Friday, November 25, 2011

Remembering Francis Khoo Kah Siang, alleged Euro-Communist security threat


In The Straits Times of November 25, 2011, Dr Ang Swee Chai (Mrs Francis Khoo) published the following eulogy.

(For Dr Ang Swee Chai's remarkable humanitarian career and her book From Beirut to Jerusalem, see the end of this post.)

Francis Khoo Kah Siang, 23 October 1947 to 20 November 2011

by Dr Ang Swee Chai
(Mrs Francis Khoo)
22 November 2011

It must be so bizarre that the one person who loves you beyond words and whom you also love the most in this world goes on to make you a widow – and without polite notice!

So it is the case with my beloved. As I stepped off the plane, I received a text message sent a few hours ago that he “cannot come”. As I came into the house, I smelt delicious chicken macaroni soup freshly cooked in the kitchen. There was some left in a bowl which he must had eaten from to stem his hunger as the plane was delayed. But there was no answer to my call, except from our agitated cats. Yes, my beloved had died in the room upstairs.

Did he choose to die before I got to him to spare me the pain of resuscitating him? Was it Divine Mercy that he was taken home to God so painlessly, silently, and alone before medical science complicated his humanity? Was it to spare his wife anxious moments waiting at the hospital intensive care? Could I not just cradle him in my arms in these last precious moments on earth? Only at our re-union with our Maker and with each other can these questions be answered. For now, I am grateful to be able to look after him on this last lap of his earthly journey as he returns to the One who created him.

As news of his death broke out, thousands of emails, letters, text messages, phone calls, flowers poured from all parts of the world and all walks of life. From heads of states, diplomats, politicians, and friends employed and unemployed. I am not only overwhelmed by the volume but by the affection and admiration they held for him. Friends and family are flying in from all over the world. I have managed only to reply to just over a thousand messages over the last 48 hours. The rest might have to wait for their reply until the funeral is over.

So who was this Francis Khoo?

He was the fourth generation of an established Singapore Peranakan family. It is a close knit family. As a boy he sang in the Singing Khoos with his brothers Lawrence and Victor, and the family is devoutly Catholic. As he grew up he began to acquire a strong sense of justice – beyond merely legal. Of course he was a lawyer, but even in University as Vice President of the Students’ Law Society, he served a greater justice. He opposed the introduction of the Suitability Certificate, the abolition of the jury system, and later on the heavy bombing of Hanoi on Christmas day. His other interests include photography – he patented a pocket camera at the age of nineteen. He loved drawing, writing and ran the St Joseph Institution school paper and the university Undergrad.

Despite all the above “distractions”, he qualified and was called to the bar. Within months of arriving as a junior lawyer in his firm, he took on the legalities of forming a Citizens’ Co-op to save the Singapore Herald, the liberal English daily closed by the government.

In 1974, I met him at a Justice and Peace meeting. His deep commitment to social justice was to him a Christian obligation. The first commandment is to love God; the second is to love your neighbours as yourself. Two weeks later I read in the Straits Times that my new acquaintance was to defend a controversial trial in which factory workers and a student leader were charged with rioting. I called him to ask him to re-consider since he might invite personal repercussions. Being a “kiasu” (law-abiding timid ) Singaporean, I sensed that the government wanted the workers and the student leader imprisoned, and to defend them would be seen as being anti-government and the consequences would be dire!

He patiently explained that everyone is entitled to legal defence – and no one should be deemed guilty until proven beyond reasonable doubt. These workers were poor and established lawyers would not take their case on and someone just got to do it, in the interest of justice. If he had to pay the price of doing so, he would accept it!

I am still not sure when my admiration for him turned to love. In 1976 when I sensed that he might be detained under the Internal Security Act I asked him to marry me, so that if he were to be arrested I can visit him in prison and at least be his link to the outside world. We married on 29 January, 1977.

The arrest came, and he managed to escape. I was detained shortly afterwards and questioned about him. Upon my release I joined him in exile in the United Kingdom.

Francis started his live in exile as a cleaner in a Central London Hotel. He then went on to work as an administrator in a British Charity, Medical and Scientific Aid for Vietnam. Two years later he was journalist for an international third world magazine, South. From there he went on to direct War on Want, a prominent international NGO founded by the late British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Apart from chairing numerous charities he was co-founder and Vice Chairman of the British Charity, Medical Aid for Palestinians from 1984 to 2007. He had to step down as new British Charity Commissioner Legislation advised against office bearers serving more than 9 years , He had served 23 years!

From War on Want he returned to legal practice in London until his failing health forced him to stop work. Despite this, his work for many charities continued.

He wrote many poems, songs and articles. He sang for many including the wives of the striking miners. One of his songs Father Christmas in the Slag Heap brought the whole of Hemsworth, a town faced with pit closure, to tears during their poverty stricken Christmas in 1984. He also sang at canteens catering meals for the aged. His songs and writings are available to the Singapore public for those who are interested.

He suffered renal failure from 1998, went on dialysis, but had a successful renal transplant on the NHS in July 2011 – the generous gift of an anonymous British woman donor. The day before his death he was at the Annual General Meeting of Living Stones, a charity to which he was trustee. His diary is full of future engagements including the Haldane Law Society, charities for the homeless, Medical Aid for Palestinians, the Scottish Parliament, and the House of Commons - plus supporting me in dozens of public lectures and talks. It is full of engagements until end of September 2012.

