A detainee remembers

Tang Fong Har, a young lawyer was one of 22 people arrested in 1987 and imprisoned without trial under the Internal Security Act.  16 people were arrested in a pre dawn raid  carried out by the ISD  on 21 May 1987. Another  6, including Fong Har were arrested on 20 June 1987. 

Fong Har was released with conditions after three months. One of the conditions was that she could not travel abroad without the approval of the director of ISD.

On 18 April 1988, she together with eight former detainees issued a joint statement denying the government’s allegations against them.  The following day, all eight were re-detained. As Fong Har was then in England, she was “spared”.  She courageously campaigned for the release of all her friends, appearing on BBC as well as giving press conferences. Not wanting to be re-detained like all her friends, she remained abroad, thus breaching one of the conditions for her release. Fong Har has not returned to Singapore for the past 23 years. She now lives in Hong Kong.

The account below was written by Fong Har soon after the rearrest of her friends in April 1988. Save for some minor editing, I reproduce it in full. As it is a long narrative, I will reproduce it in three parts.

Part 1
The arrest
It was Saturday, June 20, 1987. I had finished two office files in preparation for Monday. It was almost 12.30 a.m. and Peter, my husband, was already asleep.

We were staying in a semi-detached single-storey house that belonged to a friend. We were both very tired and tense since 16 people (including my friends) were arrested on 21 May 1987.

I had met lawyer and opposition leader Mr J B Jeyaretnam for tea at the Subordinate Courts canteen on Wednesday, June 17. I had met two Amnesty International officials on Thursday evening, June 18, and I just had dinner with two friends on the night of 19 June.

I went to bed at about 1 a.m. At slightly before 2 am, very loud banging on the glass door woke me. Still half asleep, I thought the noise might go away, but I heard it again, noises outside the house. I woke Peter and he went to the door.

I saw flashing lights and some people outside. One of them said that they were searching for illegal immigrants and showed his badge. He also said that he was from Joo Chiat Police Station. I felt fear and knew that they were Internal Security Department (ISD) officers.

Peter opened the door and let in the four officers, three Chinese males and one female. He carried a sack. Once inside, a Chinese in his early 40s asked whether I was Tang Fong Har. I nodded, and he told me that I was under arrest under the Internal Security Act.

Though it was not totally unexpected, I was nevertheless stunned and speechless. He warned us not to move. The others then systematically searched the house – the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen and the living room. I did not see them searching the garden.

The man who had spoken to us stood near us all the while. Peter asked him, “Doesn’t she have any rights?” He looked at Peter in a funny way and the rest laughed cynically. The search took some 40 minutes. They seized my address-book, file of news cuttings and articles on the May 21 arrests, some copies of the minutes of the Law Society Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and AWARE (Association of Women for Action and Research) meetings.

When the time came for me to be taken away, I told Peter not to worry about me and to contact my family and lawyer. His face was expressionless. He did not raise his voice at all, and neither did I. I was led to a car, my glasses were removed and I was blindfolded and driven off.

When the car stopped, my blindfold was removed and my glasses were handed to me. I realised that I was in the carpark of the block of flats my parents lived in. They escorted me to my parents’ flat and conducted another search. I pleaded with them not to disturb my family, in particular my parents. My pleas fell on deaf ears.

The search was futile, and I could see that my family was in a state of panic, angry, bewildered and helpless. Then I was again led to the car, my glasses were removed and I was blindfolded. The reaction of my family members affected me.

When I reached the Whitley Road Detention Centre (I found out where I was only when my lawyer visited me), my blindfold was removed, but my glasses were not returned to me. I kept telling myself – do not panic, do not worry, but what’s happening, where am I, what is this place, where are the others and how are they, how are my husband, my parents, my siblings and friends?

I was then ordered by the female Chinese officer to remove my clothes, underwear and shoes and put on a set of prison clothes. After that, I was led into another room where a male Chinese took four sets of my fingerprints. My glasses were returned to me and I was ordered to sit on a chair while two photographers took about six shots of me. It was like something out of the film Midnight Express. I felt I was a condemned criminal.

The female Chinese and a Gurkha guard then escorted me to what looked like a poorly equipped medical room, where I was ordered to lie on the bed; and a male Sikh (after my release I found out he was Dr Naranjan Singh, the head of the Prison Medical Unit). He examined me, took my pulse, looked at my tongue and eyes, and asked whether I had any medical problems, had been to the hospital or was pregnant. I replied in the negative very vigorously as I was worried that he might inject some drugs or prescribe some medicine, which would affect my mental and/or physical faculties adversely.

By Tang Fong Har

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About fn8org

For computers, it means to start again in safe mode. For us, we hope we can also start again in safe mode. But it's more like re-booting our systems and starting from much needed basics for democracy in Singapore.
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2 Responses to A detainee remembers

  1. All political activists will profit by reading about young lawyer Tang Fong Har’s arrest in 1987 in Singapore. It is in three parts. Enjoy and learn.

  2. Pingback: Survival kit for an ISD political detainee

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