Saturday, June 18, 2011

Apology for imprisoning Tan Jing Quee? Teo Soh Lung's essay and Vincent Wijeysingha's call

PAP's track record: Imprisoning dissenters without trial

Dr Vincent Wijeysingha and Teo Soh Lung are calling for the PAP to apologize for the criminal imprisonment of Tan Jin Quee and many other innocent people detained under the Internal Security Act. (here)

Will the PAP apologize for ruining many decent and intelligent men and women's lives, through detention without trial, and defamation suits, just simply because they questioned the government's policies (see Operation Spectrum against Catholic Church's social workers)?

Will it account for and renounce its past wrongful actions?

As long as PAP refuses to face the truth of its ugly past, all its members are tainted with the gross immorality of its ruthless persecution of innocent people, and its infliction of  pain and suffering on them and their loved ones.

As long as PAP does not renounce and repent of its past evil acts, it will never have my vote, no matter how excellent its current leaders are.

PAP's cynical and sadistic destruction of its perceived potential opponents (“I will make him crawl on his bended knees, and beg for mercy”: LKY's vow to fix JB Jeyaretnam) is the greatest hurdle to my voting for it, greater than its incompetence, its lack of transparency and accountability, its heartlessness towards the poor, its arrogance, and its naked greed.

    Tan Jing Quee

    • Tan Jing Quee's obituary is attached below. 
    • Tan Jing Quee's blog: here
    • In Memory of Linda Chen (1928-2002) [Operation Coldstore detainee], by Tan Jin Quee: here


    It is not too late

    by Teo Soh Lung on Friday, 17 June 2011 at 09:12 (source)

    I have known Tan Jing Quee since the 1970s. He was a successful, friendly and humble lawyer then. I didn’t know his past political history and imprisonment under the ISA. He and his friends used to meet up with my employer, G Raman and I was occasionally invited to have coffee with them. I enjoyed their company because their conversations were always interesting and stimulating. They never spoke of revolutions to overthrow the PAP government.

    Singapore in the ‘70s was a very safe and peaceful country. There was no violence, mobs or demonstrations. As a young lawyer, I used to walk from North Canal Road to the Supreme Court and the Subordinate Courts by the Singapore River without encountering any incident along the way. Thus in 1977 when G Raman was arrested and after him, Jing Quee, R Joethy and Ong Bock Chuan (all lawyers) and several well known journalists and professionals were also arrested under the ISA, I was stunned. They were accused of being “Euro-Communists” and pages of The Straits Times were splashed with news of clandestine activities that they were alleged to be involved in. I didn’t believe the horrendous stories spun by the PAP government against them. But I could not disprove anything except that I could vouch that they were and are good people.

    As a legal assistant to G Raman, I continued to attend matters in court. The entire legal profession was silent. No lawyer ever asked me about the arrests. Everyone went about their business as if nothing had happened. The Law Society did not issue any statement concerning the arrests, even though four of those imprisoned were lawyers. That was the climate then. Fear permeated the entire society. I think a certain section of the population also assumed that the government was right to carry out the arrests and it was best to leave national security to them.

    Jing Quee was released several months after but not before he was severely tortured and humiliated. Thirty years later, he was able to put his painful experience in words. He wrote in his poem, ISA Detainee :

    How could I ever forget those Neanderthals
    Who roamed Whitley Holding Centre*,
    Under cover of darkness,
    Poured buckets of ice water
    Over my stripped, shivering nakedness,
    Slugged my struggling, painful agony
    Circling , sneering, snarling
    Over my freezing nudity,
    More animals than men:
    What induced this
    Vengeful venom, violent score
    To settle, not for a private grievance
    But a public, democratic dissidence;
    From whence sprang this barbarity?
    What made men turn into beasts
    In the dark, away from prying eyes,
    Protected by a code of dishonour and lies
    To ensure they survive and rise.

