Apologies we have not been communicating through our mailers.
A new event we would very much like to get you involved is the screening of last year’s Freedom Film Network film grant winner Ayahku, Dr G and the discussion to follow.
Sharing promotional text from filmmakers English: We’re back for another screening of “Ayahku, Dr. G” this week in collaboration with Freedomfilmfest Singapore and Transformative Justice Collective on CloudTheatre. As always, our screening event will be followed with a post-screening discussion and we’ve invited Hidayah back again along with Hadhinah Felice and also Sharmila whose sibling is currently facing the death penalty in Singapore. This event will be a ticketed event and all proceeds will go the families of people facing death penalty in Malaysia and Singapore. For more details, visit https://www.cloudtheatres.com/shows/ayahku-dr-g NOTE: the time zone timings for this event is 7PM SGT (UTC+8) 4 AM (PDT) 12 PM (CEDT) Bahasa Malaysia: Kami kembali untuk tayangan dokumentari “Ayahku, Dr. G” sekali lagi pada minggu ini dengan kerjasama Freedomfilmfest Singapore dan Transformative Justice Collective di Cloudtheatre. Seperti biasa, sesi tayangan dokumentari kami akan diikuti dengan perbincangan bersama ahli-ahli panel. Untuk sesi ini, kami menjemput Hidayah bersama Hadhinah Felice dan juga Sharmila yang mempunyai seorang adik beradik yang kini berhadapan dengan hukuman mati di Singapura. Acara ini adalah acara tiket berbayar dan semua hasil kutipan akan diberi kepada ahli keluarga banduan hukuman mati di Malaysia dan Singapura. Untuk maklumat lebih lanjut, lawatihttps://www.cloudtheatres.com/shows/ayahku-dr-g #AyahkuDrG#FreeDrG#BebaskanDrG#KajiBukanKeji
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Hope to see you there.
Freedom Film Fest Singapore team
Function 8 play host to Freedom Film Festival, Film Festival Fringe Screening, Changing Worlds talk, F8 book launches, Citizen Cinema Filmlab. You are receiving this as you have signed up to one of the events above. Please let us know if you want to be informed of specific events only.
I received a mail from Soh Lung on behalf of Function 8, noting that it is the 10th anniversary of Tan Jing Quee’s passing. A piece to remember him for the benefit of younger Singaporeans is in order.
Indeed it is. I couldn’t agree more.
Jing Quee’s legacy lives on in the friendships and solidarity that he brought together, and in a more critical understanding of our history that he initiated.
It continues to loom large in my academic endeavours as a historian.
It was only a month ago that I mentioned his name in an academic conference where I presented a paper on the short stories of He Jin as historical testimony. He Jin was the author of 巨浪 (Ju Lang).
In 2009, Jing Quee and I embarked on a study of the political activism of the Chinese middle school students in the 1950s. He recalled hearing about a little-known novel in Chinese about the students’ resistance against the colonial authorities which resulted in the May 13 incident where they were beaten up by the police. This event galvanised the mass anti-colonial movement in Singapore.
Through his friends in Malaysia, Jing Quee got a copy of the book and after I had briefed him on it (Jing Quee had by then had almost completely lost his sight) he decided audaciously that we would translate the novel into English, roping Loh Miao Ping who participated in the sit-in at Chinese High to read out sentence by sentence of the book. The Mighty Wave along with The May 13 Generation: The Singapore Middle Schools Student Movement and Singapore Politics in the 1950s published in English and Chinese were launched in May 2011, a month before Jing Quee’s passing.
Ju Lang as well as He Jin’s short stories provided an unparalleled account of the life a key student leader in the 1950s who became a member of the Communist Party of Malaya.
The four years that I got to know and work with Jing Quee were the most productive of my life as a historian of Singapore, and I continue to draw on them.
I have written tributes on previous four occasions to commemorate Jing Quee. Two were written shortly after his death. This was followed by one marking the third year of his passing, and another on the ninth year.
To commemorate this, the tenth anniversary of his passing, I have reproduced the first section from each of those essays except for the 9th anniversary, excerpted from the second half of the essay. They are arranged in chronological order, and form an aggregate of his personality, intellect and his scholarship.
Tan Jing Quee, (1939-2011): Setting new directions in Singapore Studies’ in s/pores: New Directions in Singapore Studies, 4 July 2011.
Tan Jing Quee who passed away on 14 June 2011 was a frequent contributor to s/pores. He wrote for our inaugural issue quite by chance, when two s/pores members had just got to know him then, and learnt that he had written obituaries for his friends Linda Chen Mong Hock (1928-2002), and Usman Awang (1929-2001). He was hesitant about letting us publish them, concerned that the new e-journal would attract unwelcome attention from the authorities by associating with him, a former political detainee (1963-1966; 1977), and one who had not avoided a public profile. In 2006, Tan Jing Quee and Michael Fernandez had spoken as former political detainees who were among the more than a hundred people detained in Operation Cold Store and the subsequent Operation Pechah at the Singapore Arts Festival fringe event Detention-Writing-Healing. The event drew a good-sized audience and received press coverage. The Ministry of Home Affairs then issued a rebuke of the two men in The Straits Times Forum, in the form of the oft-repeated but never substantiated litany that they took part in communist subversion and were detained for threatening the security, stability and economic well-being of Singapore, and not for holding different political views or pursuing lawful, democratic political activities.
From ‘Tan Jing Quee and a sense of history’ in Salute to our Socialist Warrior: Comrade Tan Jing Quee 18 January 1939-14 June 2011 (20 August 2011):
At my first meeting with Tan Jing Quee five years ago, I did what I am sure fellow historians who got to know him all did—urge him to write his memoirs….
After ruminating for a week following our meeting, I wrote him a long email, explaining how valuable the insights about Singapore’s history that he let us have a glimpse of in our conversation were, that he should write for the sake of posterity, otherwise Singapore’s political history would remain impoverished for lack of contending voices….
