The Indomitable Lion Among Us

Speech of Teo Soh Lung delivered at the JBJ Memorial Dinner,
27 Nov 2016.

J B Jeyaretnam inspired a generation of depoliticised young people when he won the Anson by election in a three corner fight in 1981. His victory shocked the PAP and surprised those who assumed that nothing was going to change. The PAP had not anticipated that the working class of Anson would abandon fear and send Jeyaretnam into parliament. Jeyaretnam’s victory ended 16 years of one party parliament.

I am glad to say that being one of the voters in Anson, I had thus, in a very small way, contributed to the change in our political landscape. I recall the night when the results were announced on television. My entire neighbourhood shouted for joy and vehicles sounded their horns for a very long time.

Jeyaretnam’s entry into parliament as the sole opposition member was almost immediately met with aggression from the PAP. Old debts were suddenly revived. In parliament, he faced hostile ministers. He was threatened time and again with breach of parliamentary privileges. Outside parliament, he was sued and charged in court. It is amazing that despite all the unbridled confrontation, he soldiered on and survived.

As a lone opposition member in parliament, without a team of researchers to help him, he was often rebuked. I often hear unfair criticisms that he did not do his research. That was really unkind. Luckily, parliamentary records show that he was a very effective parliamentarian, challenging bad policies and unjust bills and raising concerns about injustice and problems of citizens. He was quick on his feet.

As MP for Anson, Jeyaretnam never fail to meet the residents once a week at the void deck of one of the blocks of flats. He was concerned with the education of children. He sought permission to use the huge Peranakan styled community centre a stone throw away for tuition classes. Permission was denied. He once asked me to research on setting up a childcare centre. Unfortunately, the cost was just too exorbitant. Unable to carry out these plans for his constituents, he organised events such as the autumn festival where children and their parents would enjoy walking along the estate roads with lanterns in their hands. I remember he also organised children’s art competitions when impressive artworks were produced.

Jeyaretnam’s work as an opposition member in parliament inspired a group of young people. They realised that Singapore needed an opposition and it was absolutely important that Anson remain in the hands of the Workers’ Party. Thus before the general election in 1984, they offered to help him in his campaigns. When Jeyaretnam retained Anson, they offered their help in the production of the party’s organ, The Hammer. The irregular newspaper became a regular bi-monthly paper. The sale of The Hammer increased. It did not escape the notice of the PAP.

Jeyaretnam’s popularity and hard work in Anson garnered him 57% of the votes in 1984 which was 5% more than in 1981.

The loss of Anson to Jeyaretnam and Potong Pasir to Chiam See Tong in the general election angered the PAP. Both Jeyaretnam and Chiam were lawyers. It was thus no coincidence that attention was quickly focussed on lawyers. Coincidentally too, Francis Seow, former solicitor general and charismatic lawyer came on the scene when he was elected as the president of the Law Society towards the end of 1985. Lee Kuan Yew was alarmed for it was also the transition of power from him to the second generation leaders. He could not afford to see more opposition candidates in the next general election which had to be held in 1988 or 89. He had to “finish off” Jeyaretnam and all potential candidates.

In 1983, Jeyaretnam was charged for misappropriation of party funds amounting to $2,600 and making of a false statutory declaration. The First District Judge, Michael Khoo acquitted Jeyaretnam of 3 charges and fined him $1000 for the fourth charge. About a year after, Michael Khoo was transferred to the AG’s Chamber to become a Public Prosecutor. It caused grave unhappiness among lawyers as well as the general public.

In parliament, Jeyaretnam raised the issue of Michael Khoo’s transfer. Instead of simply answering his query, Jeyaretnam was referred to the Privileges Committee. All hell broke loose when complaints against Jeyaretnam was brought before the Committee of Privileges and the appeal against Michael Khoo’s judgement went before the High Court.

To cut a long story short, Jeyaretnam was ultimately fined $5000 and jailed for one month. He was therefore disqualified from being a member of parliament on 9 Dec 1986.

