980s. It coincided with the election of Mr J B Jeyaretnam in 1981 and his re-election together with Mr Chiam See Tong in 1984. Awareness of the sorry state of our country was enhanced by the television broadcast of parliamentary debates. For the first time, the lawyers saw the effectiveness of opposition in parliament after 15 years of one party rule.

What then were the so called “political activities” of the Law Society that led the government to take such ruthless actions against it in 1986?

The awakening in early 1980s
The 1980s marked the awakening of lawyers after a period of inactivity in the 1970s. Lawyers were active in the 1950s but somehow lost their activism by the 1970s. It is likely to be due to the waves of arrests under the ISA in that decade and earlier which culminated in the arrests of several lawyers in 1977 who were labelled “Euro communists.

Establishment of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme
In 1981, a law lecturer, Mr Stanley Yeo, published his study on unrepresented defendants from 1973 to 1980. He concluded that accused persons without legal representation were disadvantaged as they received heavier penalties. Several young lawyers and academics began to discuss if the government could be persuaded to activate Part 2 of the Legal Aid and Advice Act which provides legal aid for criminal cases. This law was enacted in 1955 by the Labour Front government but Part 2 was not put into effect for unknown reasons. They wrote to the Minister of Law. His response was that they were not interested. That being the case, the group of about 12 young lawyers and academics started to research and work on the feasibility of setting up a private scheme for criminal legal aid. They presented a paper on the scheme to the Law Society in 1983 but it was rejected.

Not long after, in 1984, the president of the Law Society talked about the setting up of a criminal legal aid scheme in his Opening of the Legal Year speech. The group then asked the president who he had in mind to establish the scheme. When told that he had the group in mind, they immediately volunteered. The Criminal Legal Aid Scheme was thus born in 1985.

The inertia of the Law Society was evident when drastic amendments were introduced to the Penal Code. The Law Society was silent. The amendments sailed through parliament without any objection from the Law Society in 1984. Lawyers at the criminal bar were shocked with the introduction of minimum sentences for a number of offences without good reason. The government argued that our judges were too lenient and offenders need to be punished more severely so as to reduce crime rate. In addition, the duration for police investigation before appearance in court was extended from 24 hours to 48 hours. Since the Law Society did nothing, 61 lawyers called an extraordinary general meeting to register their objection to the amendments.

At the opening of the legal year in 1985, the president sounded the warning that the Bar was “restless”. On hindsight, I fully agree with him that the Bar was restless but for good reasons. They wanted to see a more active Law Society. There were many lawyers who wanted to contribute to society, knowing that they were living in a privilege world. They wanted to see change in the Society.

Preventive measures to end change
In 1985, the government introduced an amendment to the Constitution of Singapore that would allow it to deprive citizens who have not returned to Singapore for 10 years and more. I was asked by the president of the Society to report on this amendment. Several lawyers and I got together and presented a report stating among many other issues, that it was wrong and against international law to deprive a citizen by birth of his nationality. In all probability the report was submitted to the attorney general. We heard nothing about the representation. Presumably, it was ignored.

A year later, I realised that the new law was targeted at Tan Wah Piow. He was deprived of his Singapore citizenship and unjustly accused of being the leader of the alleged Marxist Conspirators in 1987.

1985 marked the beginning of the enactment of laws which victimise individual citizens. At that time, parliament comprised 77 PAP members and 2 opposition members (Messrs JB Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong). Many more such laws were enacted after 1985 and I will elaborate on this later.

By the end of 1985, it was clear to the government that potential “threats” were brewing in the Law Society and elsewhere. Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues knew that the Society has to be slammed back to its former sleepy days. The election of two lawyers, Messrs J B Jeyaretnam and Chiam See Tong was giving them a headache in parliament and they cannot afford to have more lawyers in parliament who oppose and criticise their policies.