Looking back, it was a naïve letter, written in the excitement of meeting such an informed, critically-minded and eloquent person, and knowing that his generation was getting no younger. Jing Quee replied in polite email, professing that he was only a minor personality in the events of the later fifties and early sixties, and that his recollections would not be particularly significant….
When I got to know him better, I realized a number of things from that reply. Firstly, his emails were brief and carefully-worded, as he had to rely on someone to type it for him, and was careful to be discreet. Also, when Jing Quee said that his role in the political events of his time was a minor one, he meant it. It was not false modesty. And finally, there is no need for academics or anyone else to impress on him the importance for his generation writing their history. That was in fact his lifelong goal. He built up, maintained and treasured friendships with fellow former political detainees and activists among the English-educated, and particularly with the Chinese-educated, including those living in Malaysia, Hong Kong, China and a number of western countries. Accompanied by Rose, he travelled often to meet up with them. This was for the purpose of keeping in touch and maintaining friendships, solidarity, and a sense of community, and also to learn about their experiences to strengthen his understanding of the complex larger historical picture.
In Memory of Tan Jing Quee, 3rd anniversary (Function 8, 14 June 2014)
Tan Jing Quee is best known for his dedication to pioneering the writing of the history of the left in Singapore. He has been acknowledged for conceiving and editing Comet in our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History (2001); Our Thoughts are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile (2009); The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya (2010); and The May 13 Generation: The Chinese Middle Schools Student Movement and Singapore Politics in the 1950s (2011).
At the time, each was a risky enterprise, though less so with every publication.
With the success of these publications, it may be forgotten that Jing Quee’s plans for these books were not necessarily greeted with enthusiasm at the time. There was fear that he might be stirring a hornet’s nest, provoking retaliation from the state after a relatively tranquil decade of the 1990s where the former political prisoners slipped into oblivion, as they went about their daily lives, ostensibly putting the past behind them, and correspondingly the assertion that they were communists or communist sympathisers became somewhat muted.
However, the school textbooks on Singapore history had from 1984 been teaching that the ‘communists and pro-communists’ within the PAP were against merger as the Federation government would crack down on the communists in Singapore. The confidence that the state-sanctioned narrative would not be challenged grew. In 1997, the PAP government launched the National Education exhibition, a full-blown narrative of the anti-colonial movement in Singapore as being riddled with communists from the strikes and riots of the 1950s to the merger issue of the early 60s.
It seemed as if the former political prisoners were determined to ignore all this, and suppress their past. A good number did not even tell their children about what they had been through.
Indeed, Jing Quee was not unaware of the concern that he might be courting trouble, and not just for himself when he embarked on his books.
In Memory of Tan Jing Quee, 9th anniversary (Function 8, 14 June 2010)
I received a note from Function 8 asking if I would mind writing a short article about Tan Jing Quee on the ninth anniversary of his passing.
The note said: This is just to remind people…
… though no student of the political history of postwar Singapore needs to be reminded of Jing Quee. He lives on every time his writings as well those that have grown out of them are being read.
To date, Jing Quee remains the only former political prisoner who had signed security statements (he was arrested a second time in 1977) and put that on record in his life-story. It was published posthumously and titled ‘I won them back one by one’. (The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang, and Hong Lysa, 2013).
I worked with Jing Quee on the piece, edited the final version and chose the title.
It was both a painful and a liberating exercise as he relived the humiliation and guilt he bore for decades. He recounted how he was worn down into accepting the script that he recited on television, even though it had been agreed at the start that he could present his own statement.
The final session of working on his chapter for the Coldstore book was quite a rambling one. Jing Quee did not have the energy to continue, but he insisted on trying to remember the occupants of every cell along his corridor during his first imprisonment. He was struggling. Rose phoned his former cellmate, Tan Yam Seng, who came over immediately, and they both pieced together the information.
Jing Quee’s final thoughts were of the most important people in his life: his comrades whom he felt he had let down, and in the end not only won back, one by one, but gave a rightful place in the history of Singapore.
Jing Quee was one of the nicest, most generous persons I have ever known. His self- deprecatory sense of humour – he was always laughing at his own foibles – was devoid of vanity and was just typical of that generation who committed their lives to building a just and equal society. I found this trait not confined to our people in Malaysia and Singapore. South African and Palestinian friends engaged in the struggle for liberation had the same child-like approach to life and, like Jing Quee, never betrayed bitterness.
Jing Quee was my senior at University by several years, but despite my very active involvement in student politics in the late sixties, I had not heard of him. I was not in Jing Quee’s Socialist Club and was a naive liberal believing in the rule of law but lacking any in-depth understanding of why there was inequality and injustice in society. It was only in 1972, when I had just begun law practice, that I first met Jing Quee and A Mahadeva. We were on the editorial board of the graduate monthly magazine, “Commentary”. Something about the two of them drew me to them instantly. In the course of the months ahead, I viewed them as my mentors in understanding how the world worked. It was only much later that I learnt they had been involved in our movement for independence. I am forever grateful I met them then. Maha died a few years ago; with Jing Quee now gone, our loss is inconsolable.
There is a dwindling band of friends who still perform the vital role he played. Jing Quee was the ‘bridge’ in three vital ways. Because the history of our people has only been written by the ‘other side’, the lapse of time and the separation of geography and community meant that our peoples’ story would soon be erased from our collective memory. He sought to redress that.
He was firstly, the ‘bridge’ between the generations. I was a beneficiary of that. It was mainly through him that I had the privilege of meeting many of the patriots in the independence struggle. He also sought out the younger generation to learn from them and to share his experiences with them. His efforts meant that our idealistic youth could now have an alternative view of our history.