His untimely death left a huge void in all our lives. We are all in a state of shock. But by God’s grace, time will make it possible for his memory to overwhelm the pain of our loss. My tribute to him will be to continue to serve the cause of peace and justice. I also hope to be the widow who will take his ashes back to his beloved Singapore after his 34 years of exile.

Francis Khoo on BBC TV, 1978

Francis Khoo Kah Siang 23 Oct 1947 - 20 Nov 2011

by Teo Soh Lung on Tuesday, 22 November 2011 at 16:33 (source)


1) 'twas the 15th of February
at dead of the night
they kept knocking
and banging my door
i slipped quietly away
but the others could not
and i know that
i'd see them no more

2) they had taken so many
how many i know not
well, there's maha
and mike and samy
and there's jing quee
and others
the brave and the tall
and they're once more
behind changi wall

3) then i packed
my small green bag,
some clothes
and my toothbrush
never knowing
what lies ahead
though the darkness
surrounds me
i'll hold my head high
and i know
i'm no longer afraid

4) o my dear bride,
my dearest
just two weeks we're wed
please remember
the vow that we made
i have left my homeland
for a place far away
but i know
i'll be back home someday

5) o my people,
my homeland
the ones that i love
i will never
see you again
till the storm clouds gather
at break of the dawn
and bungaraya
shall bloom
in the rain

lyrics and melody
1977 [1]

Francis Khoo Kah Siang, lawyer, champion of human rights, photographer, cartoonist, singer and song writer, scribbled the above lyrics on an old envelope while flying to London in February 1977. He had with great reluctance and sorrow, left Dr Ang Swee Chai who he married just two weeks before because “confessions” of his friends who were arrested by the ISD had implicated him.

February 1977 saw the arrest and imprisonment of at least 28 people, many of whom were professionals under the ISA. They were the intellectuals of our society and had occasionally been critical of the policies of our government. The ISD weaved a tale of “Euro-Communism” and accused them of conducting activities damaging to the security of Singapore. In reality, “Euro-Communism” was a reference to an awareness of human rights abuses in Singapore. At that time, political detainees like Dr Lim Hock Siew, Said Zahari, Lee Tee Tong, Ho Piao and Chia Thye Poh had been imprisoned without trial for more than a decade and socialist governments in Britain and The Netherlands had not been happy with the conduct of the PAP who claimed also to be socialists and was a member of Socialist International.

In early June 1976, the Dutch Labour Party (DLP) had at a meeting of members of Socialist International in London called for the expulsion of the PAP from the organisation unless it agreed to release all political prisoners. They were backed by the British Labour Party. The PAP represented by Devan Nair defended its hardline position and instead of facing ultimate expulsion because it had no intention of releasing the political prisoners, tendered its resignation but not before a tediously long and arrogant speech was delivered by Nair. The Straits Times of 2 June 1976 reported :

“The DLP pretend to mock horror about provisions in our internal security laws for detention without trial. They seem to have forgotten that the Dutch socialists have themselves resorted, when the occasion demanded, to powers of detention without trial.

We cannot and will not permit the lunatic fringe of West European social democratic parties to make common cause with our communists and fellow-travellers, and to tell us how we ought to run our affairs.”

Two days after that speech was delivered, Dr Poh Soo Kai was rearrested and imprisoned under the ISA, probably for the reason that he had called for the release of his comrades who were still in prison.

It took another seven months before the PAP government engineered the big swoop of February 1977. First on the hit list was lawyer G Raman. He was arrested on 2 February 1977. Under intensive interrogation and physical abuse in the cold room, ISD officers forced a written confession from him. Names of his friends, even remotely in touch with him were spewed on many pages of The Straits Times. Many (at least 28 professionals) who were named in that confession were arrested and imprisoned. They and Raman were to be disillusioned with politics for decades thereafter and until today, no one has dared to speak about the real reason why so many intellectuals were arrested in February 1977.

Among the numerous names mentioned in pages of The Straits Times was that of Francis Khoo. Francis knew he was on the chopping board for he had championed causes of poor fishermen and factory workers and in his younger days, protested against the Vietnam War and participated in the campaign to save The Herald newspaper from extinction. Fearing the loss of his freedom, Francis left Singapore and landed up in London as a political exile. Shortly after, his wife, Swee Chai was arrested. She was to be imprisoned for at least two weeks and questioned about the whereabouts of Francis in the ISD cold room. Upon her release, she joined her husband in London and both of them became deeply involved in human rights causes. Francis was to campaign for the release of his friends and appeared in a BBC programme, Price of Freedom when he spoke of the injustice suffered by political prisoners in Singapore.

It is with deep sorrow that I learnt of Francis’ demise on 20 November 2011. I knew he had some four months earlier undergone a kidney transplant and had been in and out of hospital. He had not been well for many years but illness had never prevented him from being keenly involved in championing for the rights of the disadvantaged. He sang for coal miners when they went on strike for better wages and the closure of their unions. He helped in various international charities and Medical Aid for Palestinians. He supported freedom movements like the African National Congress and Palestinian Liberation Organisation. He was not a politician but had many friends in political parties both in England and elsewhere in the world.