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Remembering Lim Chin Siong on Singapore’s National Day

Function 8's photo.Comet in Our Sky, Lim Chin Siong in History (new edition) ed Poh Soo Kai, was launched on Singapore’s National Day in Petaling Jaya. It was a most appropriate day to launch this important book because while we celebrate our country’s 50th birthday, a day on which Singapore received her heartbreaking independence, we remember Lim Chin Siong who opposed merger in 1963. Lim Chin Siong and his party, Barisan Sosialis, foresaw that merger would not work as the terms for merger were unclear and not favourable to Singapore. His party campaigned against merger asking voters to cast blank votes as protest. However after a phoney referendum in late 1962, merger went ahead on 16 Sept 1963 but not before Lim Chin Siong and over a hundred colleagues were arrested and imprisoned without trial in Operation Coldstore on 2 Feb 1963. Two years later, Lim Chin Siong and his party were proven right when Singapore was compelled to leave Malaysia.

The first birthday, 50 years ago was celebrated with a big parade.
Having been proven right, any just government would have released Lim Chin Siong and his colleagues immediately. That was not to be with Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP. They continued to remain in prison, many of them for decades. There was no legitimate reason except to destroy the opposition.

After independence, the PAP did their utmost to undermine, obliterate, distort and destroy the contributions of Lim Chin Siong and his party. They almost succeeded until Melanie Chew published a coffee table book called “Leaders of Singapore” in 1996. It was a book that few could afford as it was priced at about $250. But it contained an excellent interview with Lim Chin Siong. Following that book, “Lee’s Lieutenants” by Lam Peng Er and Kevin YL Tan was published. According to Hong Lysa, it was a chapter in that book that made Tan Jing Quee and K S Jomo decide to respond by putting together a collection of essays on Lim Chin Siong. The first edition of Comet in Our Sky was published in 2001.

The original edition of Comet in Our Sky was launched in Kuala Lumpur and quietly sold in Singapore. It tells a great deal about the political climate in Singapore then. When I read the book in 2001, I did not realise the significance of Operation Coldstore. I was not aware that Operation Coldstore wiped out the opposition in Singapore. It was years later, when talking to Tan Jing Quee and he mentioning Operation Coldstore and the fact that the “cream” of the opposition was imprisoned by Lee Kuan Yew and the effect of that “security exercise” had on the opposition, that I realised the consequence. Subsequently, several books edited by Tan Jing Quee and others as well as meeting survivors of Operation Coldstore like Dr Lim Hock Siew, finally brought home the disastrous effect of Operation Coldstore.

I don’t remember feeling depressed when I first read Comet in Our Sky. But re reading the book now depresses me. I am no longer able to remain detached and uninvolved like historians digging out the past or lawyers fighting the causes of their clients because I have come to know many of the survivors of Operation Coldstore.

Lim Chin SiongTo read about Lim Chin Siong is not only to know his humility, oratorical skill, greatness and courage but also the depth of depravity of Lee Kuan Yew. For his own personal glory and power, Lee carried out grave injustices to his comrades and their families for decades. I cannot fathom the cruelty of the man when he acted as Lim Chin Siong’s lawyer during his imprisonment only to betray him. Lim Chin Siong said in his manuscript which is translated by his brother, Lim Chin Joo that he was kept isolated from the other detainees and was not informed of what happened outside the prison walls.

Comet in Our Sky explains how one man, Lee Kuan Yew, managed with his colleagues, the Tunku and the British to demolish the opposition. It is important for young Singaporeans to read this book and to understand why Singapore is what she is today. We were a vibrant, creative society until Lee Kuan Yew came into power and used unjust but legal means to demolish his political opponents.

Comet in our Sky is a very important book about Singapore. I am grateful to Tan Jing Quee and K S Jomo for publishing this book 14 years ago and Dr Poh Soo Kai for republishing it today after its disappearance for more than a decade.

The new edition of Comet shed further light on Lim Chin Siong with the inclusion of a summary of his manuscript translated from Chinese by his brother Chin Joo, a foreword by Hong Lysa, a chapter by Dr Poh Soo Kai and cartoons by Sonny Liew.

I recommend this book to all Singaporeans.

By Teo Soh Lung

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