He was, secondly, the ‘bridge’ between the territories. I was also a beneficiary of that. Jing Quee consciously kept alive the links between the people on both sides of the Causeway. He believed in the unity of the Malayan people and that Singapore was an integral part of that people.
He was, thirdly, the ‘bridge’ between the communities. I was also a beneficiary of that.He was committed to a non-racial society with Malay as the national language. He was fluent in English, Mandarin and Malay and kept close links with the three societies throughout his life.
A fitting tribute to his life’s work would be the ‘People’s History’ project in KL. Jing Quee was one of its architects and would serve as a repository of the collective works and memory of our people’s struggle for justice and liberation.
Throughout our thirty-four years in exile, Swee Chai, my wife, and I kept in close touch with Jing Quee and his wife, Rose, and his friends.
There was one episode that particularly touched me. I visited Malaysia some years back and he knew my health was failing me. With Rose, he met me in Johore Bahru and brought me on a week-long odyssey swing around the peninsular, starting eastwards through Kuantan in Pahang. We spent time in the east coast states of Trengganu and Kelantan, crossed the east-west highway, spent a night in the National Park, met some Orang Asli and saw my first Rafflesia flower in the rain forest. We entered Perak and then finally to Kuala Lumpur. It was an experience I will never forget and it had been years since I had the chance to travel in that fashion.
I last saw him at the 2009 KL launch of Our Thoughts Are Free, a collection of poems of our political prisoners over five decades. Jing Quee edited the poems, along with Teo Soh Lung and Koh Kay Yew, both former political prisoners as well. I had several of my poems and songs in it.
In one of them, I raised the question:
what is a rebel, what is a revolutionary?
“a rebel hates, a revolutionary loves a rebel hates injustice, a revolutionary loves justice a rebel attacks the singer and is deaf to the song a revolutionary retrains the singer and rewrites the song a rebel sees red, all vision blinkered by the burning grass a revolutionary see the wondrous colours that is the rainbow a rebel asks ‘why’, a revolutionary, ‘why not’? a rebel sees the impossibility of today, a revolutionary the possibility of tomorrow tomorrow shall come when the rebel matures into a revolutionary”
Tan Jing Quee was a socialist student leader, ran under the socialist party ticket in the 1963 general election and nearly defeated a government stalwart, was arrested and imprisoned for three years that year and then again in 1977 under the draconian detention without trial law.Was he then, a rebel? In my thinking, he was much more than that – he was a true revolutionary, a great human being, friend, husband and father.
Today is the 9th anniversary of the passing of Dr Lim Hock Siew.
Dr Lim Hock Siew was a young doctor and Central Committee Member of Barisan Sosialis when he, together with more than 120 others, was arrested and imprisoned without trial during Operation Cold Store on 2nd February 1963. He was to spend the next 20 years in various prisons. Released with restrictions on 7th September 1982, Dr Lim returned to work at Rakyat Clinic on Balestier Road which he founded prior to his arrest and was practicing to the day of this talk. A true socialist, he charged his patients according to their means. On September 2011, together with 15 former ISA detainees, he called for the abolition of the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the setting up of an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate the allegations made against ISA detainees. He died on 4th June 2012.
Watch him in our 25 October 2011 Changing Worlds talk entitled Operation Cold Store 2nd February 1963.
Mr Lim Hock Koon passed away this month of May, two days short of the 13th, when 67 years ago, he was one of the key leaders who organised the Chinese middle school students’ resistance against mandatory registration for national service for males of call-up age.
On May 13 1954 about a thousand students, including females lined up on the pavement close to Government House (today’s Istana), where their representatives were scheduled to meet the Officer Administering the Government to discuss their petition for exemption.
Defenceless and unarmed, they were set upon by the riot police led by the police commissioner. Aside from The Straits Times, the English and Chinese-medium newspapers were highly critical of the excessive force used in response to the concern the youths raised about the disruption to their studies when a consultative process would have been more productive. The inherent violence of colonialism, particularly with the Emergency in place since 1948 was displayed for all to see.
This May 13 event has now been claimed as the beginning of the anti-colonial mass movement in Singapore. Up to the last decade, the only mention of the incident in history books, if at all, was that a communist-instigated student riot broke out on that day. The silence was broken in 2011, with a volume of Chinese-language documents of the student movement, and two books in English: A collection of essays The May 13 Generation: The Chinese Middle Schools Student Movement and Singapore Politics in the 1950s (along with the Chinese-language version) and the translation of the Ju Lang (巨浪) into English： The Mighty Wave, a thinly- veiled novel which conveyed the experiences and perspectives of two key former student leaders Mr Lim Kim Chuan (He Jin, the author) and Mr Lim Hock Koon. The book was written to mark the 50th anniversary of May 13, 1954.
The launch of The May 13 Generation and The Mighty Wave was attended by about 300 mainly senior citizens. Among the speakers was Madam Loh Miao Ping, the vice-chair of the academic unit of the Singapore Chinese Middle Schools Student Union formed in the wake of May 13. Her responsibility was to organise voluntary student-run tuition groups. She excelled in mathematics. Madam Loh was arrested under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO) and imprisoned by the Lim Yew Hock government from 10 October 1956 to 1 October 1959. In the September 1963 general election, she stood as a Barisan Sosialis candidate in the constituency of Havelock and won. But even before she could take her seat in parliament, she was imprisoned from 1 October 1963 to 23 June 1970.
Until the 2011 launch of the two books, Madam Loh’s voice had not been heard addressing a public event for almost half a century.
Three years later, at the 60th anniversary lunch gathering to commemorate May 13 in 2014, the key speaker who had similarly been silent for decades, Mr Lim Hock Koon addressed about 800 people, including former middle school students settled in Canada, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and the region. It was a joyous affair. The hall was filled with movement and unrestrained chatter. The elderly were going around the 70 odd tables seeking out their friends and greeting familiar faces with great gusto. Bursts of laughter and good cheer filled the air. It was the day when they could once again be proud of their role in the anti-colonial movement.
