Monday, October 10, 2011

Police probe SDP forum on ISA: Are you frightened yet?

On preventing Francis Seow and Tang Fong Har, and others like them, from speaking to Singaporeans, we have to ask who benefits from such a measure?  Singaporeans as a whole, or the PAP (especially those in government with something to hide) alone?  We must insist that the law serves our society as a whole, and not the power elite or the government alone.

Besides, Seow and Tang's personal appearance was more symbolic than substantive. Does the government think that, without such an appearance, their views would be suppressed, in this age of Facebook and Twitter? 

If the government persists in such a futile exercise (at the people's expense), it will simply drive another chunk of voters to the opposition. Which is welcome news.

Yahoo!News (source)

A forum organised by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) where two former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees spoke via teleconference is being investigated by the police.

According to local media, the police is investigating whether the law has been breached by the SDP.

In response to media queries, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said on Sunday that the forum organisers had arranged for “a fugitive from justice”, referring to Francis Seow, 83, and “a foreign national”, in reference to Tang Fong Har, 55, to participate in a discussion on domestic politics.

The ministry added that the SDP had arranged for Seow and Tang to participate in the forum from outside the country’s jurisdiction, allowing them to be “involved in domestic politics at a public assembly in Singapore without being physically present and accountable”.

Exiled ISA detainees speak up on Skype

For the first time in more than two decades, the two fugitive lawyers residing overseas interacted with members of the public here over Skype on Saturday.

Former solicitor-general Seow, now a U.S. citizen, and lawyer Tang, who holds a Hong Kong passport, were Singapore citizens and both in the Singapore Law Society during Seow’s tenure as its president in 1986.

Speaking from Massachusetts and Hong Kong respectively, Seow and Tang met and spoke to about 120 members of the public at the Quality Hotel in Balestier for an hour each, sharing parts of their experience in detention, and fielding questions about the ISA.

Seow was initially detained under the ISA in 1988 after criticising the government's implementation of legislation without sufficient parliamentary debate, seeking to reinstate the Law Society’s authority to comment on new laws before they were approved.

He was arrested on accusations of receiving large sums of money from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and travelled to America in the same year ahead of a trial on charges of tax evasion, for which he was convicted in his absence. He now has a warrant of arrest awaiting his return.

Tang was initially detained with 21 others in 1987’s Operation Spectrum, in which authorities accused her and the others of being members of a Marxist conspiracy bent on subverting the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) government by force, to replace it with a Marxist state.

In the wake of their release, Tang was among a number of detainees who issued a statement declaring that they had been tortured while in custody, despite denial from the Internal Security Department (ISD), which enforces the ISA.

She was then supposed to be re-arrested together with the other signatories of the statement, but happened to be in Hong Kong at the time, and so has not been able to return ever since.

Seow was asked questions about possible laws that could be implemented as an alternative to the ISA, arguments put forward in support of the act, and about the stability of the judiciary in supporting a change in these laws.

In response, he said that sans the ISA, Singapore’s existing set of statutes had “enough laws to handle every conceivable situation”, and added that he had also lost faith in our country’s judiciary, particularly with regard to cases that could carry political bias of any kind.

“I would say the politics of the situation is such that it does not give the average litigant great confidence in how his case is going to be held… That is the sad thing about Singapore. We had a wonderful judiciary but all that is gone,” he said.

“If it’s non-political, I think you could get a fair chance at a trial. If it’s got any political bias, you can forget it, you are not going to win.”

Turning to the continued existence of the ISA, Seow offered an explanation.

“It (the ISA) suits the authorities because it helps to perpetuate their regime,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, whether or not you have the ISA doesn’t really matter because there are sufficient laws to enable public order to be maintained.”

Responding to a question about the arguments brought forward in support of the act, Seow said, “In one sentence, they’re (the arguments in support of the ISA) all nonsense. And I hope you don’t believe that what the authorities say is so.

“I’ve worked with (Lee Kuan Yew) for many many years, and I know how the man thinks… given half the chance, he will manipulate you all again,” he added.

When asked about the possibility of rallying for a board of inquiry to be set up to investigate the arrests made under the ISA, Seow was blunt in his reply.

“We should not waste time like that,” he said. “The way I see it, you’ll just be whistling in the dark, you know? It’s not going to happen. It’s wishful thinking. Let’s be practical.”

Tang broke down in tears while sharing her experience of having to renounce her Singapore citizenship and apply for a Hong Kong passport, after she was denied return to Singapore apart from a one-way ticket for questioning by the ISD.

“I have always wanted to come home,” she said tearfully, adding that she had not seen her family since being unable to return to Singapore.

She also shared that an upcoming birthday celebration for her mother in Johor will be the first time she is meeting them since leaving Singapore.

Yet, Tang says she does not regret her involvement in the activities of the Law Society in the late 1980s.

“No, I have never regretted what I have done in the 80s,” she said. “What I regret was that I’ve probably done too little. If anything, I should have done more,” she added, to applause from those in attendance.

When asked for her thoughts about the general election, Tang said she was pleasantly surprised by the “upsurge of enthusiasm and awareness” among youth in Singapore, in particular. “They seem to be so much more outspoken than us,” she remarked, recognising the power of the Internet and voicing her hopes that things will improve further.

Tang was also asked about her thoughts on the cause she was involved in — to restore the authority that the Law Society used to have in advising the government about legislation — and she responded that she still believes that it stands.

“The Law Society should have a duty to speak on legislation,” she said.

Tang also reiterated that she stands by the statement that she and her fellow detainees issued in April 1988. “Charge us in a court of law, produce the evidence… then let us have a fair defence; let us have our say in court,” she said. “The government… does not have the guts to do this because there is no conspiracy of any kind. The only conspiracy is the one instigated by the government against us.”

She revealed that Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was also brought in for questioning at the ISD for several days before, and that she asked him to “have the courage to look into it, as he was almost a victim himself during that period”.

“We will keep at it… at the end of the day, I think I have done right by Singapore, by my family and by my friends.”


Related: Why is the government so afraid of ex-detainees? (here)

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