With Jeyaretnam out of the way, it was the Law Society and its president, Francis Seow who came under scrutiny. Again to cut a long story short, four lawyers and all those who helped in the publication of The Hammer were ultimately arrested and detained under the ISA in 1987.

Jeyaretnam offered to be legal counsel to his volunteers but due to coercion from the ISD, his offer was rejected. Jeyaretnam together with two other party members protested outside the Istana, seeking the release of the detainees. They were arrested and charged in court for attempting to conduct an unlawful assembly. Fortunately, the law in 1987 was not as severe as it is today. It needed five people to form an unlawful assembly. So they were all acquitted.
A year later, in 1988, several ISA detainees who were released issued a joint press statement and were immediately rearrested. Shortly after, two of their lawyers, including Francis Seow were also arrested under the ISA. That year, the electoral system was changed and GRCs were introduced. Anson was merged into Tanjong Pagar.

1988 however ended with the best news for Jeyaretnam. His appeal against the High Court barring him from practising law was heard before the Privy Council. In October, the Privy Council delivered a judgement exonerating Jeyaretnam and severely criticising the Singapore judiciary. He had finally won a major victory. But the Privy Council was powerless with regard to Jeyaretnam’s convictions and his seat in parliament.

The attacks on Jeyaretnam did not end with his exoneration by the Privy Council. Immediately after the 1997 general election, Jeyaretnam was again sued for defamation by PAP ministers represented by their army of senior counsels. He was ultimately made a bankrupt in 2001.

When Jeyaretnam was fighting his legal battles and trying to avoid bankruptcy proceedings, he was a very lonely person. He worked all he could to stave off bankruptcy. He stood at street corners to sell his books. Yet many of us shy away from him. Understandably, he developed a psychological complex. When friends tell me that he did not smile when they greet him on the street, I told them that it is difficult to trust strangers. He had been played out by strangers who offered assistance only to be disappointed and humiliated. I never encounter such problems with him. He was always glad to have coffee with me. And even when he was down and out, he would insist on paying the bill.

As Singaporeans, we have failed Jeyaretnam miserably. He used to tell me that if only every Singaporean would give him $1, he would not have to become a bankrupt. Jeyaretnam was a gentleman and a true warrior. We should always remember his huge sacrifice for us and honour his memory by doing what he tells us. Get rid of Fear and Wake Up!

It is unlikely that we will ever have another JBJ, at least not in my lifetime.

 

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BEWARE OF DISSONANT VOICES

thenewpaper-16-feb by Teo Soh Lung

I was quite surprised to read what the Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said at the opening of the exhibition at the Old Ford Factory (the newpaper, 16 Feb 17). He considers “dissonant voices” a threat. Just look at this:

“… how the way of life here is being challenged by a host of threats – from increasingly dissonant voices to terrorism.”

I don’t think the way of life of the people can be threatened by dissonant voices. The minister must be referring to the “way of life” of the PAP or its government.

Further down the report, he said:

“These threats are very present and may already be here.
They may be a cyber attack or a terror threat, or perhaps the spreading of misinformation or disinformation. How can we ensure that WE (emphasis mine) are resilient enough – and committed enough – to respond to these threats, and to recover quickly when crises strike?”

The WE here must refer to the government because I don’t think the people today are resilient. We have for decades been told to be dependent on the government. And the government has always prided itself as knowing everything and doing everything for the people. It spends a huge part of our budget on defence. It knows a citizen’s public and private life. It interferes with everything a citizen does, including harmless postings on facebook. It has installed cameras everywhere, from the expressways and roads to public flats and parks.

We are depending on the government to do the job of defending us. Don’t depend on us, the people. The government has emasculated us because it has never accepted dissonant voices and quite frankly, there isn’t any left.

The government having interfered with every aspect of our life must not abandon us when a crisis arises. It should not behave like the British during the Japanese occupation. The British was a colonial power and it can shamelessly abandon us. The PAP government on the other hand is elected by the people and should not abandon us. Forget about we being a resilient united people. We are softies.