Though poor in health, Francis never moaned about his illness. Instead, he was always cheerful and joked about his ailments. He wrote humourous letters to his friends about his debilitating condition. I was a guest of Swee Chai and Francis two years ago and marvelled at his independence. While Swee Chai was busy with her work as a surgeon both in London and war-torn Gaza, Francis kept the house and two lovely cats. They do not have any home help and cooked their own meals. In Singapore, a person in Francis’ condition would have hired at least one helper. But not Francis and Swee Chai. They are true socialists, always generous with their money and time, always giving.

Francis often talked of home meaning Singapore. He refused to return home when he was told that he would be required to give a statement to the ISD. It is sad that while communism in Eastern Europe fell after 40 years and exiles were allowed to return to their homeland and to read the files of the secret police, Singapore, a first world nation would not allow her own citizens to return after decades of being in exile, even though they had done nothing against the country. Indeed, it is the state that had done a grave injustice to Francis and Swee Chai nearly 35 years ago.

Francis is now gone to a better world. Swee Chai is still in London. I sincerely hope that young Singapore leaders today who were not involved in the arrest of citizens of past decades wouldl right the wrongs of their elders. It would be a nice gesture on their part to invite Dr Ang Swee Chai and all exiles to return home without any condition.

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


A tribute to Francis Khoo Kah Siang

by Tan Wah Piow, 26.11.2011 (source1, source2)

We take the opportunity of this gathering to pay our respects and register our tribute to Francis Khoo, husband of Ang Swee Chai and a patriotic son of Singapore. Born on the 23.10. 1947, Francis sadly died unexpectedly in London last Sunday 20 November 2011.

Some of us who had the privilege of knowing him, and had worked with him during the 1970s will feel the great loss of a passionate, courageous and creative advocate for change.

I first met Francis in 1973. He was then a 26 year old young lawyer and an active member of the Student Christian Movement in Singapore, He was then an important source of inspiration amongst his peers. He helped to organise the demonstration outside the American embassy protesting against the US bombing of North Vietnam, a rare anti-war event in Singapore.

In 1974 he represented one of the two workers from the American Marine factory who, together with me, were victims of a frame-up stitched up by the Singapore government controlled trade union. The trial brought Francis closer to the student leadership at the University of Singapore. 1974 was a time of economic recession in Singapore, hence a time of intense political persecution against dissent. He had already made his mark in 1971 when he, together with 4 others, tried to form a cooperative to revive the Herald newspaper, which was closed down by the authorities in a crackdown of the independent press.

Although for a period in the 1970s he suffered malicious, unjustified and unfounded slanders to his integrity as a political activist, Francis was able to rise above them, thanks to his deep political commitment and faith.

In February 1977, the Singapore government launched one of their periodic sweeps under the draconian powers of the ISA. Scores of people were detained without trial. Francis knew he would be arrested due to his active political dissent. He managed to escape to the UK. He and Swee Chai were newlyweds then. When the Singapore Government realised that Francis had escaped from their clutches, they arrested Swee Chai instead. They released Swee Chai on the understanding that she would coax him to return to Singapore. Francis and Swee Chai were reunited and they sought asylum in the UK.

Cut off from his Singapore base, Francis quickly adapted to life abroad, redefining his role as a humanitarian internationalist, immersing himself in many worthy causes including helping Amnesty International to launch the Lawyers’ Group and spoke at several of their International Human Rights Days. In the late 1980s, he became the Director of War on Want. He was also active in local social issues and was chairman of RADICLE, the London-wide charity providing services and accommodation for teenage mothers, drop-in centres and support for the elderly. His most enduring achievement was, together with Swee Chai, setting up Medical Aid for Palestinians, which is now a well-supported charity giving much needed help to the Palestinian people.

Francis Khoo was politically a socialist and spiritually a Christian humanist. His 34 years exile did not diminish his commitment and concern for Singapore and Malaysia. Despite the exile, he maintained close contacts with family and political friends. He will always be remembered by friends and comrades for his deep convictions, amiable attitude, love for life and food, and for his song, “the Bunga Raya” and for his poems.

Francis selflessly supported the work of his beloved wife who spared no effort or time in promoting the Palestinian cause. His life, and the way he chose to live it, will remain an inspiration to us all.


Dr Ang Swee Chai

Dr Ang Swee Chai FRCS graduated from the University of Singapore in 1973. She is  an orthopaedic surgeon who worked with civilians during the Lebanese Civil War, and a founding trustee of the British charity Medical Aid for Palestinians. She witnessed the  Sabra and Shatila massacre, and has written an account of it in From Beirut to Jerusalem (amazon).

An in-depth interview with Dr Ang Swee Chai (conducted by Dr Toh Han Chong and Associate Professor Paul Ananth Tambyah) in Oct 2006:  here

*From Beirut and Jerusalem, a talk by Dr Ang Swee Chai on 10 December 2004 (audio, text): here

Dr Ang mentioned (1:02) in British TV news bulletin on 15 April, 1987:


Tribute to Francis Khoo, by Franklin Lamb, a Palestinaian civil rights worker.

