Press Release

15 May 2017

Function 8 is commemorating the 30th anniversary of Operation Spectrum on
Sunday, 21 May 2017, 2‐6pm at The Projector, 6001 Beach Road, #05‐00 Golden Mile Tower, Singapore 199589.

The initial arrest of 16 social activists and volunteers of various organisations on 21 May 1987 had a chilling effect on Singapore’s civil society for two decades.

We invite our fellow citizens to join us in our search for restorative justice and reconciliation. The programme is as follows:

  1. Launch of 1987 Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy, 30 Years On ‐ a book that documents the perspectives of survivors, family members, friends and the campaigners.
  2. Conversation with survivors of Operation Spectrum.
  3. Sharing by representatives of civil society on the lessons learnt from this incident.

We have invited all Members of Parliament to the event and hope to start a genuine conversation on abolition of the Internal Security Act which allows detention without trial.

We understand that several citizens have written to their Members of Parliament on this issue and appeal to them to use the opportunity to repair the damage done to our national conscience, restore natural justice and build a united people. The only way to ensure that our society remains vibrant and continues to flourish is to safeguard our civil rights and freedoms which are what make us human.

Background to Operation Spectrum
On 21 May 1987, 16 social activists and volunteers were arrested by the Internal Security
Department and imprisoned under the Internal Security Act at the prison at Whitley Road. The operation was codenamed Operation Spectrum.

On 20 June 1987, 6 more activists and students were arrested and detained. The detainees were not only subjected to horrific ill‐treatment under interrogation but were also forced to confess to a “Marxist Conspiracy” on State television.

On 18 April 1988, nine released prisoners issued a public statement rebutting the government’s allegations against them and confirming that they had suffered ill treatment. Eight of them were immediately re‐arrested the next day. The ninth, Tang Fong Har who was in England, did not return to Singapore and till today lives in Hong Kong as a political exile. The re‐arrests in 1988 also led to the arrests of Francis Seow and Patrick Seong, two prominent lawyers who were acting for many of the prisoners.

30 years on, the details of the Operation Spectrum arrests and detentions have only just started to come to light, first in Francis Seow’s book, To Catch a Tartar, then in ex‐detainee and retired lawyer Teo Soh Lung’s book, Beyond the Blue Gate, and more recently, in Jason Soo’s film, Untracing the Conspiracy.

The alleged “Marxist Conspiracy” has been recognised by historians as a “myth” and “fanciful narrative”. Even Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam had expressed his belief that the detainees “were not out to subvert the system”. Former minister S Dhanabalan’s disagreement with the government’s use of the ISA on its political opponents in Operation Spectrum had led to his resignation.

Our stand
The Internal Security Act epitomises the lawlessness in our legal system. Detention without trial has no place in a modern and democratic country which believes in the rule of law.

We have long faced the usual dismissal and avoidance to discuss this aberration in the rule of law. Even when highlighted, the threat to national security has always been used as an excuse to curtail further discussion. This avoidance would only further tear a tattered national conscience and is not acceptable.

The Internal Security Act continues to be used by the Government to imprison individuals without trial today. These are excessive powers for any government to have, as there is no safeguard to ensure the government’s powers are not abused.

From a wider perspective, the 30th Anniversary of Operation Spectrum presents a good
opportunity to examine the government’s conduct in steadily increasing its executive power and undermining the rule of law in Singapore. Take, for example, the recent passing of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act, which gives the government wide discretion to prosecute people who they deem to be in contempt of court.

Having the entire machinery of the state at its disposal, the government has a duty to ensure that it uses its powers in a responsible and just manner. The abuse of the powers of a government to stifle free speech, opposition politics, and social activism is part of governance by institutionalising fear. This is harmful to the growth of our society which is suffering from a dearth of creative, innovative and “disruptive” ideas.

Contact persons
Yap Hon Ngian
Director, Function 8

Chan Wai Han (Ms)
Director, Function 8

Mailing address: 22 Marshall Road, Singapore 424858