That said, a serious concern bothers me. When even dissonant voices are considered a threat, I wonder if the PAP government will be able to discern a real threat and take us through a crisis.

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Lawful Lawlessness or Legal Opportunism

cantonment-police-complexby Teo Soh Lung

Singapore is unique in many things, including lawlessness committed by the very people who are supposed to ensure public safety and security.

It is now 257 days since the police seized my mobile phone and computers. I do not know what pleasure they gain from retaining my properties.

Seizing properties from citizens is quite a recent phenomenon. The law allowing the police to seize properties under certain circumstances was sneaked into the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) when the old code was repealed and the new CPC incorporating major amendments was introduced in parliament in 2010.

Rather innocuously, Minister for Law K Shanmugam said of the power of the police to seize properties:

“Clause 35 [presently section 34] of the Bill builds upon the existing powers of the Police to seize property under certain circumstances, by expanding the powers to three specific classes of property:

(1) Property in respect of which an offence is suspected to have been committed;

(2) Property suspected to have been used or intended to be used to commit an offence – for example, dangerous weapons used to commit gang robbery, and

(3) property suspected to constitute evidence of an offence, for example, bits of clothing found at a crime scene.

Property falling within the first and second classes will include not only the original property, but also any property that it has been converted into. So, for example, if a suspected watch thief has sold the stolen watch and used the proceeds to buy a computer, the Police may seize the computer instead.”

I suspect no one in the house anticipated the powers of the police to be expanded to what the police do today. They were probably misled by the opening statement of the minister that the clause “builds upon the existing powers of the Police to seize property …” The clause widens the power of the police to an extent which I will term as “lawful lawlessness”. I do not think anyone in the house anticipated computers and mobile phones of law abiding people to be seized by the police. No member of the house objected or even sought clarification of the new clause. I suspect only the minister knew what he was going to do with the new power.

It was also in 2010 that the phrase “arrestable offence” replaced “seizable offence” in the definition section of the Code.

lianain-filmsThe new law came into effect on 2 Jan 2011. Two years later, we saw the use or rather abuse of this law on its first victim, Lynn Lee, a filmmaker and then on Leslie Chew, a cartoonist.

The police went knocking on the door of Lynn Lee one morning, pretending to seek information from her about allegations of intimidation and assault on two bus drivers. In her blog, http://www.lianainfilms.com/…/in-which-lim-makes-me-kopi-a…/ she gave an account of how she was harassed in the early hours of the morning in Feb 2013 and then at the police headquarters at Irrawaddy Road. The police did not seize her computers and mobile phone then but clearly, the hard disks were cloned in her presence and her computers damaged beyond repair. She was detained for more than nine hours without dinner and would not have been released had it not been for her friends who gathered outside the gate of the police headquarters after 10 pm.

Two months later, Leslie Chew was the next victim. He was given worse treatment including a taste of the police lockup at the notorious Police Cantonment Complex for nearly 48 hours, the maximum period the police are allowed to detain a person without a charge. He had just returned from abroad and they could not wait arrest and seize his computers the minute he arrived at his parents’ home. They seized his computers and threw him into the police lockup at midnight. They could not wait for daylight because they wanted to give him the maximum shock effect.

Leslie Chew was never charged in court though they tortured him by allowing him to be on a $10,000 bail bond and having to report on weekly and then monthly basis for god knows how long. It took the police several months before his properties were returned.

I do not know how many people have been subjected to the treatment meted out to Lynn Lee and Leslie Chew. In May 2016 however, the police came for Roy Ngerng and me. We learnt from journalists that the police were investigating us for Cooling Off Day offences. At 9.30 pm the next night, a letter from the police was slipped under my door. I was invited for an interview at the Police Cantonment Complex. The next morning, a Sunday, the police was again at my door just to make sure that I received the letter.

