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

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 Remembering Dr Lim Hock Siew

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  2. Charissa says:

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