Mr Lim spoke of the anti-colonial fervour of the post-war period among the middle school students and the events of May 13, the failed attempt to occupy Chung Cheng High School on May 22 which was broken up by the police, the historic camp-in at Chinese High school on June 2, the hunger strike, and the colonial government finally agreeing to approve the postponement of enlistment to students of call up age from senior middle 1 to 3 who applied for postponement. The students dispersed victoriously on 24 June.
The elderly former students who were present were familiar with the chronology, for they had lived through it as well. Mr Lim concluded with recalling his late elder brother the prominent Barisan Sosialis leader and political prisoner Dr Lim Hock Siew who wrote in 2011:
In the political history of Singapore, May 13, 1954 stands out as a turning point in our peoples’ struggle for political freedom and social justice. It was a spark that started a prairie fire! It served to arouse the political awareness of students of that generation in Singapore which, hitherto, had stayed latent. Like a gigantic tidal wave, these activists swept the PAP into power in 1959, hoping that the newly formed political party would bring about political freedom and social justice to our people. But it was not to be. Subsequent repressions conducted by the PAP after it came to power proved to be more ruthless and relentless than those carried out by the colonial rulers and they have to be seen through and through as a massive political betrayal in Singapore history.
The final sentence was Mr. Lim’s own: ‘Destiny is in our own hands, we must struggle and be prepared to sacrifice if we want to realise our dreams.’ He was talking to the younger Singaporeans present, some of whom were actors who played middle school students in the 1950s in a short film commissioned for the event.
That Mr Lim Hock Koon was invited to speak at the 60th anniversary of the event was landmark recognition by the organisers of his leadership.
In his view, shared with his late fellow student and lifelong comrade He Jin, and told in Ju Lang, May 13 cannot be understood as purely orchestrated by the communists, the version which the CPM and the PAP, otherwise deadly foes, have continued to adhere to. While the CPM regarded the event as anti-colonial resistance which it directed, the PAP saw it as a communist-instigated riot that aimed to disrupt the country’s road to nationhood. The middle school students were nigh irrelevant in their narratives, without any agency or initiative.
Ju Lang is a controversial book. There were former student leaders who were upset that the author was a member of the CPM, thus flagging that the CPM members were involved in May 13.
At the same time, Ju Lang highlighted the fact that the CPM leader whom Mr Lim and He Jin worked with turned out to be a rogue who betrayed his charges. He was out of contact when they needed to consult him, made away with party funds, sexually abused his female subordinate who had been an activist student, and finally sold out to the Special Branch. While making the point that not all communists were good guys, the novel at the same time featured dedicated CPM leaders and members who withstood torture, and were upright and selfless anti-colonialists. Nevertheless the CPM would not have been used to its members making known the organisation’s shortcomings.
Mr Lim Hock Koon’s credibility as a student leader was impeccable. He joined Chung Cheng High School in 1951 as a junior middle one student. The following year, he headed the Student Aid Fund for his level of studies, administered by students to give financial support to those in need. He was also the editor of a newsletter comprising student writings, circulated to all middle schools. In 1953 he organised the junior middle school graduating class cultural concerts which for the first time was a combined schools affair. The fund-raising event for the building of Nanyang University was enthusiastically supported by the public. In 1954, Mr Lim was in senior middle one and was 19 years old, of conscription age. He led the Chung Cheng delegation to meet the governor on the students’ petition for exemption from national service.
Mr Lim traced the anti-colonial fervour of the students to the humiliation of the British in World War Two, the inspiration of China successfully getting rid of western imperialism in 1949, and the post war liberation movements in the colonial world. For the middle school students in Singapore, this was centred on fighting the suppression of Chinese education, of the moral fibre of the community, including turning a blind eye to vice, and the exploitation of the underclass.
Mr Lim Hock Koon and He Jin were members of the Anti-British League, the underground organisation that kept the anti-colonial movement alive after the CPM was banned under the Emergency imposed in 1948. With their outstanding performance in the anti-conscription agitation, they immediately became persons of interest to the Special Branch. To avoid arrest, they were accepted as CPM members, left school, and went underground.
Mr Lim was arrested in 1971, and became a political prisoner up to 1979. He was severely tortured and kept in a cell above a furnace. This took a toll on his health.
He and He Jin have remained the only Singapore members of the CPM to have given an account of their lives as middle school students in the 1950s.
Their message was a challenge to the domination of the restrictive narratives on the left-wing student movement in the 1950s. Mr Lim said succinctly in a December 2014 interview that he resolutely opposed a statement attributed to a former student leader who is a CPM member that for May 13, the CPM was behind the student leaders.
Instead, he claimed a central role for the politically active Chinese middle school students in the 1950s in Singapore history. Even the English-educated undergraduates in the University Socialist Club (USC) came to understand the conditions of life of the majority of the population from May 13. His elder brother Hock Siew had been critical of his activities as distraction from studies, and courting of trouble with the authorities. The May 13 incident led the undergraduates to appreciate the causes that the students defended on the side of the poor and oppressed.
When Dr Poh Soo Kai was told of the passing of Mr Lim, he affirmed that he and the USC had supported the May 13 students in 1954, which was carried in an article in the Club’s organ, Fajar.
Mr Lim Hock Koon’s life and his life-story is an alert to historians that they have much work that awaits them. With what he had bequeathed, Singaporeans now should have a better sense of what the fight against colonialism involved, and equally the successive regimented structures on the left and right that constitute our history and reality.
On 13 May 2014, Comrades of May 13, MARUAH AND Function 8 commemorated the 60th Anniversary of May 13, 1954. More than 800 people from all over the world attended the lunch gathering. Many of them were the participants of that historic event.
In appreciation of their contributions to Singapore, Function 8 also commissioned a short film on the incident.
