by Chew Kheng Chuan (KC Chew)
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.