Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Teo Soh Lung: For Minister Teo Chee Hean (2)

by Teo Soh Lung on Wednesday, 26 October 2011 at 11:23 (source)

After more than 4 decades, we are informed by the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Teo Chee Hean that more than 800 people were arrested in the 1970s. This number is not small and I dread to speculate the number arrested in the preceding decade. We are aware that more than 120 people were arrested on 2 February 1963 in Operation Cold Store. Almost the entire central committee of the Barisan Sosialis including Dr Lim Hock Siew and Dr Poh Soo Kai were detained. Inche Said Zahari and trade unionists, the Late Mr Ho Piao and Mr Jamit Singh were also not spared.

In October that year Operation Pecah followed and elected opposition members of parliament, Ms Loh Meow Gong and Messrs Lee Tee Tong and S T Bani were detained. In 1963 alone, the number imprisoned must have exceeded 200. It would not be wrong to say that the arrests of the leaders of the opposition and trade unions in 1963 ensured monopoly of power for the PAP till today. Almost every year after 1963, there were arrests. Arrests continues to this day. No evidence of weapons or bombs was ever been produced by the government. All we are told is that we have to trust the judgement of the government.

In arguing for the retention of the ISA, the minister reiterated the “nipped in the bud” theory expounded by his predecessors. He said: “…The ISA thus allows the government to act quickly to prevent a threat from developing into something very serious such as a bombing; or to stem an organised pattern of subversion which promotes civil disturbances and disorder…”

Every citizen who is arrested is deprived of his constitutional right to life or personal liberty, freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly and association which are guaranteed by Articles 9 and 14 of our Constitution. Families are often deprived of sole breadwinners. But perhaps the PAP have reasons for doing what they did. They know that periodic arrests instil fear amongst citizens. Fear ensures the survival of the PAP.

It is time we question the retention of the ISA, a law that permits the ministers or prime minister to imprison citizens for as long as they wish. We are told that ministers rely on the Internal Security Department which have made thorough investigation before ordering the detention of citizens or renewing their detention orders. Is this true? Dr Lim Hock Siew’s public statement issued through his legal adviser, the Late Mr T T Rajah and released by his wife, Dr Beatrice Chen on 18 March 1972 exposed this lie. I reproduce part of the statement [1] below:

“… A week after my transfer to the special branch headquarters, the same two high-ranking employees spelt out the conditions of my release. They demanded from me two things. They are as follows:

(1) That I make an oral statement of my past political activities, that is to say, `A security statement’. This was meant for the special branch records only and not meant for publication.

(2) That I must issue a public statement consisting of two points: (a) That I am prepared to give up politics and devote to medical practice thereafter. (b) That I must express support for the parliamentary democratic system.
I shall now recall and recapitulate the conversation that took place between me and the same two high-ranking special branch agents during my detention at the special branch headquarters.

Special Branch: You need not have to condemn the Barisan Sosialis or any person. We admit that it is unjust to detain you so long. Nine years is a long time in a person’s life; we are anxious to settle your case.

Dr Lim Hock Siew: My case will be settled immediately if I am released unconditionally. I was not asked at the time of my arrest whether I ought to be arrested. Release me unconditionally and my case is settled.

Special Branch: The key is in your hands. It is for you to open the door.

Dr Lim Hock Siew: To say that the key is in my hands is the inverted logic of gangsters in which white is black and black is white. The victim is painted as the culprit and the culprit is made to look innocent. Four Gurkha soldiers were brought to my house to arrest me. I did not ask or seek arrest or the prolonged detention for over nine years in prison without trial.

Special Branch: You must concede something so that Lee Kuan Yew would be in a position to explain to the public why you had been detained so long. Mr Lee Kuan Yew must also preserve his face. If you were to be released unconditionally, he will lose face.

Dr Lim Hock Siew: I am not interested in saving Lee Kuan Yew’s face. This is not a question of pride but one of principle. My detention is completely unjustifiable and I will not lift a single finger to help Lee Kuan Yew to justify the unjustifiable. In the light of what you say, is it not very clear that I have lost my freedom all these long and bitter years just to save Lee Kuan Yew’s face? Therefore the PAP regime’s allegation that I am a security risk is a sham cover and a façade to detain me unjustifiably for over nine years. “

Dr Lim was 31 years old when he was arrested on 2 February 1963. His son was then 5 months’ old. He and Dr Poh Soo Kai had two years earlier, set up a medical clinic, Rakyat Clinic along Balestier Road which provided and still provides medical care for the poor. Both were also founder members of Barisan Sosialis.

The PAP kept Dr Lim in jail for 20 years. They freed him unconditionally at the age of 51. He had missed the prime of his life and the growing up years of his son. The PAP had ensured for themselves that Dr Lim no longer posed a political threat to them. Only a person of courage and determination can survive such a long period of imprisonment. And only people who have lost their conscience can imprison Dr Lim for 2 decades without trial.

Mr Chng Min Oh @ Chuang Men-Hu

While many of the people detained in the 1960s were imprisoned for decades, I did not expect the PAP government to continue that practice in the 1970s. I was therefore shocked to meet Mr Chng Min Oh @ Chuang Men-Hu recently.

Mr Chng was a humble construction worker and painter when he was arrested on 3 August 1970. Leaving his wife who was then three months’ pregnant and two young children aged 4 and 6 that dawn must have been painful for him. He was offered freedom by banishment i.e. if he agreed to being banished to China. He refused the offer.

Mr Chng remained in prison while his wife took on several jobs to raise the young family. She became a construction worker and a hawker whenever she had time. While she worked, her parents helped in looking after the children. Life was terribly hard for the family. They did not even have money for medical treatment. But the ministers did not care and renewed his detention order 7 times. He was finally released after 13 years, on 7 August 1983. He had served a life sentence though he was never judged guilty of any crime in a court of law.

The hardship of separation in indefinite detention is captured vividly in the poem Tears by Said Zahari. Zahari was imprisoned for 17 years.


I saw tears down your cheeks
sparkling like diamonds,
beautiful like shining stars
in a clear night sky.
I saw sorrow
dancing in tune with your sobs.
My heart beats faster, my lips tremble.

Then I saw courage,
confidence and determination,
peering from behind the sorrow.
How cruel, how inhumane!
So high, so huge
This partition between us.
For so long!

But in spirit we are one,
as always,
bound by unbreakable bonds
of love and longing for justice.
Neither this prison wall
nor a hundred years of incarceration
shall diminish my love.

Hari Raya card to Sal
20th November 1969

How can we believe Minister Teo Chee Hean when he said “The Government has used the ISA as a last resort when there is a significant threat, and other laws are not adequate to deal with the situation...” when so many citizens were imprisoned for decades without trial. How can the PAP ministers take away the fundamental liberties of its citizens in the name of national security so freely and so frequently when Singapore was and is not at war? Have they all lost their conscience?

[1] Poh Soo Kai, Tan Jing Quee and Koh Kay Yew Eds. The Fajar Generation The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Malaysia pp 150 – 151.

[2] Tan Jing Quee Teo Soh Lung Koh Kay Yew Eds Our Thoughts Are Free Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile Ethos Books 2009 Singapore p 47

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