Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Teo Soh Lung: For Minister Teo Chee Hean (1)

by Teo Soh Lung on Thursday, 20 October 2011 at 19:43 (source)

The Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Teo Chee Hean said in parliament yesterday:

“… So while ordinary Singaporeans remember the 1970s as a peaceful time and largely went about their lives, intense security operations were continually being undertaken to preserve that peace. More than 800 people were arrested under the ISA in the 1970s of whom 235 were issued with Orders of Detention. Most were detained because they were more than just sympathisers and had provided financial, logistical and manpower support to the CPM insurgents…”

Indeed, the 1970s was a peaceful period like any other periods of Singapore’s history. I was a young working adult then and can confirm that that period was peaceful save for the reports of periodic arrests under the ISA. The arrests did not alarm me until 1977 when several of my friends in the legal profession were detained. I was devastated. The Law Society was silent. It did not protest on behalf of the detainees even though one of those arrested was a member of its council. One would have thought that since lawyers are professionals, there would at least be some discussion or questions asked of the government. But that was not the case. Lawyers went about their business as if nothing had happened. To add insult to injury, I remember the then Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew called lawyers nincompoops when he was a dinner guest of the Society. The Society did not rebut. Whoever in the council at that time must have felt they deserved that name.

Three decades have passed and I ponder over those years of silence. Mr Teo Chee Hean tells us that more than 800 people were arrested in the 1970s. I never expected the arrests to run into hundreds. We should all be disturbed by the number. Imagine more than 800 lives were disrupted. Imagine how those detained were mistreated by the ISD. Imagine the lives of more than 800 families turned upside down. Imagine husbands and wives being separated and young children being deprived of their parents. How did they live without breadwinners? Imagine parents being deprived of their children who may be supporting them? Who took care of all of them while they were in prison?

Those arrested in the 1970s included Cultural Medallion recipients, Yeng Pway Ngon, Kuo Pao Kun and his wife Goh Lay Kuan, lawyers T T Rajah, G Raman, R Joethy, Tan Jing Quee and Ong Bock Chuan, Hussein Jahidin (Editor of Berita Harian), Shamsuddin Tung (Editor in Chief of Nanyang Siang Pau), Lee Eu Seng (Managing Director of Nanyang Siang Pau), Ngoh Teck Nam (Translator of Sin Chew Jit Poh), Chua Chap Jee (Lecturer), Pan Nan Hung (Naval Engineer), Ho Kwon Ping, Wong Chee San (Polytechnic Student), Drs Ang See Chai and Poh Soo Kai. I know many of them and I can confirm that they are all law abiding citizens.

Having been a victim of the ISA myself, I cannot and will not believe that any one of the names I mentioned above is a subversive intent on destroying Singapore by violent and unconstitutional means. Mr Teo Chee Hean can continue to kill his conscience by repeating the lies of his predecessors. But he should bear in mind that there is a possibility that those whose lives his government have destroyed may one day write their stories. They may be afraid to tell the truth now.

I end with a poem by Said Zahari (Editor of Utusan Melayu) who was imprisoned for 17 years without trial. Imagine his wife giving birth to their daughter not knowing when he would be released. May Mr Teo and the PAP reflect on all the children deprived of their fathers or mothers from 1959 till today.

Born Unfree*

not that i was not hungry
I refused the food;
nor that I was not sleepy
I kept awake.

my ears keep hearing
the cry of an infant.

for months in solitary,
it was a source of anxiety;
for hours to this moment,
it is endless excitement.

then came the news of
the arrival of my little one.

I am the father
robbed of my freedom
whose world has shrunk
into a dark little dungeon.

my child, just born
into a world yet unfree.

22 May 1963

* Tan Jing Quee, Teo Soh Lung and Koh Kay Yew (eds) Our Thoughts Are Free - Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile Ethos Books Singapore p. 39

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