Tan Mei Hua (陈美和), a member of Barisan Sosialis and a writer today, was arrested on 26 Oct 1966 and released on 3 July 1973.
Tan Mei Hua together with many others were arrested in October 1966 because they had protested against the United States daily bombing of Vietnam and the use of poisonous gas, Napalm on the population. Thousands of Vietnamese died or were injured and vegetation and crops were destroyed during the Vietnam War.
Elected Legislative Assemblyman Chia Thye Poh was also arrested in October 1966 and was imprisoned for 32 years without trial. According to Tan Mei Hua, Chia was subjected to severe torture and continuous interrogation for 96 hours in the cold room.
Torture, forced television confessions and ill treatment inside Central Police Station and Changi Prison as well as the forced closure of registered trade unions led Tan Mei Hua and many others to go on a hunger strike in 1967. Supporters and family members protested outside the prison gate. Violence broke out when police used force against more than 300 protesters. Many were subsequently charged in court.
In December 1970 several women prisoners commenced a hunger strike to protest against unreasonable and harsh prison conditions – inadequate food, absence of reading materials and forced labour. Tan Mei Hua joined the hunger strike for 135 days. The prisoners were force fed. The entire hunger strike lasted 146 days, the longest in Singapore’s prison history.
The prison authority relented after many of the prisoners were on the verge of death.
Thanks to the hunger strikers, political prisoners today are exempted from forced labour and are permitted reading materials and food.