In the book YOUTH ON TRIAL edited by Chan Wai Han, Dr Lim Hock Siew wrote:
In the political history of Singapore, May 13, 1954 stands out as a turning point in our people’s struggle for political freedom and social justice.
Amidst the atmosphere during the early 1950s bought about by the “Emergency Regulations”, some thousands of Chinese middle school students courageously spearheaded a movement which made a breakthrough to the “white Terror” created by the colonial rulers.
On that historic day, the students defied threats advanced by the colonial rulers and staged a demonstration in front of the Governor’s Residence (now the Istana) to register their opposition against national service conscription. As to be expected, what started as a peaceful expression of a people’s views was brutally confronted by the colonial police who wantonly beat them up.
Far from being intimidated and subdued by such police brutality, the incident sparked widespread resentment among students in the Chinese middle schools all over Singapore. Inevitably, it served to arouse the political awareness of students of that generation in Singapore which, hitherto, had stayed latent.
It was the spark that torched the prairie fire!
The incident led to the emergence of a situation where students got themselves actively involved in an extensive student movement which swept across literally all the Chinese middle schools and later over at Nanyang University. It was fairly common to see students as they graduated from schools playing leading roles in the trade union movement as well as in political organisations under the PAP. It was also not uncommon in the 1950s to notice cultural and civic organisations cropping up like bamboo shoots after spring rains staffed by hitherto student activists.
Like a gigantic tidal wave these activists swept the PAP into power in 1959, hoping that the newly formed political party would bring about political freedom and social justice to our people.
But it was not to be. Subsequent repressions conducted by the PAP after it came to power proved to be more ruthless and relentless than those carried out by the colonial rulers and they have to be seen through and through as a massive political betrayal in Singapore history.
Today, “emergency” laws have become the “normal” laws of Singapore. Political dissent can result in a double and even triple decade imprisonment without trial. Restrictions imposed on the mass media on public assembly and freedom of expression are, if anything, more severe than during the colonial days.
But it has to be said that no political situation can forever remain static and unchanged. The time will soon arrive when our people will free themselves from the five decades of political oppression in Singapore.
Human rights groups CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA call on UN member states to urge the government of Singapore to protect civic freedoms as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council on 12 May 2021 as part of the 38th session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
At the country’s second UPR in April 2016, UN member states made 22 recommendations that directly related to civic space. Singapore subsequently accepted eight recommendations, committing to taking concrete measures to, among others, “ensure that freedom of opinion and expression including for individuals and organizations communicating via online public platforms”, “protect freedom of the press” and ensuring “the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”
In a joint submission to the Human Rights Council this UPR cycle, our organisations assessed implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years. The submission found that since 2016, Singapore has persistently failed to address unwarranted restrictions on civic space, specifically related to the rights to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression.
Singapore has yet to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which imposes obligations on states to respect and protect the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly, and expression. Further, numerous recommendations to establish a national human rights institution have been ignored.
Despite commitments to freedom of expression which are guaranteed in the Constitution, the government has continued to use restrictive laws such as criminal defamation provisions under sections 499 to 502 of the Penal Code to criminalise criticism of the authorities. Civil defamation lawsuits have also been deployed to sue and seek hefty financial compensation in terms of damages from individuals who express dissent.
The 2017 Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, a vaguely worded contempt of court law, has been used to prosecute human rights defenders for criticism of the courts, under the guise of protecting the judicial system. The authorities have also failed to reform laws restricting media freedom and introduced the 2019 Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to harass the political opposition, activists, journalists and civil society.
‘States must take the opportunity of Singapore’s human rights review to hold the government to account for violations. The authorities have not only failed to deliver on the human rights commitments it made, but has continued to use the judicial system to silence dissent and introduced additional laws to restrict freedom of expression,’ said David Kode Advocacy & Campaign Lead at CIVICUS
The 2009 Public Order Act (POA), which aims to regulate assemblies and processions in public places, has been systematically used to restrict peaceful assembly in Singapore. It has been used regularly to harass and investigate activists and critics for no other reason than expressing their views and organising peaceful gatherings, and even towards solo protests. The POA law was further amended in 2017 to stipulate that organisers must apply for a permit at least 28 days in advance of an event and also provided the police commissioner with specific authority to reject any permit application for an assembly “directed towards a political end” if any foreigner is found to be involved. Such restrictions are inconsistent with international law and standards.
‘The right to peacefully protest is an essential part of a democracy, which Singapore claims to be. It is absurd that such acts are consistently disrupted under the guise of public order. This clearly shows the lengths the Singaporean authorities are willing to go to silence dissent and must be reflected in recommendations made during the country’s UPR,’ said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA
As highlighted in our joint submission, CIVICUS and FORUM-ASIA urge states to make recommendations to Singapore which if implemented would guarantee the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and the state’s duty to protect.
Key recommendations that should be made include:
Ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear or undue hindrance, obstruction, or legal and administrative harassment.
Repeal or amend repressive laws including the POA and the 2017 Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, the Sedition Act, in accordance with the ICCPR and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Reform defamation provisions in the Penal Code, in conformity with Article 19 of the ICCPR, and refrain from abusing civil defamation provisions to curtail the freedoms protected under Article 19.
Allow unfettered access to online information resources by repealing the POFMA, which criminalises and imposes arbitrary restrictions on the right to the freedom of expression and the right to access information, and adopting a law on accessing information, in line with international human rights standards.
Amend the Public Order Act 2009 in order to guarantee fully the right to the freedom of peaceful assembly, in line with the ICCPR and other international human rights standards.
Drop charges or quash convictions against human rights defenders, government critics, journalists and bloggers for exercising their fundamental rights to the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, and review their cases to prevent further harassment.
Ratify international human rights treaties in particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and ensure its implementation in law and practice.