* Dr Ang Swee Chai recounts her ISD detention

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Teo Soh Lung: For Minister Teo Chee Hean (4)

November 11, 2011 (source)

Referring to the arrest of the alleged Marxists on 21 May 1987, Minister Teo Chee Hean said in parliament:

“When the Government did move against this group in the mid-1980s, it made clear that it was not acting against genuine social activists or members of the clergy, but only those who were covertly pursuing their subversive Marxist political agenda by hiding within the church organisations. Appreciating the sensitivities involved, the Government made every effort to explain to the Church leadership that this was not targeted at the Church. The Church leaders and the Vatican itself acknowledged this publicly… “ (para 18).

It was by chance that I read the notes recorded by the ISD of the meeting between the late Archbishop Gregory Yong, Fr Giovanni D’Aniello of the Holy See, several representatives of the Catholic Church and the then prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew with the director of ISD and other officials at the Istana two weeks after 16 alleged Marxists were arrested. The notes reminded me of the hours I stood before the former prime minister and his colleagues at the parliamentary select committee hearing on the Legal Profession Amendment Bill in 1986 and the interrogation I was subjected to by ISD officers at Whitley Road Centre.

As Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, one would have expected His Holiness to be treated with courtesy, respect and patience. If the notes are accurate, the Archbishop and his colleagues were treated like political prisoners. They were “imprisoned” for nearly three hours at the Istana. The hot and cold tactics used by ISD interrogators were used on those eminent Church leaders. The Church was praised and then threatened. When threats failed, words softened. Ideas that the Church was being used by communists were subtly suggested. The “culprits” who the government alleged necessitated the arrests in 1987 shifted from the 16 detainees to four Catholic priests. Just study this passage and you will understand what I mean:

“PM said that he was not interested in VINCENT CHENG and his group, but he had to deal with them in a way that would make it less likely for others to follow in their wake. He was however more concerned about the involvement of several priests and that the Archbishop had been told about them by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in JUL 86. PM said that he took the matter so seriously that when the Pope visited Singapore, he informed the Pope that the Church was a source of strength for Singapore but that there were now problems coming from the Church and that the Archbishop knew about it. PM said that the Archbishop was told about Fr EDGAR D’SOUZA, Fr PATRICK GOH, Fr JOSEPH HO and Fr AROTCARENA. PM then read out the Church’s press statement issued on 28 MAY 87 in which the Church stated that:
“The Catholic Church ….. must continue its mission of spreading its teachings on matters pertaining to justice as they apply to social, economic and political issues …. To the best of our knowledge, the full-time workers have been fully committed to the work of the Catholic organisation in which they served. The six voluntary workers have generously contributed their time and talents to specific work in the Catholic organisation with which they were associated. We hope and pray that justice will be done and be seen to be done.””

I was surprised that instead of arresting the four priests who were “creating problems” for the prime minister in 1986, 16 people were arrested in their stead! Was the government afraid of the Catholic Church? Did the prime minister think then that slaughtering 16 chickens would make the Church compliant? I don’t know. The notes were full of contradictions. It was familiar style. Even the issue of who initiated the meeting at the Istana had to be altered. The person in charge could say anything and no one, including His Grace, was brave enough to correct any error or contradiction.

And so statements were made and then contradicted. Like a theatre performance, actors appeared suddenly and key players bowed out only to return after a change of costume. The intervals were meant to temporarily relieve anxiety from the “prisoners”, giving them short respite. At the same time, (I suspect) ,it enabled the interrogators to plan their next move and change their tact. While political prisoners were interrogated in freezing cold rooms with spotlights shining into their eyes, the “interrogation” of Church leaders were done in the comfort of the Istana. The techniques used however, were the same. Documents were produced to His Holiness who must read them quickly.

“… PM pointed out that the Archbishop had read ISD’s documents in 3 meetings with MHA officials…”

Wow, three meetings to read, digest and be convinced about a conspiracy to overthrow the government!

From the notes, I gathered that agreements had to be reached quickly and statements issued for public consumption. Time was of the essence, at least on the part of the prime minister. It was either His Grace issued a statement there and then or the Church would be seen as being on a collision course with the government. The strange and bewildering Kafkaesque atmosphere was sufficient to frighten the Archbishop and the representative from the Holy See.

During the meeting, the Archbishop had read from a prepared statement defending the 16 arrested. I reproduce part of the notes:

“… The Archbishop said that the Church had given the Government the benefit of the doubt because they believed that it was a responsible Government. He ended that just as the Government could not condone corruption by one of its Ministers recently, the Church also could not condone any violation of human rights. He hoped the Government could show that the detainees were guilty of what they had been accused of and that when this had been done, the Church would have no reason to fight for them or fault the Government. He would then be most grateful to the Government for having prevented people from using the Church for subversive purposes. He added that the Church recognised the right of the Government to safeguard the security of the nation but at the same time the Government had an obligation to prove that those detained were a threat to security…”

That belief in the innocence of the 16 until proven guilty vanished in the three-hour meeting. His Grace issued a statement which read as follows:

“We are satisfied that the Government of Singapore has nothing against the Catholic Church when it detained 10 of our Church workers amongst the 16 who were arrested for possible involvement in the clandestine Communist network.”

The Church had abandoned her flock in three hours and saved herself from the wrath of the government. It was a wise decision – to save the majority, save the four priests and disown the ten detainees. The four priests were spared in that they were not detained though they were relieved of their duties a few days later by the Archbishop, because it was the 10 who had made use of the Church. I wonder who were the unlucky ten. To incur the wrath of the government is an inconsequential matter. To incur the wrath of God as represented by the Archbishop (if one believes in God) by making use of the Church is another matter.