    I think it was in 1986 (at a time when the Law Society had become more active in commenting on unjust legislation), that Jing Quee visited me in my office in Geylang. I remember him asking me why I had set up my law practice in Geylang instead of being in the city. He warned that I was attracting unnecessary attention and that I may get into trouble. I replied that everything that I did or had done was in the open and that my life was an open book. I brushed away his concern, telling him that since I was acting openly, no trouble would come to me. He retorted “We didn’t do anything wrong too but we were arrested”.

    Jing Quee’s words puzzled me for a while. But I soon forgot about his warning. I was confident that I had done nothing wrong and that no trouble would ever come to me. I didn’t even put a thought to the ISA. I didn’t even bother to check out the Act. The Act was meant for terrorists and I was not one. So why should I bother about the ISA? Sadly, I had forgotten about the arrests of Jing Quee and his friends in 1977. The trauma suffered by them and their families had been forgotten. My memory of those harrowing days had been erased. And so it happened, the warning of Jing Quee became a reality a few months later. I was arrested under the ISA together with many of my innocent friends in May 1987.

    Jing Quee has passed on to a better place. But he has recorded his sufferings in his poem. The ISD and government officers who were responsible for his sufferings have not come clean. They have not apologised to him before his passing. It is not too late that they do so now, to his widow, Rose, his children and his siblings.

    *A relatively new detention center built in the 1970s located off Whitley Road, used to hold political prisoners for short and medium term, mainly for interrogation .



    The following is a poem by Mr Tan Jing Quee about his time in detention. (source)


    What was it like ‘inside’?

    A difficult question

    Could you, would you really listen

    Without sneer, to the end

    How should I begin?

    Should I start from the traumas of the raid

    How liberty was so capriciously enchained

    Without a warrant, without warning

    On the dark hours

    When even dogs slept undisturbed.

    You were hauled into a world ran amok:

    The mug shots, ‘turn out your pockets’

    the thumb and fingers impressions

    (Whatever for, I commit no crime!).

    No one bothered,

    The guard shoved you on,

    Along the corridor of despair;

    That first heavy thud of the iron door

    Sealing you incommunicado from the world –

    The wind, sun, moon, and the stars

    And all that was human and dear

    Should I recall the dark cell

    At Central Police Station[1]

    A purgatory of perpetual night

    The stone slab for the bed

    Sullied, soiled mattress, no sheets

    The pillow of tears and stains, no cover

    Blood smeared walls, cries of past agonies

    The rude, cruel hourly rip-rap of the shutters

    “To check your health”,

    So it was explained.

    Should I narrate

    The daily bath at the tap

    The squat pan, dank and putrid

    Meant to dehumanize, humiliate

    Should we be thankful

    For the daily ditch water

    Which passed for tea

    The stony crumbs for bread

    The rice so callously tossed with dust

    Should we be grateful

    For the censored books and news,

    To decontaminate our minds;

    Should we be grateful too

    For the unbearable heat

    The lonely insomnia of the day and night,

    Migraine and diarrhoeic fever

    And panadol as panacea?

    How could I ever forget those Neanderthals

    Who roamed Whitley Holding Centre, [2]

    Under cover of darkness,

    Poured buckets of ice water

    Over my stripped, shivering nakedness,

    Slugged my struggling, painful agony

    Circling , sneering, snarling

    Over my freezing nudity,

    More animals than men:

    What induced this

    Vengeful venom, violent score

    To settle, not for a private grievance

    But a public, democratic dissidence;

    From whence sprang this barbarity?

    What made men turn into beasts

    In the dark, away from prying eyes,

    Protected by a code of dishonour and lies

    To ensure they survive and rise.

    For sure, there were gentler souls

    Who tried to be decent, no more:

    The smiling guard who lightened the hours

    With a chance remark, a joke

    The barber who brought his scissors, cigarettes and news

    The interrogator who handed a bible

    Told him the elegant prose

    Contrasted strangely with my current state,

    How distant those beautiful thoughts were

    From the violence to our liberty.

    What then is the truth ?

    A generation trapped in lies

    Who rushed to defend, to justify

    Never to listen, see or speak out.