The examination of Singapore will take place during the 38th Session of the UPR. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States every four and a half years. The review is an interactive dialogue between the State delegation and members of the Council and addresses a broad range of human rights topics. Following the review, a report and recommendations are prepared, which is discussed and adopted at the following session of the Human Rights Council.
The article is taken from 1987 SINGAPORE’S MARXIST CONSPIRACY 30 YEARS ON. In solidarity with Jolovan Wham, Function 8 is publishing a Solidarity Edition of the book. Details of this publication will be released soon.
“You know what they say ISD now stands for?” DSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police) SK Tan of the ISD remarked to me on April 19, 1988, not without some amusement, “Instant Statutory Declaration!”
I was arrested under the ISA the first time on 20 June 1987. After one month of being held, I was served a one-year detention order. However, in September 1987, after three months of detention, I was released — my detention order was suspended and I was served a restriction order — restricting my speech, movement, and my right to join any organisation. I could only travel abroad or participate in any organisation with the expressed permission of the Internal Security Department (ISD).
On April 18, 1988 we released the “Statement of Ex-Detainees of Operation Spectrum” to the foreign press in Singapore. On a slightlymischievous nod to the failings of the local press — all seemingly unindependent mouthpieces of the government — the release to them was delayed until after they worriedly pleaded to receive their copies of the press statement.
The reaction of the government was swift. Eight of the signatories of the Statement — a statement essentially declaring their innocence of any intended subversion — were immediately re-arrested. The ninth signatory, our friend Tang Fong Har was not re-arrested only because she was out of the country at that time. And she has since, grievously — gone into political self-exile from that time and has not been able to return to Singapore in 30 years.
The other ex-detainees who did not sign the statement for fear precisely of this consequence of re-arrest — were all rounded up by the ISD for questioning.
Thus it was that I found myself back at the ISD Headquarters at Phoenix Park, rather than back again at Whitley Road Detention Centre, facing an intense barrage of questioning by DD(O) [Deputy Director Operations] Sim Poh Heng and his ISD officers.
They wanted to know how our statement came about. Who initiated it? Details of our meetings, what actions I had taken after the statement was drafted, how did I help disseminate the statement to the foreign media, why was the statement drafted, who drafted the statement? I had to write all this down in a statement, and they wanted me to sign a statutory declaration (SD, what in other places one calls an affidavit) stating certain things they wanted me to declare. The grilling went on for hours. And after that, the drafting of the SD began. And the critical thing they wanted me to state in my SD was that NOT once was I assaulted by the ISD in my earlier arrest and detention. This was expressly to contradict the point made in the public Statement of the ex-detainees that “Most of us were hit hard in the face, some of us for not less than 50 times, while others were assaulted on other parts of the body, during the first three days of interrogation.”
This was their plan to discredit our Statement. They wanted every detainee or ex-detainee to submit an SD saying he or she was NOT physically hit or assaulted. Then when you read all of them together — hey presto! No one was ever hit! If not a single person said that they were hit — then obviously the Statement of the ex-detainees was a falsehood.
But the trouble was — I was slapped and assaulted. Very, very hard. On my face mostly, but also on my chest and my back. And about 50 times. I kept count. My mouth bled. I was hit with the full force and weight of my assailant’s body directed to his hand. It was their palms or backhand which contacted my face or body, not the fists. Had it been their fists, I am sure my bones in my face, my jaw, or my ribs, would have been broken by the force of the assaults. It would have been difficult to explain to the doctor if it needed medical attention.
But, I was told that day on 19 April that I had to state in my SD that I was not physically assaulted at all. I was asked to produce “alternative facts” 29 years before Donald Trump’s team invented the term. And the person who asked me to say that I was not hit was none other than the person who carried out most of the assaults on me during my detention.
I could not agree to it. I was hit when I was interrogated after my arrest in June the year before. Not hit once but 50 times, for god’s sake! How can I declare in an SD that I was not? It was an impasse. I did not have any trouble giving an honest account of the events that transpired leading up to the ex-detainees deciding to write the Statement — I don’t remember much of the details now, 29 years later. But that one point of their outrageous insistence of saying I was not physically hit was simply unacceptable.
Finally, Sim Poh Heng said to me point blank, “KC, if you don’t sign the SD (stating that I was not assaulted), I’m going to pull you in (that is, arrest me)! Once you’re inside, you’ll sign it — but it’ll be too late. And you know it will take a long time for you to get out!” It was said with a deadly seriousness, with great menace but no venom. The logic of the threat was impeccable. It punctured my resistance. It felt like the cold steel of an unsentimental knife against my throat, pressed by a hoodlum.
This was what the crushing might of the State felt like. I was fighting a tank armed with a toothpick. I knew I was defeated. OK, I said ruefully, I will sign the SD.
The SD was prepared with a selection of the statements that I have made. The critical point — the vital lie — that I was not hit was there. It had taken the ISD just eight hours of browbeating and ultimately the threat of arrest to extract it. I did not for a moment consider that it might have been an empty bluff. The metaphorical gun was put to my head. The metaphorical hammer was cocked. I was fucked.