Minister Teo Chee Hean may be right to say that the arrests in 1987 was not targeted at the Church because the Church said so. But can we believe a statement that was drafted by the Archbishop within three hours? Maybe not. After all, the Archbishop was a sort of “prisoner” in the Istana. But if the statement was issued in haste or involuntarily, the Archbishop should have taken the earliest opportunity to correct the statement. She had that opportunity in 1989 when the Far Eastern Economic Review was sued for defamation for reporting among other matters, that the Archbishop was “tricked” into issuing the statement (at the Istana meeting). I remember the Church was silent then, thus impliedly disagreeing with the magazine’s report. In recent years, the Church repeated the government’s claims against the detainees in a publication Going forth … The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819-2004 [1]. With this publication, we should no longer doubt that the Archbishop voluntarily issued the Istana statement (even though the Archbishop never saw the publication as he passed away in 2000). Under the heading “Detention of some Catholics,” the authors dismissed the arrest of 22 people as an “unfortunate event” and the law suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review as an “unpleasant episode”.

The authors had their facts wrong from the beginning. The majority of the 22 arrested had absolutely nothing to do with the Catholic Church. They could have spared themselves from having to explain the “unfortunate event” if they had interviewed the living protagonists of the alleged conspiracy. I am sure the three priests and Vincent Cheng who are alive today would be happy to tell their side of the story. The authors could have analysed the 1987 event more carefully and inform the readers that the government’s allegations that those 22 arrested were not accurate because the majority had nothing to do with the Church. Disappointingly, the authors chose to regurgitate published materials without investigating the truth. They did not analyse or express their own views on those published materials thus misleading readers to believe that the detainees made use of the Church. They wrote:

“Articles appeared in The Catholic News on the issue of foreign workers and maids written by a priest. In 1986, Archbishop Gregory Yong was informed that this constituted involvement of the Church in politics. Nevertheless, the articles continued to appear. The authorities established that a communist net was growing and that a number of Catholic organisations, the Students’ Christian Movement, the Young Christian Workers’ Movement and the Catholic Students’ Societies of the National University and the Singapore Polytechnic had been drawn in. The Straits Times reported that a Marxist conspiracy to subvert the political and social system of Singapore had emerged which went beyond pure social concerns…”[2]

The authors even wrote briefly about similar arrests of Catholic priests and workers in Operation Lalang which took place in October 1987 without informing readers that the Catholic Church in Malaysia courageously stood up for their workers and those arrested in Singapore. I remember receiving many notes and cards from individuals and Catholic organisations in Malaysia throughout my detention. Again relying on secondary source, The China Post of 24 November 1988 was partially quoted by the authors:

“Meanwhile, a similar story was unfolding in Malaysia. In 1987, the Malaysian government arrested one hundred and six people connected to Marxists and Christian groups subscribing to liberation theology which threatened to “disrupt Malaysia’s delicate racial and religious balance. … (They) Had infiltrated several Christian societies, including the young Christian Movement and the Catholic Students’ Society to win wider acceptance of Marxist ideology… The government described liberation theology as an approach which stresses that Catholicism contains teachings that human freedom can be achieved through a class struggle, and force may be used when all other means have been exhausted.””[3]

The authors appeared intent on putting the Singapore government in good light by repeating the praises lavished by the former prime minister when they again cited published materials, this time The Straits Times of 3 June 1987. They wrote:

“Mr. Lee Kuan Yew met the press, accompanied by Archbishop Gregory Yong, after the meeting of 1 June 1987. “Twice during the Istana Press conference, Mr Lee showed that he held ordinary Catholics in high regard. He said that he had found the Catholics to be amongst the most stout-hearted defenders of the democratic society and against Marxism and totalitarianism as represented by the communists … good relations between Catholic Church and the state will be maintained … (lay Catholics) are very staunch supporters of the community in education, health, social work and so on”.[4]

If the Archbishop’s Istana statement made in 1987 was extracted under duress, surely an important publication on the illustrious history of the Catholic Church in Singapore published 20 years after should make clear the Church’s position. It was a golden opportunity for the Church to explain the work of the arrested Church workers and the intention of the Second Vatican Council which the authors proudly claimed “had emphasized a pastoral response to a fast changing world that had affected various groups of people. It found expression in what came to be known as Development Theology. It was directed at championing the cause of people in all situations of life and the creation of a more just society…” [5]

The Church chose not to dispute the voluntariness of the statement. Reading the authors’ brief exposition of the Second Vatican Council, I suddenly realised why the Catholic Church was so active in championing the rights of the workers’ in the 1980s. The four priests were putting the text of the Second Vatican Council into action. They sought help from Catholics and non Catholics to manage their organisations in Jurong (the Young Christian Workers’ Centre) and Geylang (the Geylang Catholic Centre). I was one of the volunteers. Those volunteers and underpaid Church staff worked very hard to defend the human rights of foreign workers. But what happened when the Church was confronted by the state about the work of those volunteers and workers? The Church buckled and left them to defend themselves. She sang the tune of the government. I cannot therefore agree with Archbishop Nicholas Chia that Going forth … The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819-2004 is a “well-documented publication of the history of the Church in Singapore.” [6] Until the Church investigate the 1987 arrests earnestly and preferably while witnesses to that “unfortunate event” or “unpleasant episode” are alive, there will be no closure for those volunteers and workers accused of making use of the Church and imprisoned without trial by the state. Until the Church examine her past action or inaction, the stain on the Catholic Church in Singapore for failing to stand up for her volunteers and workers in their time of need will remain, at least as far as I am concerned.


