Event: Changing Worlds #25

Function 8 is pleased to invite you to the 25th edition of our talks and discussions on


The Singapura from the Malay Annals — Historical Memories in Challenge

by Dr Azhar Ibrahim

Date : 8 – 10 pm, Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Venue : 28 Sin Ming Lane #03-142 Midview City

The Agora, Singapore 573972

Please RSVP at Hello@function8.org by 18 August.

This talk aims to highlight and discuss the Singapura episodes in Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annal ), deemed one of the finest Malay literary‐historical texts on record. It has been one of the contested sites where historical assertions and claims have been made amongst the Malay literati, which associated Singapura’s past with Malay indigeneity and position. This is especially significant as the contemporary dominant narratives of Singapore’s history put hardly any premium or recognition to the Sejarah Melayu’s version of historical past or memories. Today, with the increasing emphasis of Singapore’s history on one that predates the 1819 establishment, Sejarah Melayu is a significant source, albeit one of many, which will help historians review and construct a more accurate past. How and to what extent this could be accomplished will be an interesting subject for discussion and evaluation in reassessing Singapore’s pre‐colonial history.

Our speaker: Dr Azhar Ibrahim, PhD is a lecturer at the Department of Malay Studies, National University of Singapore (NUS). He teaches Malay‐Indonesian literature and ideologies of development at the Department. His research interest includes sociology of religion, sociology of literature and critical literacy, and the MalayIndonesian intellectual development. Amongst his published books are: Emancipated Education (2019), Historical Imagination and Cultural Responses to Colonialism and Nationalism: A Critical Malay(sian) Perspective (2017), Menyanggah Belenggu Kerancuan Fikiran Masakini (2016), Contemporary Islamic Discourse in the Malay‐Indonesia World: Critical Perspectives (2014), and Narrating Presence: Awakening from Cultural Amnesia (2014).

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


by Teo Soh Lung (posted on Facebook 27 June 2019)

There is an air of secrecy surrounding the arrest and detention of people under Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA). They disappear suddenly from our midst. Except for family members and close friends, the rest of Singapore do not have a clue that they have been arrested and put away indefinitely without trial. We don’t know where they are being imprisoned. The mainstream media do not report their disappearances unless they are informed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, usually several months or years after they are arrested/detained or released.

Take the ministry’s recent press release of 25 June 2019. https://www.mha.gov.sg/…/update-on-actions-taken-under-the-…

The press release informs us that one person, Imran bin Mahmood was issued with a detention order in January 2019. We are now almost at the end of June 2019. Why does the ministry take six months to inform the public of the arrest? If it is a national security issue, shouldn’t the public be alerted immediately?

Indefinite detention or imprisonment without trial is better known as executive detention. The minister for home affairs is largely responsible for such arrests and imprisonment. In the case of Imran bin Mahmood the alleged facts are rather vague. The press release states:

“2. Imran bin Mahmood (Imran), a 40-year-old unemployed Singaporean, was detained in January 2019 under the ISA after investigations showed that he was radicalised and harboured the intention to travel to Syria to join the terrorist group ISIS.

3. Imran’s radicalisation began sometime in 2013 when he started listening to online lectures by foreign religious preachers, including those who preached about the imminent coming of the end-times. Through his exposure to the radical online material, Imran became a strong supporter of ISIS’s violent objectives and actions. By 2014, Imran had developed a desire to live under ISIS’s so-called caliphate in Syria/Iraq and researched on viable entry points for himself into Syria. He was willing to take up arms to defend or expand ISIS’s territory, and believed that he would achieve martyrdom if he died fighting for ISIS.

4. Imran questioned ISIS’s legitimacy when it started to suffer territorial losses in 2017, but did not denounce ISIS. He continued to believe that it was his religious duty to fight alongside any group trying to establish a rightful caliphate in Syria, and that his radical views were legitimate. He was also prepared to join militant and terrorist groups involved in the Syrian conflict, namely the Free Syrian Army and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (an Al-Qaeda aligned faction).”

I don’t know how much sense can be made out of these statements. What is crucial to me is that no weapons or subversive documents are mentioned to have been in the possession of Imran. He had spent time listening to online lectures about the imminent end of the world by religious preachers, something which some of us would also have done at some point of time in our lives! But the minister had pre-empted his plans (if any) and arrested him despite the fact that he had experienced doubts in 2017. Can he be wrong in his judgement?

In the press release, two persons were released on restriction orders, probably in March 2019. Again, shouldn’t the public be notified of their arrests and releases immediately since it involves national security? Or are we expected to trust the authority that it will do no wrong?

Finally, the press release disclosed that four persons who were arrested in February 2012, March 2013 and May 2017 were released probably in March and June 2019. (The press release is not clear on the dates). These are long detentions. Two of the released prisoners had been detained for six and seven years respectively while the other two for about two years. During the entire period of their detentions, the public do not have any information about them. Shouldn’t there be accountability since they were allegedly arrested and imprisoned for public security reasons?

On what evidence do the minister rely on before he detains a person? “Nipped in the bud” has always been the guideline for those who exercised such power. That was the case in 1987 and all the arrests prior to and after that year. In fact, it had been used since the days when Singapore was under the British.