Roy and I were interrogated by the police on 31 May 2016. Following that, we were driven home and our mobile phones and computers etc were seized even though we have never denied the allegations made against us i.e. that we posted on our personal facebooks, opinions and news, both old and new on Cooling Off Day. Our defence was that it was our constitutional right to do so. Till today, the police have not returned our properties. None of us has been charged in court.

There is no doubt that Singapore has reached a state of lawful lawlessness or what Function 8 calls “legal opportunism”. Here is their statement:

https://fn8org.wordpress.com/…/function-8-condemns-legal-o…/

1 June 2016

Statement from Function 8

Function 8 deplores the intimidation of Roy Ngerng and Teo Soh Lung and the unnecessary seizure of their mobile phones and computers on 31 May 2016. This follows their interviews with the Singapore police at the Police Cantonment Complex pertaining to an investigation into facebook postings on cooling off day on 6 May 2016. The police have clearly abused their power of investigation as both Roy and Soh Lung had never denied, and indeed confirmed at the interview, that they had commented on, and shared postings on Facebook which had been made by others.

Function 8 deeply regrets the actions of the police in this unnecessary seizure which is an invasion of privacy and an act of intimidation against Roy and Soh Lung. In our view, it is part of a chain of recent incidents that encroach upon the work of civil society which contribute to the legitimate exercise of good citizenship.

We, at Function 8, condemn the use of governmental powers against sincere individual citizens and civil society groups that are striving to make our nation a more inclusive, and a more caring one, accountable for the welfare of our fellow human beings. This is truly an act of legal opportunism.

Function 8 Ltd

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Tyranny of the majority

By Teo Soh Lung

select-committee

“… the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” – John Stuart Mill

The PAP government is fond of telling us that it has the mandate of the people and is free to carry out whatever it thinks is “good for the people”. Indeed, the government does get away with a lot of unjust policies which in any first world country would never have seen the light of day. The philosopher’s words are irrelevant to the PAP but his warning in the essay that there could be “tyranny of the majority” can often be seen in Singapore. Take the case of Francis Seow. He was elected by an overwhelming majority of his peers to be a member of the Council of the Law Society of Singapore in 1985. The majority of members in Council subsequently elected him to be the president for a term of two years. But what did the then prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew together with two other ministers, Mr E W Barker and Prof S Jayakumar and five members of parliament, Dr Yeoh Ghim Seng (who was the chairman), Messrs Bernard Chen, Chua Sian Chin, Tang See Chim and Dr Tan Cheng Bok did to him shortly after in a televised parliamentary select committee hearing? They approved a bill that allowed the removal of Seow as the president of the law society. Incidentally, five of the eight members of the committee were lawyers.

Swiftly, and by an overwhelming majority of PAP members in parliament, the bill was passed and Francis Seow was unceremoniously removed from council even before his term expired. To be exact, he served as president for barely ten months. That blatant and shameful act though completely legal, was never debated in parliament or outside. Singaporeans did not protest. No one breathed a word because everyone knew then that they could be the next victim. Fear prevailed throughout the 1980s and after.

The following oppressive, chilling and incredible debate between Lee Kuan Yew and Francis Seow graphically illustrates the tyranny of the majority which John Stuart Mill and so many other thinkers had written about more than a hundred years ago. Sir Ivor Jennings, Walter Raeburn QC and all those who assisted in the drafting of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore for the PAP would probably regret being its architect and may be turning in their graves many times over. The constitution which was meant to protect the people with its clear pronouncement of fundamental liberties, has never been the supreme law as intended by the authors. It has time and again been amended and used against the people of Singapore, lending legitimacy to immoral acts of the government.

francis-seowFor ease of reading, I have inserted PM for Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Seow for Francis Seow and deleted the numbering of paragraphs which ran from 414 to 422 (pages B65 to B66) of the Report of the Select Committee on the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill, 1986.

PM: Do you know why those investigations proceeded?
Seow: Why? It is quite obvious why.
PM: Why?
Seow: Okay, you tell me why?
PM: If it is obvious, I want to hear your explanation?
Seow: Well, maybe my explanation is different from yours.
PM: Tell us. I will tell you mine in a moment?
Seow: Yes. You don’t like me to be the President of the Law Society. It is simple as that.
PM: No. I am astounded and outraged that a person with your moral qualities is being asked to uphold the integrity of the Bar?
Seow: And why not, may I ask? If my peers, if the rest of the members of the Bar who know the full circumstances of my two suspensions and convictions still see me fit to elect me, it is not for this Committee nor for you or indeed anyone to say that I should not be.
PM: Mr Seow, when we legislated it never occurred to us for one moment, first, that lawyers of more than 12 years’ standing would vote you into the Council and, second, that the Council members, 10 of them, would vote and make you President. And when that happens, the law will be changed because obviously the lawyers are not fit to look after their own affairs. By the time they elected you as President, I am entitled to tell Members of Parliament and Singaporeans that they are unfit to govern themselves, a right of government which we, as legislators, have delegated. That is why we are here — ?
Seow: I accept that.
PM: To change the law. And if you convince me further that we have not changed it adequately, I will go another step to make sure that this does not happen ever again. It is for me. It is not for you to decide?
Seow: I accept that. But as of now, the fellow members of the Bar, knowing fully what the position is. Look, my life has been an open book. The Straits Times has been canvassing everything about my convictions, my suspension, almost ad nauseam. So these members know it when they voted me in. They are also thinking people and they know what is right and what is wrong.
PM: By that you mean that they can absolve you from all moral blame because they have reposed confidence in you by voting for you?
Seow: I do not know what you mean by morality or —-
PM: You have no sense of right or wrong or shame? —
Seow: Of course, I have the sense of right and wrong as well as the expression of shame, as I am sure all of you do have. As a matter of record, may I mention this, that I was in fact suspended for one year from the 30th April 1973 to the 29th April 1974. That was my first suspension over that unfortunate Gemini affair. I stood and was elected as a Council member in 1976 and 1977.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel, my admiration


angela-merkel-773848 by Teo Soh Lung

Watching Chancellor Angela Merkel handle the horrific tragedy in Berlin on BBC, I am full of admiration for her. She was calm despite the enormous responsibility and the increased blame that would be cast upon her for welcoming refugees. She acknowledged and expressed that fear openly and solemnly laid flowers at the site of the tragedy. The Germans like the English, took everything in their stride. They went about their business soon after, determined not to be cowed by terrorism.

As I watched the reactions of the Chancellor and the Germans on television, I could not help thinking about what our government and Singaporeans would have done if a similar incident happened here. Our ministers said that they are well prepared for a terrorist attack and have conducted many rehearsals. I don’t know how well prepared we are though I have no doubt that they have very sophisticated anti terrorism equipment and weapons.

In Berlin, one Pakistani asylum seeker was quickly arrested but released within 24 hours. That delay had probably contributed to the escape of the real culprit to Milan. But the forensic team did not stop working on the finger prints and documents found in the wrecked truck. They managed to identify the killer. He was finally shot dead by the fast reaction of a young Italian police officer (quite by accident) when he opened fire at his colleague.

thenewpaper-23-dec-2016How will Singapore handle the situation if what took place in Berlin happened in Singapore? I think a curfew will immediately be imposed, inconveniencing the entire population. Many people, innocent or otherwise will be arrested and detained without trial under the ISA. That after all is the purpose of the ISA. No one will be released within 24 hours. Singaporeans will accept all these without a murmur, trusting that the government is doing its best. Meantime, the culprit will escape to another country despite our tight security. I don’t know what role INTERPOL which has its headquarters here will contribute towards the search for the culprit.

The culprit will escape if we go by past cases. We have had at least two incidents when despite island wide man hunts involving riot police, Gurkhas, navy and an inordinate number of police vehicles, the culprits managed to leave Singapore, one apparently by sea and the other by air. Remember Mas Selamat who escaped our top security prison in 2008 and the Australian who robbed Standard Chartered Bank in Holland Village this year? Both were arrested subsequently by Malaysian and Thai police respectively.

my-paper-08072016Mas Selamat is now back in the top security prison, untried even for the offence of escaping from the prison. I suppose this is in line with our non transparent way of handling embarrassing situations. They think that Singaporeans are easily satisfied with the findings of the commission of inquiry which allegedly investigated into the escape and a public trial will not be necessary to prove or disprove its findings. As for the bank robbery, I don’t know if the culprit was handed over to Singapore. We have not been informed about what happened to him.

My gloomy pre Christmas thoughts were somewhat lifted by the sensible words of sociologist Tan Ern Ser and the assistant secretary of the Inter Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, Mr Ahmad Tashrif Sarman (the newpaper 23 Dec 16) who said that it was dangerous to blame anyone without evidence. If all of us can refrain from jumping to conclusions when things happen or arrests made and stop believing every word of our government, we will be a changed society. But do we want an accountable government?

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We Cannot But Minister Can

Administration of Justice BillMinister for Home Affairs & Minister for Law K Shanmugam’s comment (his Facebook of 16 Dec 16) on the sentence of 10 weeks’ jail imposed on the man who assaulted a policewoman just three days after the case was reported in the media is a clear illustration of how the government uses and takes advantage of the law, in this case, the new Administration of Justice (Protection) Act.

Section 3(4) of the Act permits institutional bias – the government can comment on a case within the period when an appeal may be lodged while the public cannot. Prior to the enactment of this law, the public was permitted to comment on such a case.

The minister said: “He [the convicted] has been sentenced to 10 weeks jail for this. I have asked the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to relook at the legislation, to consider whether this is adequate. I have said to MHA that anyone who attacks a uniformed officer should learn a lesson, which he will never forget; and it should be enough of a deterrence to others.

We acknowledge that the minister has vast powers and his opinion can influence decisions. The judge in the case had exercised his powers within the limits provided by the law. The maximum prescribed penalty for assaulting a public officer is “7 years, or with fine or with caning or with any combination of such punishments.” The judge had exercised his discretion within the law when he sentenced the man to 10 weeks’ jail.

Our criminal laws (enacted long before Mr K Shanmugam was appointed a minister) set out an appeal process. The prosecutor has 14 days to appeal against the sentence if he is of the opinion that the convicted deserves a heavier sentence. What the minister should have done (if he strongly feels the need to interfere which I think should be discouraged) is to instruct the attorney general to lodge an appeal against the sentence and not make a public statement expressing his dissatisfaction with the sentence. His comment is a criticism of the judge.

Finally, why does the minister threaten to amend the laws over just one case and before the appeal process is exhausted? Singaporeans are used to knee jerk reactions from ministers and swift amendments to laws without thorough research and debates. But do we really need ministers to react in this way?

by Teo Soh Lung

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Congratulations to Dr Ang Swee Chai

We congratulate Dr Ang Swee Chai on winning the MULAN Award 2016 for her exceptional contributions to voluntary work in the Community and Charitable Causes. The award is given to Chinese women who have contributed their talents and skills to education, arts and culture, business and enterprise, the community and charitable causes.

Dr Ang’s courage, determination and dedication to humanitarian work in the Middle East is well-known. She is the founder and patron of Medical Aid for Palestinians, a charity now in its 32nd year. As an orthopaedic surgeon, she has devoted her expertise and time in conflict zones and has spoken up about the massacre in Sabra and Shatila in her book “From Beirut to Jerusalem.”

Dr Ang Swee Chai is a Singaporean. She was imprisoned under the Internal Security Act in 1977 and left Singapore to join her exiled husband, Francis Khoo Kah Siang in UK after her release. She was permitted to return to Singapore for just a brief period with her husband’s ashes in 2011. She stays as a beacon of bravery and humanitarianism. She has been a constant source of inspiration to many of us in Function 8.

Function 8, Singapore

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