    Only when we open our hearts

    Confront this barbarism

    Can we truly exorcise our fears,

    Finally emerge as a free people,

    A liberated society.

    [1] Formerly at South Bridge Road, now demolished, which had several cells frequently used for interrogation of police prisoners, from a month to a year, before they were dispatched to normal prison conditions at Changi Prison.

    [2] A relatively new detention center built in the 1970s located off Whitley Road, used to hold political prisoners for short and medium term, mainly for interrogation .

    The poem is published in Our Thoughts Are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile, edited by Tan Jing Quee Teo Soh Lung Koh Kay Yew Ethos Books Singapore


    Former detainee dies of cancer, aged 72
    Straits Times, 16 June 2011 (source)

    FORMER political detainee and lawyer Tan Jing Quee, arrested on Oct 8, 1963 (here) under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for alleged pro-communist activities, died on June 14, 2011 (Tuesday) after a five-year battle with cancer.

    Mr Tan, who contested the 1963 election as a Barisan Sosialis candidate and lost to the late S. Rajaratnam in Kampong Glam by 220 votes, was 72.

    Released from detention in 1966, he left to study law in London. Returning in 1970, he set up the firm Jing Quee & Chin Joo with a fellow detainee, leftist unionist Lim Chin Joo, in 1973.

    He was arrested again and detained for about three months in February 1977 under the ISA for allegedly joining a group to revive pro-communist activities here.

    But Mr Tan, who researched, wrote and edited books on Singapore’s leftists in recent years, always maintained he was not involved in Communist United Front activities.

    He was most recently a contributor and editor of The May 13 Generation, a book of essays on the Chinese middle school student movement in the 1950s. It was launched here last month.

    His wife of 40 years, Mrs Rosemary Tan, 65, said yesterday that her husband, who had prostate cancer and was recovering from an operation to remove a tumour in his spine, was in Kuala Lumpur and Penang last month to promote the book with its two other editors, Dr Tan Kok Chiang and Dr Hong Lysa.

    He was not well after returning and was admitted to Singapore General Hospital on May 31, dying a fortnight later.

    Mr Tan was a leader of the University Socialist Club in the early 1960s, while a student at the University of Malaya in Singapore. He later worked as secretary of the now-defunct Singapore Business Houses Employees Union.

    Mr Tan and Mr Lim – younger brother of the late PAP founding leader Lim Chin Siong, who broke away to form the Barisan Sosialis in 1961 – retired from their law firm about 10 years ago.

    Mr Lim, 73, described his friend of nearly 40 years as a man ‘dedicated to the cause of improving the lot of Singaporeans, not someone who would create civil disorder and destabilise the country’.

    Mrs Tan also said allegations of his involvement in Communist United Front activities were untrue: ‘He was a brave man who fought for the rights of the people and who loved his family and friends.’

    The couple have three grown children. His wake is being held at his home at 3, Coronation Walk until tomorrow. His body will be cremated at Mandai Crematorium on Saturday at 1.30pm.


    May 13 generation shares its stories

    Ex-political detainee's book highlights 1950s student movement

    By Leong Weng Kam, Straits Times (source)

    Former Singapore political detainee Tan Jing Quee, who was battling cancer, was promoting his latest book up to the last days of his life.

    He had been across the Causeway last month, in Kuala Lumpur and Penang, to launch The May 13 Generation, an essay collection on the Chinese middle school student movement in Singapore in the 1950s, which he co-edited.

    Mr Tan, 72, returned home ill on May 25, and was admitted to Singapore General Hospital a week later. He died just five days ago.

    The retired lawyer and former Barisan Sosialis politician, detained under the Internal Security Act for alleged pro-communist activities soon after his failed bid at the 1963 General Election, was cremated at Mandai Crematorium yesterday.

    Released in 1966, he went to London to study law and returned in 1970 to practise till he retired about 10 years ago.