[1] E. Wijeysingha in collaboration with Fr. Rene` Nicolas, mep Going forth…The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819-2004 His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore 2006

[2] P. 197

[3] P. 199

[4] P. 199

[5] P. 196

[6] P. 3

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Complete news blackout on Chee's Liberal InternationaI award

Thursday, 10 November 2011 (source)
Singapore Democrats

Not surprisingly perhaps, MediaCorps and the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) have conspicuously and completely blacked out any report on the recent award of the Prize for Freedom by the Liberal International (LI) to Dr Chee Soon Juan.

This stands in stark contrast to the Lincoln Medal award that Mr Lee Kuan Yew received a few weeks earlier which was reported extensively by Channel News Asia, Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao. (See here, here, here, here and here)

Media control and bias cannot be any more blatant.

Could it have been that the media did not know of the award to the SDP secretary-general? A week before the award ceremony, the SDP released a press statement. The media censored it.

Last week, they were invited to the award dinner as well as a press conference just before the dinner. Reminders were sent out.

Two reporters from the Straits Times and the Lianhe Zaobao showed up at the press conference and the dinner together with a photographer. But not a word appeared in the newspapers.

When asked why the Straits Times blacks out news on the SDP, a reporter said that the newspaper is not informed of the party's activities beforehand. Ms Yew Lun Tian of the Lianhe Zaobao even wrote in her Facebook earlier this year that the "SDP hardly sends press invites nor answers queries by mobile. It takes more effort to write SDP stories."

Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao reporters asking Chee Soon Juan questions. Not a word appeared in the newspapers
We refuted Ms Yew's statement by providing concrete examples of SDP publicising our events and even giving interviews when requested. (See report here)

The latest incident puts paid to the untruth that the SDP does not alert the media to our acivities. Press statements, dinner invitations and press conference notices were sent out for Dr Chee's award last week.

What is more truthful is that the people at SPH and MediaCorps made a deliberate decision to black out the news on Dr Chee's award.

This is significant in light of what Prime Minister said during the general elections in May this year: "Not all opposition parties are the same. Some work within our system and try to play a constructive role; others try to pull down the system and bring it into disrepute. And I think there’s a difference in the way they approach politics and the way we approach them.”

The Singapore Democrats are not concerned how the PAP approaches the various opposition parties. We present our alternative programme and take it to the people, whatever the PAP's approach might be.

But then the PAP resorts to using the media (which is run using public monies and should therefore report fairly and accurately) to black out information about the SDP so that Singaporeans won't know what goes on with our Party. The agenda is clear: The PAP, through the media, is desperately trying to shape the kind of opposition it wants in Parliament.

As SDP Chairman Jufrie Mahmood pointed out during his welcome remarks at the award dinner: "The powers-that-be are fully aware that if the SDP gets sufficient exposure in the mainstream media the people will get to know the real SDP and what it stands for. So they continue to blackout the SDP. They just do not have the guts to take on the SDP on a level playing field."

Related: When silence is not golden: a reflection on two Singaporean prize winners, by Vincent Wijeysingha (here)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Kudos to Tan Chuan Jin (Minister of State for Manpower)

Kudos to Tan Chuan Jin, the Minister of State for Manpower. We Singaporeans watch eagerly for the PAP government to show its commitment to values that are humanitarian and ethical (rather than monetary), and to treating migrant workers as human beings worthy of respect and the protection of the state. We await substantive action.

Manpower Ministry's Tan Chuan-Jin visits TWC2

Source: TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too) November 5, 2011

Senior officials from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) met with Transient Workers Count Too this week on a fact-finding visit, engaging in fruitful and cordial discussions that broached a range of legal and workplace issues faced by low-skilled migrant workers in Singapore.

Led by Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin, some 10 civil servants visited TWC2 at the Suthas restaurant on Cuff Road, where part of the group’s eponymously named soup kitchen is run.
The rare visit, on the evening of Tuesday, November 1, 2011, marked the first time a minister had come to see TWC2′s frontline operations since the group’s founding in 2004.

About three months earlier, soon after Mr Tan took on the post, TWC2 president Russell Heng had extended an invitation to the minister to come see TWC2′s activities on the ground. MOM confirmed they would be glad to visit when Russell met with the minister at ministry headquarters shortly after. That was when the minister, wanting to familiarise himself with his new portfolio, had organised a roundtable with all non-governmental bodies involved in migrant worker issues.

Tuesday night’s session at our Cuff Road project stretched nearly two hours, far longer than planned. TWC2 volunteers exchanged views with Mr. Tan and his phalanx of officials on a range of problems – from employment scams to bureaucratic kinks – that plague many migrant workers here. Both parties also agreed to strengthen collaboration between government with civil society on migrant-worker issues.

Russell, together with executive committee members Alex Au and Debbie Fordyce, led the sharing session, with contributions from others including social worker Kenneth Soh, and two migrant workers (Amran and Rashid) who described the difficulties they were in. The latter two told of their salary claims, workplace injury and accommodation issues faced not only by them but by many other workers. TWC2 volunteers also put forth policy alternatives that would go some way to addressing problems systemically.