Singapore has now been an independent country for more than half a century. She has become a developed country. Should we continue to punish our people using draconian colonial laws? Indefinite detention without trial should not be the law of any country especially one that claims to abide by the rule of law. All persons are entitled to fair and open trials as guaranteed by our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


by Teo Soh Lung (posted on Facebook 26 June 2019)

I find it sad that people should ask me for a solution when I criticise policies of our government. I am told to shut up when I don’t have any idea (that’s what they presume) of how our government can rectify its bad policies.

Such behaviour to me is confirmation that we have disempowered people in our midst. They are dependent on our government and believe that whatever it does is good for us.

Are we animals and chickens which though able to think and feel pain, are contented to be fed until they are sent to the slaughter? We cannot even say that we are farm animals and fowl because when we have no money, our government does not owe us a duty to feed us. It is our families that will try to help us. So why cannot we criticise our government?

Take the case of heavier penalties or fines for drivers reported in the TODAY paper of 26 June 2019. See https://www.facebook.com/sohlung.teo/posts/10217547154964578

To this report, I had remarked: “PAP government only knows one deterrence i.e. severer sentences being fines, jail terms, number of strokes or death.

In parking offences, it doesn’t take into considerations its own inefficiency or deficiency in providing parking lots or the inequality of treatment such as the privileges of ministers in parking anywhere they wish.”

Robert Wee shot back: “As u are against use financial penalty as a means to engender better civic behaviour what is your proposed prescription? Cheers”

Robert Wee may be a fake account but I will answer his question which is pretty common. Such questions were raised when JB Jeyaretnam was the single opposition in parliament back in the early 1980s. Lots of people unkindly criticised him for failing to provide solutions but merely raising questions in parliament. They even accused him of not doing any research. They forget that he was just one opposition against a pack of PAP barking dogs.

My answer to this Robert Wee and his likes is simply this.

I am a citizen of Singapore and I am entitled to comment, criticise and protest against a policy which I see is bad for my country. Unfortunately, I am not able to stand in front of parliament house with a placard in my hands without being sent to jail. So I do my best and make use of facebook to voice my dissent.

Must I have a solution to all the follies of the PAP?

Surely not. I am not a minister in the PAP government. I am not paid a million dollars. I am not entitled to facts and figures. (Even journalists who don’t work for The Straits Times, are not entitled to information.) So why should this Robert Wee expect me to find a “prescription” for the policy to tax drivers even more severely than now?

As a citizen, I am surely entitled to criticise the government for a policy which I see is senseless and selfish. Heavier fines will only enrich the government. It will not prevent drivers who occasionally break rules.

Just look at the ugly gantries that swallow millions of dollars from car owners. Never mind that it uglifies our beautiful city as long as it enriches the government. Did the gantries solve some of the congestion problems in the city? Perhaps. But what happens next?

More gantries are built. Even when you drive from east to west, away from the city, you are caught by at least one gantry. Why? The government just wants more money! The easiest way to make money is to build gantries. The original intention of discouraging people driving into the city is thrown to the winds.

It was the same with COEs. High COEs will deter car ownership? It did for a while. But there are too many rich people in Singapore who can pay more than one COE. Yes, the government struck gold there. It was an easy way to make a lot of money. Collect 2/3 of the price of vehicles as tax for a ten year lease of a vehicle. In addition collect petrol tax, parking tax etc etc. The opportunities seem endless!

Coming back to the issue of heavier penalties for drivers from July 2019. I find it disturbing that instead of understanding why drivers park badly, the government does not look into its own deficiencies. Why would anyone want to park illegally if they can find a proper parking lot. True there are inconsiderate drivers along some roads but that is partly because the government, in order to collect more money have drawn parking lots when it should not have. I am thinking of East Coast Road where congestions is largely due to cars being parked along one lane of the road, whether legally or illegally.

It is said that the minister will also increase the penalties for overparking. He obviously forgets that the parking apps will not refund drivers any money for less than 10 minutes. Try ending parking when you have 10 minutes left. If the government eats up 10 minutes from drivers, what is so bad about giving some drivers an extra 10 minutes? And mind you, the CISCO officer will give you a warning even though you have less than 10 minutes to return to your car. When you write to the department to enquire why the notice was issued, you are pushed from CISCO to department and a standard explanation is received which does not answer your objection. And so you give up.

Robert Wee should understand that as citizens we still have some rights, though not much left. We may not have an answer to every issue that we raise but we still have the right to raise it. For this particular issue of increasing penalties, I have lots to say but I can do that another day.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book review: Beyond Suspicion? The Singapore Judiciary


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

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

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

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

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

Teo Soh Lung
30 October 2007

Posted in Book Reviews | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in In Memory, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Remembering Dr Lim Hock Siew

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in In Memory | Leave a comment

Public Forum on POFMA: More Harm than Good?

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

Speakers list:

1) James Gomez  https://youtu.be/KNSyVsnk-9g

2) Khush Chopra   https://youtu.be/WyVBAd11eaQ

3) Brad Bowyer      https://youtu.be/NL3_8IV9jBI

4) Q & A                   https://youtu.be/5wrTEU6ayO8




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment