That We May Dream Again: Remembering the 1987 "Marxist Conspiracy" (here)
(Background: Shock and Awe - Enthralling a Nation)
Related: Govt must address "Marxist" arrests of 1987 by Andrew Loh, May 12, 2012 (here)
Profiles and reflections of Francis Seow, Paul Lim Huat Chye (both connected with the "Marxist conspiracy"), and some alleged "Marxist conspirators" detained without trial by the Singapore government under Operation Spectrum on May 21 and June 20, 1987.
Francis T Seow
“…the three arms of justice [Judiciary, Attorney General’s Chamber and the Bar] complement one another … and are a trinity, an equal trinity. If we are not, the administration of justice cannot properly function…” - Francis T Seow
Francis T Seow is a former Solicitor General and a brilliant Public Prosecutor. He was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal during his 16-year career with the Singapore Legal Service. He resigned from the legal service and entered private practice in 1972.
In 1986, as President of the Law Society of Singapore, he delivered a bold and memorable speech at the Opening of the Legal Year. He spoke of the “restless mood of the Bar” and expressed the view that “the institution of the Bar has been perceptibly eroded over the past decade or so and it has lost much of its pristine integrity, dignity and reputation.” He said he was determined not to allow further erosions. The audience in the packed court room burst into applause at the end of his speech.
Many members of the legal profession became active and took the statutory duty of the Society to comment on legislation seriously. One of the bills that was criticised by the Society and which generated much debate from members of the public was the Newspaper and Printing Presses Amendment Bill 1986 which sought to restrict the sale of foreign publications.
The spurt of activism in the Society was however short-lived. Within a few months, the PAP government reacted with incomprehensible wrath. The law governing the legal profession came under assault. With great speed, a law to gag the Law Society and to deprive Francis of his presidency was introduced.
The entire council of the Law Society and its legislation sub-committee were summoned to appear before a parliamentary select committee and interrogated by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Under long and intimidating questioning by Lee, telecast on prime time state television, Francis and his colleagues stood their ground. In the end, it was the prime minister and his committee members that came out looking bad.
The government then invented the threat of a “Marxist conspiracy” in 1987 and arrested 22 people. Francis became the lawyer for several of those detained. Regrettably, in 1988, he, too, was arrested under the Internal Security Act and detained without trial for several months.
Soon after his release, Francis stood for election as an opposition candidate in the 1988 Eunos Group Representation Constituency. He lost by a slim margin of 0.9%. Francis was then hounded out of Singapore with tax charges. He sought political asylum in the United States. In exile, Francis became a Visiting Fellow at Yale University and then at Harvard Law School where he wrote several books – To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison, The Media Enthralled and Beyond Suspicion? – The Singapore Judiciary. He now resides in Massachusetts and is busy writing another book.
Teo Soh Lung
- Teo Soh Lung, then 38, was a lawyer and managing partner of Teo Lai & Lee. The firm believed that no one should be deprived of legal help so it gave free service to the poor and foreign workers.
- In the Singapore Law Society, Soh Lung chaired a legislation sub-committee which commented on bills and made recommendations to the government. She was also a founder member of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.
- Forced to close down her law firm when she was imprisoned under the ISA, she re-established her sole law practice a year after her release in 1991.
- Soh Lung retired from legal practice in 2002
- Since then, she has co-edited a book of poems and prose on imprisonment and exile and written about her detention experiences in Beyond the Blue Gate – Recollections of a Political Prisoner (review).
Related: Teo Soh Lung - 25 years since Operation Spectrum (here)
Paul Lim Huat Chye
Reflections on 1987
I became a political exile as a consequence of the 1987 arrests and detentions of “Marxist conspirators”. Shortly after the arrest of 16 persons, I received an aerogramme from the Ministry of Home Affairs in Singapore requesting me to go to the Singapore Embassy to surrender my passport and obtain a laissez-passé to return to Singapore. I was shocked to read in The Straits Times that I was on the blacklist of the Internal Security Department. It all happened so suddenly. At that time, I was pursuing a doctorate in Brussels, Belgium.
I wanted to return to Singapore but was persuaded by friends not to do so, as it would be more useful for me to be in Europe – to campaign for the release of the detainees. My being in Europe would also cause less anguish for my family in Singapore. I therefore approached the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and obtained political refugee status within six months.
In 1987, I could not understand why I was named by some of those arrested as a courier, with the result that I was placed on the blacklist. If I were so dangerous, it would have been better for the Singapore government not to name me. That would have enabled them to arrest me on my return home after I completed my doctorate. I can only hypothesise that I was needed to create a convenient plot, a “Marxist conspiracy” for the government.
I know that I have been wronged and that I should seek justice. But if Jesus Christ, whose teachings I studied for many years, has anything to say, it is the call to forgive those who have offended you.
I was and am now very much at home in Belgium. If tomorrow, I am allowed to return to Singapore, it does not mean I will return permanently. I may only be a visitor. Perhaps I will not turn up at all.
The events of 1987 which resulted in my exile are long past. Perhaps in the future, I will return to take an active interest in Singapore. For now, I do not go out of my way to look up Singapore and find out what is happening there.
Paul Lim Huat Chye
Professor of European Studies and International Relations
Chew Kheng Chuan
He was the first Singaporean to be admitted to Harvard College in 1978, and graduated cum laude in Social Studies in 1982.
When he returned to Singapore after university, he worked at DBS Bank for over two years and then founded his own company in design, corporate communications and branding. The company Wordmaker Design lasted 17 years until it was sold in 2000.
In 1987 he was arrested and detained in Operation Spectrum, and after his release was re-arrested and detained when the ex-detainees issued a statement in 1988 denying their involvement in a Marxist Conspiracy to overthrow the government. He spent a total of thirteen months in detention before he was released in 1989. During his time in detention Amnesty International adopted him as a Prisoner of Conscience.
In 2003 he joined the National University of Singapore (NUS) as the founding director of its Development Office. In his six years at NUS, the university raised $1.5 Billion, including government matching. In 2009 he joined Nanyang Technological University (NTU) as its Chief University Advancement Officer, overseeing the offices of Development, Alumni Affairs, and Corporate Communications. In 2010, NTU received its single-largest gift of $150 million ($386 million with government matching) which made philanthropic history in Singapore for its record quantum. In 2012, he left the service of NTU.
Since 2000 he has served as chairman of The Substation, an independent arts organisation, and as a board member of the Intercultural Theatre Institute (formerly Theatre Training and Research Programme TTRP) founded by Kuo Pao Kun and T Sasitharan.
He is co-author of the book on his great grandfather, Chew Boon Lay, A Family Traces Its History.
Kevin de Souza
Prior to his arrest, Kevin de Souza was a law student and was involved with the Catholic Students’ Society, NUS (“CSSNUS”). At that time, CSSNUS was involved in making the student and wider community aware of many unjust government policies impacting on low income workers and the disadvantaged in society.
When Kevin was arrested, he was a full-time church worker with the Catholic Students’ Society, Singapore Polytechnic. He was involved in the formation of students towards a Christian faith that encompassed an option for the poor and social justice.
After his release from prison in 1987, Kevin was in private legal practice in Singapore and for several years, he worked in Hong Kong as a refugee lawyer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. As he believed in making the law accessible to all, Kevin was involved with the Law Society of Singapore’s Criminal Legal Aid Scheme and provided pro bono legal service to various community organisations. For many years, he was also involved with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Singapore creating awareness of the plight of refugees.
Kevin and his family migrated to Australia in April 2003. He completed further studies to gain admission to legal practice in Western Australia.
He is currently practising as a lawyer in Perth. Today, he and his wife, Lucy are kept busy with the various activities of their 3 young children aged 16 , 14 and 10 years old. Besides work and family, Kevin has also been involved in various community organisations. For several years, he served on the board of directors of CASE for Refugees, a pro-bono community legal centre in Perth serving refugees. He now regularly provides free legal advice at the Citizens Advice Bureau in Western Australia and was recently appointed Vice-President of the Australian Eurasian Association of Western Australia.
Tang Fong Har
- Tang Fong Har, then 31, was a lawyer who rendered free legal service to the poor and foreign workers.
- In the Law Society of Singapore, Fong Har was a member of the legislation sub-committee and a founder member of its Criminal Legal Aid Scheme.
- Imprisoned under the ISA in 1987, she became unemployed after her release.
- In 1988, she joined her husband in UK. A signatory to the joint statement denying the ‘Marxist conspiracy’, she did not return to Singapore when the other signatories were rearrested. She is now exiled in Hong Kong.
Fong Har holds a Masters in Law degree and is a Hong Kong lawyer. She lives in Hong Kong with her husband, young adult son and teenage daughter.
Tan Tee Seng
Tee Seng was always interested in the political development of Singapore. In 1984, he helped the Workers’ Party in the general election and subsequently wrote for the Hammer, its official organ.
Tee Seng was on his way to becoming an entrepreneur when he was arrested on 21 May 1987 under the ISA. After his ordeal he set up several companies dealing with software development, data broadcasting, TV production, publication and education. Currently he spends his time running an education franchise in China and promoting active citizenry and working for more political space in Singapore.
“It was an exhilarating experience to participate directly in the democratic process. Life in Singapore need not be confined to mundane activities of just making money.”
Wong Souk Yee
Third Stage: Theatre company or "Marxist network"? (here)
Related: Ex-detainees go public to mark 25th anniversary of ISA arrests: here