May 21, 2011 (source)
On 21 May 1987, a group of social workers was arrested by the authorities under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for allegedly plotting to topple the government through a “Marxist conspiracy”. No charges were ever brought against them and they were never tried in open court.
There has been no comments from the government since these arrests in 1987, despite calls – both from activists and the detainees themselves – for it to re-open the case.
The detainees, while under detention, had made statements admitting their guilt. Some of the them were released after issuing the statements. Nine of those who were released later issued their own statement, recanting their earlier ones. The following was the statement to the media by the nine:
We, the undersigned, were detained by the Internal Security Department (ISD) on 21 May and 20 June 1987 and released in stages after the suspension directives and/or restriction orders in June, September and December 1987.
While we had privately always maintained our innocence and kept a rueful and cheerful silence about the unjust treatment we were subjected to, and would have been inclined to keep our silence, the government has repeatedly raised the issue of our arrest and detention and made false and damaging statements about us. On the one hand, we have been intimidated by implicit and explicit threats against our safety, should we speak up about our arrest and detention; on the other hand, the government and its spokesmen have continued to make bold and untruthful statements regarding the reasons for our arrest and detention and have denied that any of us were subjected to ill-treatment or torture.
We make this statement as principled men and women who will speak the truth and state our position for the record… we do not intend to challenge the government, we do not seek any official response, neither is there any desire to make political capital out of this. Our sole purpose is to clear our names.
We are accused of being involved in an alleged Marxist conspiracy to subvert the existing social and political system in Singapore using Communist united front tactics to establish a Marxist state. We categorically deny the government’s accusations: we have never been Marxist conspirators involved in any conspiracy.
We were never clandestine, Communist or a Marxist network and many of us did not even know of one another before the arrests. We were rather community and church workers, legal reformers, amateur dramatists, helpers of the Workers’ Party, professionals and ordinary citizens exercising our constitutional rights to freedom of expression and association in Singapore. We have never propagated in words or in actions a Communist state for Singapore. Rather we have through open and legitimate organizations and legitimate means advocated more democracy, less elitism, protection of individual freedoms, greater concern for the poor and the less privileged, and respect of freedom in the private lives of citizens.
We hold completely the beliefs expressed by fellow ex-detainee Chew Kheng Chuan in his representation to the ISD advisory board where he stated: “We are believers in an open and democratic policy and in the virtues of an open and accountable government. We strongly believe that for society to be meaningfully called democratic, interest and action in politics cannot be the sole prerogative of the professional politician. A citizen of a democracy, to be worthy of that society, has not just the right but indeed the duty to participate in the political life of his or her society. It is a grave danger to democracy to suggest that for one to comment on political and social issues or to hold differing political opinions, one should go and form a political party.”
We believe that, as in the case of an individual citizen, so too has an organization the same legitimate role to play in a democratic country. It seems to us that we were arrested and detained for the legitimate exercise of our rights as citizens, through registered and open organizations. We did not infiltrate these organizations but joined them as members, volunteers and full-time workers. Neither did we use these organizations as forums to propagate subversive activities. All acitivities carried out by these organizations are legitimate, open and approved by elected executive committees whose members clearly stand on their own right as capable, autonomous and intelligent individuals. Neither were we instructed by any person or organization, not Tan Wah Piow, Paul Lim, nor any political party.
Treatment during detention
Following our sudden arrest we were subjected to harsh and detailed interrogation. Some of us were for as long as 70 hours inside freezing-cold rooms. All of us were stripped of our personal clothing, including spectacles, footwear and underwear and make to change into prisoners’ uniforms. Most of us were made to stand continually during the interrogation, some of us for over 20 hours and under the full blast of air-conditioning turned to a very low temperature. Under these conditions one of us was repeatedly dowsed with cold water during interrogation. Most of us were hit hard in the face, some of us not less than 50 times, while others were assaulted on other parts of the body during the first three days of interrogation.
We were threatened with the arrest, assault and battering of our spouses, loved ones and friends.
We were threatened with indefinite detention without trial; Chia Thye Poh, who is still in detention after 22 years, was cited as an example. We were told that no one could help us unless we cooperated with the ISD. These threats were constantly in our minds during the time we wrote our respective statements in detention.
We were actively discouraged from engaging legal counsel and advised to discharge our lawyers and against taking legal action, including making legal representation to the ISA Advisory Board so as not to jeopardize our chances of release.
We were compelled to appear on television and warned that our releases depended on our performances on TV. We were coerced to make statements such as, “I am Marxist-inclined”, “My ideal society is a classless society”, “So-and-so is my mentor”, “I was made use of by so-and-so”, in order to incriminate ourelves and other detainees. What we said on television was grossly distorted and misrepresented by editing and commentaries which attributed highly sinister motives to our actions and associations.
We state once more, clearly and unequivocally, that we never acted in any way to subvert the security of our country.
Teo Soh Lung
Ng Bee Leng
Chng Suan Tze
Tang Lay Lee
Kevin De Souza
Wong Souk Yee
Tang Fong Har
The day after this statement was released, they were rearrested by the ISD.
The Online Citizen devoted a full one week in May 2009 highlighting various aspects of the arrests. Here are the articles and reports from that focus week.
01 March 2009: Ex-ISA detainees speak out
18 May 2009: Remember May 21st
18 May 2009: Passion for activism extinguished… but not for long
19 May 2009: Straits Times of May ’87 – four days of government statements on “Marxist Conspiracy”
19 May 2009: Teo Soh Lung in her own words (Part 1)
20 May 2009: The Marxist Conspiracy not forgetting the evil things that have already been done
21 May 2009: Was it a Red or White conspiracy?
22 May 2009: Let the people judge
24 May 2009: 1989 – Lee Kuan Yew’s defamation suit against FEER.
27 May 2010: “Marxist conspirator” Vincent Cheng to speak
02 June 2010: Exchange of letters between NLB and member of public
Further reads on Operation Spectrum :
Operation Spectrum on wikipedia.
‘Marxist plot’ revisited
“Marxist Conspiracy” arrests – 20 years on
A detainee remembers
‘Marxist Conspiracy’ annniversary remembered
Singapore is holding 12 in “Marxist conspiracy” – New York Times
The ISA as a political tool
Political detention in Singapore : Prisoner case histories