The minister and his team – comprising policy makers, operations officers and communications executives – were attentive and receptive, probing TWC2 volunteers on their concerns and seeking details on the workers’ cases. While acknowledging administrative shortfalls and TWC2’s concerns, ministry officials also offered clarifications and counterpoints on policies, as well as insights into their thinking on migrant workers’ rights.

Mr. Tan expressed his appreciation for the work of TWC2 and other civil society groups in supporting migrant workers who have fallen through cracks, and recommended more regular and timely communication between officials and civil society on individual workers’ cases and identification of broader industry problems.

The discussions, which subsequently migrated to Dibashram on Rowell Road, a drop-in centre run by Debbie Fordyce and Mr Mohsen, publisher of Banglar Kantha, also drew a small crowd of mostly migrant workers, keen to witness the historic meeting unfolding before them. They knew their troubled stories were being told, but on a more hopeful note, they also sensed that the proceedings could have a profound impact on their lives. Here was a sign that TWC2′s work was paying off and that the government’s pledge of concern and commitment was real.

More photos from the visit: here

Saturday, November 5, 2011

“We pursue everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” – Freedom Award winner Dr Chee Soon Juan

Posted by theonlinecitizen on November 5, 2011 (source)

Dr Chee receiving the award from LI President Hans Van Baalen

A few years ago, after picking up his children from a well-to-do friend’s birthday party Dr Chee Soon Juan’s eldest child turned to him and asked if they were rich. It took him a while before he answered, “Yes we are rich and you know why? Because we have you.”

Dr Chee, who is also Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) shared this story towards the end of his acceptance speech after being awarded the Prize of Freedom 2011 by The Liberal International (LI) on 3rd November 2011. Past recipients include Sam Rainsy of Cambodia, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. Dr Chee was given the award for his work in “tirelessly advocates for democracy in Singapore, engaging civil society and campaigning for democracy and the right to speak freely”, according to LI.

Speaking to a packed room comprising of members of the SDP, Presidential candidate (and former SDP member) Mr Tan Jee Say, representatives from LI as well as prominent members of Singapore’s civil society, Dr Chee drove home the point that the real riches that mattered most cannot be measured by material wealth, but “by the number of minds that we unfetter, the number of young lives that we give hope to and the number of the poor whom we empower.”

Unfortunately, the Singapore Government had adopted the worst that the West offers in terms of greed and exploitation but rejects the good that it espouses in the values of human rights and democracy, he said. These negative values fosters Singapore’s pursuit of riches, consumerism, and materialism, but have also made a society bankrupt in morality.

We pursue everything except that which makes life worthwhile,” he added.

Citing two examples on the non-reaction of Singapore – allowing the entry of Robert Mugabe and Burmese generals to shop, rest and recreation regardless of their merciless actions in their homeland, Dr Chee concluded that “as long as there is money to be made, nothing else quite matters, does it?”

However Dr Chee was quick to point out that the SDP is not opposed to wealth, but “wealth inequality.” Singapore’s widening income gap will harm the common good and create a highly polarized society. In order to demonstrate that egalitarianism is a more effective way to organise economic society, there is a need for a “national conversation on morality.”

The case for a more egalitarian system where the laws are not stacked in favour of the rich and where society is less economically polarised must be vigorously advocated,” he continued.

But in order to achieve that, Dr Chee said, people must be willing to speak out without fear of marginalization and being seen as confrontational or worse, destructive.

We have enough politicians in Singapore, what we need now are leaders,” he added.


Read the full transcripts of Dr Chee’s speech here.

More photos: here


A ceremony of reflection and hope (here)

"I long for the ultimate prize of freedom for Singaporeans" – Chee (here)


Friday, November 4, 2011

Singaporeans Believe in Bhutan

theonlinecitizen on November 4, 2011 (source)

Mr Passang Tshering, aka PaSsu, a Bhutanese blogger wrote a letter on his blog about 2 weeks ago to Minister for National Development Khaw Boon Wan regarding his speech in Parliament, where Mr Khaw responded to Workers’ Party’s Member of Parliament Sylvia Lim that Bhutan is not the last “Shangri-La on earth”
In his letter PaSsu said:

I am only surprised that you have spend “Most of your time” in Bhutan looking in the fields. I am amazed at your ability to figure out whether the people are happy or unhappy just by looking at them- O’ you even knew they were “worried about the next harvest”…But since you questioned the presence of happiness in Bhutan, let me answer by telling you few things that you overlooked when you visited my country. Those people you saw in the fields weren’t unhappy, if you have gone closer you would have heard them singing and enjoying the social lives, perhaps you won’t understand that. If you have spent a little longer time watching them, you would have seen and a woman with basket on her back and holding arms with several children coming with steaming food- we don’t have McDonald or KFC. Then everybody will sit down to eat their lunch, laughing and joking, feeding babies, for over an hour- you wouldn’t have had so much time to sit and watch I know, times means money in your country. But we have luxury of time. People don’t worry “about the next harvest and whether there would be buyers for their products.” In fact, we don’t do much commercial farming, we do most of them to keep with the tradition. And when the sun sets, doesn’t really matter what time, people leave for their homes where they have a large family waiting. Large family because we don’t chase away our children when they become 18 or children cast away their parents when they age.