    His two co-editors - Professor Emeritus Tan Kok Chiang, 74, a former Chinese middle school student leader; and Dr Hong Lysa, 58, a historian - were also at the book launches in Malaysia.
    Recalling their trip, Prof Tan who now lives in Ontario, Canada, said: 'I could see Jing Quee feeling the pressure of long distance travel. But his spirits were very high, meeting friends and comrades whom he had not seen for a while.'

    Mr Tan's wife, Rosemary, 65, said her husband of 40 years had wanted to go on the journey very much, to meet his many old friends in Malaysia, including former politician Lim Kean Chye, as well as to launch the book which took him two years to do.

    In an interview he gave to The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao following the book's earlier launch in Singapore, also last month, he said the idea for the collection came when he was translating the Chinese novel Ju Lang (Mighty Wave), by leftist writer Lim Kim Chuan, into English two years ago.

    Helping him with the translation was Dr Hong and another former political detainee and Barisan MP, Madam Loh Miao Gong, 76, who was arrested after the 1963 polls for alleged pro-communist activities.

    Ju Lang, set in Singapore in the 1950s, was first published in Chinese in 2004 to mark the 50th anniversary of the mass anti-colonial movement started after Chinese middle school students had clashed with riot policemen.

    The students were on their way to hand their petition for exemption from conscription to the then Singapore Governor at the former Government House, now the Istana, on May 13, 1954.
    The novel's English translation was launched as a companion volume to The May 13 Generation, which also has a Chinese edition.

    'Halfway through our translation, we felt a novel may not appeal to younger readers and it may not be able to highlight the significance of the historical event. So we started to invite scholars and those involved in the May 13 incident to write essays and their recollections,' Mr Tan recalled during the interview last month before his death.

    He had been actively researching, writing and editing books on Singapore's leftist history for the past 10 years.

    His last effort was The May 13 Generation, comprising 15 essays which include those on the arts in the 1950s. The preface, introduction and first four chapters were written by Mr Tan, Dr Hong and researcher Khe Su Lin.

    In their essays, they gave the social and political background, examined the historical framework and explained the context of the period in which the Chinese middle school student movement was inspired and later grew.

    The students formed a united, open and legal movement, the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students' Union (SCMSSU), a year after the May 13 incident but it was banned barely a year later by the colonial government for engaging in pro-communist activities.

    Former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, a young Cambridge-trained lawyer then, was SCMSSU's legal counsel.

    It was through the students that Mr Lee got to know young Chinese-educated leftist trade unionists like Fong Swee Suan and rural dwellers' association leaders such as Chan Chiaw Thor. Together with other like-minded people, including several of Mr Lee's English-educated friends, they secured a mass base for a political party and formed the People's Action Party (PAP) in November 1954.

    It was student support that helped the PAP win the municipal and legislative elections in the 1950s, leading to its landslide election victory in 1959 when it became the ruling party.

    Many scholars have said that PAP and the Singapore story would have turned out quite differently if not for the May 13 incident.

    Former leftists and alternative history writers often said the role and significance of the student movement were insufficiently told in the dominant, official narrative.

    'This volume, The May 13 Generation, marks the breaking of that silence,' said Prof Tan, who was SCMSSU's English secretary when he was a Chung Cheng High student in the 1950s.

    Prof Tan, a graduate of the former Nanyang University in 1960 who later left for his postgraduate studies overseas, is among those who have broken their silence. He wrote about his involvement in the student movement for the first time after nearly 60 years in the chapter, My Story, in the book.

    Also sharing her story for the first time is Madam Loh, who was among the arrested students when the colonial government cracked down on them on Oct 10, 1956. Her chapter is entitled The Two Faces Of Men In White.

    Other contributors include retired lawyer Lim Chin Joo and former Barisan MP Lim Huan Boon.
    'The telling of the story of the Chinese middle school students of the 1950s now begins,' said Prof Tan.

    The May 13 Generation and the English translation of Mighty Wave are available at Select Books for $34.25 and $28.46 each respectively.

    Related: 情系五一三 华校学生运动 (in Chinese) (source1, source2)

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