When the SD was ready I was to sign it before a Commissioner of Oaths. I was led to another room in the ISD HQ complex. I entered a room where there was a coffee table and two chairs. I seem to remember that it was a windowless room, or they were hidden behind floor-to-ceiling heavy black curtains that covered the walls. The lights and the air-conditioning was on. A man — I think he was wearing a black suit — sat nervously in one chair. On the coffee table between the two chairs was the SD, perhaps only two or three pages in all. I was ushered in wordlessly by one of the ISD officers to the room. Then he left and closed the door behind him. I sat down on the chair opposite this very quiet man. I gathered he was a Commissioner of Oaths, where from I know not. He did not introduce himself. He asked me hopefully, “Are you ready to sign?” I looked at him straight into his eyes, balefully, and did not say a word. He averted his eyes and cast them down. I did not move to sign the document. I looked at it, and then stared at him. I did not say anything. My eyes were drilling into his forehead. He kept his eyes averted. After a while, he asked again, meekly, “Are you ready to sign?” I made no move and spoke no word. I just glared at him. I wanted him to be absolutely clear that I was not ready to sign, very unhappy to be there, and doing something against my will. At no point did he ask me, “Have you read the document and do you understand what you are about to sign?” He just kept his head down and eyes averted. I continued sitting in silence, glaring balefully at him. When they were not baleful, my eyes were daggers. I think we sat there like that, for 20 minutes, with me not uttering a word. The Commissioner of Oaths squirmed in his seat. But he did not rush me, and did not say anything except his hopeful question, now asked twice, “Are you ready to sign?” I answered with a deafening silence. And not a single movement.
Finally, after I felt that a sufficiently unmistakable amount of time had passed — and I think it was about 20 minutes — of silence, I heaved an internal sigh of the greatest regret, and moved to take up the pen on the table to sign the document in front of me.
I was startled by the swiftness of the Commissioner of Oaths’ next movements. He whipped out a blotter and blotted my freshly inked signature. Then he swiftly produced a self-inking Commissioner of Oaths stamp, stamped the document in the right place, dashed off his signature, blotted that in turn, gathered up the documents and practically fled from the room!
He did not say a word to me. He vanished like the Disney cartoon Road-Runner, almost leaving a trail of smoke.
The deed having been executed as the ISD wanted me to, I could now go. I was there at Phoenix Park for nine hours in all.
I went back to my office, where Tan Kheng Sun, Wong Souk Yee’s husband, and Jocelyn Lee, Patrick Seong’s wife, and a third person I was not so familiar with, were waiting for me. Their spouses had been re-arrested with the release of the Statement. Patrick Seong, counsel for some of the ex-detainees, had been arrested at the same time.
I told them what had happened at the ISD HQ at Phoenix Park, and how I was forced to sign, against my will, the SD. Jocelyn was mightily upset that I had done so. She berated me and said that I had betrayed her husband Patrick Seong by my action, which she called “cowardly.” I understood why she was so upset and did not want to argue with her. Although I may have said to her, “Jocelyn, Patrick is inside now. He will sign an SD as well, it’s just a matter of negotiating what he will be willing to say.” “No, he won’t!” she said in anger and tears.
The next day a plethora of SDs were published in The Straits Times. All those of us non-signatories of the Statement who were called back to the ISD HQ at Phoenix Park had SDs saying one thing or another which the ISD hoped would contradict the Statement. There was my forced SD which I signed at Phoenix Park. But lo and behold, directly next to my SD was an SD signed by Tan Kheng Sun and Jocelyn Lee, a statement reporting the points I had told them both, which clearly revealed that my hand was forced when I signed my SD. It served to completely nullify and void my SD. I was shocked, as I had not known anything about it, and Kheng Sun and Jocelyn had not told me of their intention or action at all. But I was not displeased. The wonder of it, thinking about it now, was that The Straits Times had the courage to actually publish Kheng Sun’s and Jocelyn’s SD that day, right beside and contradicting mine.
On 6 May 1988, 18 days after the release of the Statement by the ex-detainees of Operation Spectrum, Francis Seow, former Solicitor-General of Singapore, former President of the Law Society of Singapore, and counsel for Teo Soh Lung and Patrick Seong who had been re-arrested and arrested respectively on 19 April, was himself arrested under the ISA when he went to see his clients at the Whitley Road Detention Centre. That same day Hank Hendrickson, First Secretary of the US Embassy in Singapore, was expelled from Singapore, for apparently interfering in Singapore’s political affairs by having discussions with Francis Seow.
And two days later, on 8 May 1988 it was my turn to be re-arrested. This notwithstanding my having signed the SD they forced me to sign.
Why? Like my first arrest, I could say, absurd as it may sound — I don’t know why. Since the Marxist conspiracy was a fiction created by the ISD, and I was no conspirator and had no intention of ever bringing down the government through illegal or unlawful means, why was I selected to teach Singaporeans an object lesson about politics in Singapore as the Cold War was coming to an end in history? Why was Operation Spectrum executed at all?
This second time round, I was detained for another 10 months. I was released just before Chinese New Year, in February 1989. In all, between 1987 and 1989, I had spent 13 months in detention under the ISA.
In solidarity with Jolovan Wham, Function 8 is publishing a Solidarity Edition of 1987 SINGAPORE’S MARXIST CONSPIRACY 30 YEARS ON. Details of this publication will be released soon.
by Teo Soh Lung (first published on F8 Facebook page on 19th Feb)
I was in the spanking new state of the art Court No. 32A of the State Courts on 15 February 2021 where Jolovan Wham was sentenced to pay a total of $8000 or in default 32 days in prison. It was utterly absurd and incredible that he should be penalised so heavily for peaceful acts of civil disobedience which in any other country, including developing countries, would not have batted an eyelid. It was even more bizarre listening to the prosecution baying for blood and the judge taking in everything as gospel truth.
Jolovan was charged for organising an “unlawful assembly” in 2017 on trains running along the North South line. A small group of young people held the book 1987 SINGAPORE’S MARXIST CONSPIRACY 30 YEARS ON during their train rides. They were photographed standing or seated with or without blindfolds made from black plastic strips of trash bags.
At some point in time, two A4 sheets were scotch taped to a glass panel of a carriage. The words on the papers were MARXIST CONSPIRACY? #notodetentionwithouttrial and JUSTICE FOR OPERATION SPECTRUM SURVIVORS #notodetentionwithouttrial. These papers were immediately removed when they left the trains.
What is so wrong with such an activity on our trains? Are commuters not permitted to read or perform on trains? They were not inconveniencing anyone even though the prosecution and judge would like to believe that they had inconvenienced some commuters.