We don’t need Health Insurance to survive, no have to go for Education Loan for educating our children. We don’t hang the drug users, we counsel them to hang on to their lives, we don’t have to have a job to survive, and when we fall sick even the furthest cousin comes to attend without having to update Facebook status…Bhutan may not be the Last Shangri-la but we are happy. (‘To Mr Khaw Boon Wan, what did your expect?’)

TOC got in touch with PaSsu and he gave us permission to reproduce his letter in full on TOC, but we decided that we will publish in full his response to Singaporeans who read and commented on his blog instead.

from PaSsu’s blog
Two weeks ago when Mr. Khaw made a conclusion about Bhutan I was disheartened. I thought he took away a wonderful friend from us because we count on Singapore when it comes to technological development. I knew his believes were his own yet I couldn’t deny that those words were spoken in the parliament. I just sat down and wrote a letter to him, fully aware that my words won’t make it anywhere near to him in this vast universe of information. After over ten normal days, suddenly my blog stats started shooting up like stop clock and comments came flooding in. At first it brought me immense joy and satisfaction as a blogger, my message made it through. When the hits shot over 45,000 I began to worry. What have I done?

I only wanted Mr.Khaw to know that we are happy and far beyond my intention it has gone viral, disturbing the minds of many Singaporeans. Many turned up to apologize on behalf of their minister and discussions were heated on many forums. In trying to convince him that we are happy I landed up making him unhappy, while I don’t regret my words I apologize for the unprecedented noise it made.

Our king and queen just visited Singapore and perhaps Singapore must have seen the very reflection of our simple happiness in the humility of our king . Over ninety positive Singaporean comments on my blog convinced me that they believe in Bhutan, that they believe in happiness, and that they are sorry about Mr. Khaw being cynical.

I am not used to so many comments on my blog therefore I am sorry I can’t reply to each one of you but I am very thankful that so many of you read my blog and took time out to leave your comments. I wish you happiness.

Thanks Kuenzang Thinley, for the wonderful Award.

By: PaSsu

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Teo Soh Lung: For Minister Teo Chee Hean (3)

by Teo Soh Lung on Tuesday, 01 November 2011 at 21:30
T.J.S. George in his book Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore[1] wrote :

“Almost any speech he (Lee Kuan Yew) made in the Assembly between 1955 and 1959 could go straight into the liberal democrat’s bedside bookshelf. The most celebrated of these – celebrated partly for the parliamentary thrust he displayed but mainly for the irony it was to provide in the years to come – was the repression-is-like-making-love speech of October 1956.. in which he deplored the arbitrary arrests of trade union and civil leaders. It was an outstanding example of the popular pose he struck in the years before power, and of the distance he was to travel in the years after. In other ways, too, it was an important landmark in Lee’s political career.

Examining how governments could fall all too easily into the habit of suppressing the liberty of the individual, Lee said:

`First the conscience is attacked by a sense of guilt. You attack only those whom your Special Branch can definitely say are communists. They have no proof except that X told Z who told Alpha who told Beta who told the Special Branch. Then you attack those whom your Special Branch say are actively sympathising with and helping the communists, although they are not communists themselves. Then you attack those whom your Special Branch say, although they are not communists or fellow travellers, yet, by their intransigent opposition to any collaboration with colonialism, they encourage the spirit of revolt and weaken constituted authority and thereby, according to the Special Branch, they are aiding the communists. Then finally, since you have gone that far, you attack all those who oppose you.

`… All you have to do is to dissolve organisations and societies and banish or detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil and quiet on the surface. Then an intimidated press – and some sections of the press here do not need intimidation because they have friendly owners – the press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done. Or if these things are referred to again, they are conveniently distorted, and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict.

`… But if we say we believe in democracy, if we say that the fabric of a democratic society is one which allows the free play of ideas, which avoids revolution by violence because revolution by peaceful methods of persuasion is allowed, then in the name of all the gods we have in this country, give that free play a chance to work within the constitutional framework.’”

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had got it all worked out. He knew the path he was going to take when he assumed power in 1959. He was not going to give free play of ideas “a chance to work within the constitutional framework” that he articulated when he was in opposition. He had seen how the British used the Emergency Regulations and the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance. He knew the usefulness of indefinite detention without trial.

Conspiring with the Tunku and the British, Operation Cold Store was launched that dawn of 2 February 1963. Following that, waves of arrests continued throughout the 60s and the 70s. In the 80s, there was hardly anyone left to challenge his government. Yet he deemed it necessary to pass on his expertise to his successors, Mr Goh Chok Tong and his colleagues. How he explained the arrests of the alleged Marxists or “do-gooders” was interesting. He was perhaps not as agile as in the 60s but those arrested in the 80s and the Catholic Church needed no knuckleduster treatment to be driven to silence.

Minister Teo Chee Hean entered politics in December 1992. By then, all the alleged Marxists had been released, albeit subject to restrictions. Teo became a full fledged minister in 1995. After 9/11, he was involved in the decision to arrest alleged Muslim terrorists, some 80 of them. As Minister for Home Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister I do not know if he and his colleagues have chosen or will choose the path taken by Lee.

[1] T.J.S George, Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, Andre Deutsch Limited, 1975, pp 111-112