Jolovan and his friends were clearly inspired by the survivors of Operation Spectrum who had a few weeks earlier, commemorated the 30th Anniversary of the 1987 incident with the launch of the book. The book was published to place on record what actually happened in 1987. The book contains essays about the incident written by survivors, their friends and supporters.
The government may wish to forget the grave injustice done to 24 people in the 1987 incident. This incident is not in its official history. Unfortunately, many of the victims are still alive and well today. They have managed to arouse the curiosity of young people like Jolovan and Seelan Palay who not only did their own research about the incident but took upon themselves to publicise it so that it is not erased from the collective memory of Singaporeans. They have paid the heavy price of going to jail.
I can think of no country in the world where peaceful assemblies and protests are disallowed by law on the pretext that such assemblies would result in chaos and bloodshed. What is even more deplorable in Singapore is the law that even one person is not permitted to stand with a placard or perform in public without a police permit (which incidentally will never be granted) and certain areas in the city are out of bound to any person who wish to publicise a cause. When the law disallows peaceful expressions and the judiciary’s duty is merely to administer such a law, what can a person do to bring attention to his cause or unhappiness? Hold a placard in the middle of government sanctioned Hong Lim Park?
Pushed to a corner in colonial India, Mahatma Gandhi found a solution. He organised peaceful disobedience to unjust laws. He perfected civil disobedience and contributed to gaining independence for his country. He concluded:
“Civil disobedience is not only the natural right of a people, especially when they have no effective voice in their own Government, but that it is also a substitute for violence or armed rebellion.”
The judiciary in India sent Gandhi to jail several times.
Martin Luther King Jr who was inspired by Gandhi led huge protest marches against racial discrimination. He too was sent to jail several times. Reflecting on civil disobedience in Birmingham Jail, he wrote:
“One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
It is to be noted that while in India and America, people were and are allowed to march and protest peacefully, in Singapore we do not have such a right.
The Public Order Act, like so many recent laws passed by the PAP government are unjust laws. Our judiciary has time and again ruled that laws, including unjust laws are to be obeyed and it is their duty only to administer such laws. What then can a person, especially a citizen do if he wishes to champion a cause or voice his unhappiness over any matter? Disobey the laws or support the unjust system with silence?
We may have splendid buildings for the administration of justice but what justice can we receive?
Jolovan is presently serving a 22 day prison sentence for organising an unlawful assembly and vandalism. He paid the fine of $2500 for the charge of failing to sign a statement made in the course of police investigation. Under the law, the police have a discretion to insist that the person sign such a statement and if he refuses to sign, our colonial master and the PAP government can send him to jail.
In solidarity with Jolovan Wham, Function 8 is publishing a Solidarity Edition of 1987 SINGAPORE’S MARXIST CONSPIRACY 30 YEARS ON. Details of this publication will be released soon.
Jolovan Wham pleaded guilty to three charges today –
Illegal assembly for participating in a peaceful protest in trains using the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy book published by Function 8;
Vandalism for scotch taping two A4 size paper on the glass pane; and
Refusing to sign a statement recorded in the course of police investigation.
In mitigation, Jolovan told the court that he felt strongly about the injustices done to survivors of the alleged Marxist conspiracy who were arrested and detained without trial in 1987. Till today, they have not received justice. He said he is not ashamed of what he has done.
Jolovan said that his intention for doing what he did was to raise awareness to injustices. It was never his intention to create public disorder. For that reason he told those who were merely observers to alert them to disperse as soon as there was any sign of possible disturbance. There was none. All was peaceful.
On the vandalism charge, Jolovan said that the two A4 size paper with the words “MARXIST CONSPIRACY?” AND “JUSTICE FOR OPERATION SPECTRUM SURVIVORS” which were scotch-taped to a glass pane were removed as soon as they left the train. No damage was caused.
The prosecution was vehement in wanting to extract the maximum punishment and make an example of Jolovan so as to deter others from following his footsteps. They gave wild scenarios of chaos and disorder that may arise, something which we often hear from government officials. They demanded the global penalty of $9,500 for the three charges which in my view is manifestly excessive for three minor offences that caused no harm to anyone or damage to the trains.
The judge imposed a fine of $4500 or 18 days jail for the illegal assembly charge. For the vandalism charge, Jolovan was fined $1000 or 4 days jail and for refusing to sign the statement, he was fined $2500 or 10 days jail.
Jolovan paid the fine for refusing to sign the statement. He is now serving his prison sentence of 22 days for unlawful assembly and vandalism. He said he would go to jail because he believes that people should have the right to protest peacefully.
Jolovan’s concern for a just society and his willingness to sacrifice his freedom for such a cause is to be admired. He has had two stints of imprisonment before today. He is not afraid of going to jail again.
There is nothing wrong with people like Jolovan but there is everything wrong with a government which sees people who dare to highlight injustices as threats to society rather than threats to its own survival. The government deceives itself by claiming that it is for the good of the people that peaceful protests are forbidden by laws.
Court 32A was packed with young supporters of Jolovan today. They have witnessed how the judicial system works. They have seen the meanness of the prosecutors. The harshness and irrationality of the law and its administration is not lost on them. They said goodbye to him and sent him off to jail. No one cried.
But will they lose their respect for a system that sends good people who care for their country to jail? I don’t know.
Mahatma Gandhi who spent many years in jail once said:
“I care so deeply about this matter that I’m willing to take on the legal penalties, to sit in this prison cell, to sacrifice my freedom, in order to show you how deeply I care. Because when you see the depth of my concern, and how civil I am in going about this, you’re bound to change your mind about me, to abandon your rigid, unjust position, and to let me help you see the truth of my cause.”
Jolovan has shown us what civil disobedience is all about. Will the government change or will it take many more Jolovans to go to jail before things can change for the better?