Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ex-detainees call for abolition of ISA

From Function 8

On 1 November 2010, Function 8 submitted a report to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights calling on the Singapore Government to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows indefinite detention without trial. The submission was made to the first Universal Periodic Review of Singapore’s human rights record before the Working Group comprising Spain, Bahrain and Djibouti on 6 May 2011 in Geneva. (About UPR, please see attached)

On 14 February 2011, former ISA detainees, Dr Lim Hock Siew, Said Zahari, Dr Poh Soo Kai, Dr G Raman, Ong Bock Chuan, Koh Kay Yew, Teo Soh Lung, William Yap Hon Ngian, Low Yit Leng, Tan Tee Seng, Vincent Cheng Kim Chuan and Wong Souk Yee issued the following statement in support of the submission.


Submission on the Internal Security Act by Function 8

A Recommendation

We support the report to the 11th session of the Universal Periodic Review for the abolition of Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) which allows indefinite detention without trial.

B Why abolish the ISA?

The ISA began its life as the Emergency Regulations in 1948 when Singapore was a British colony. The British used the Regulations to imprison opponents to its rule and trade unionists who fought for the rights of workers. In 1955, the Emergency Regulations were passed into law with the enactment of the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO). When Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963, the Federation of Malaya’s Internal Security Act 1960 became part of our law. Singapore left Malaysia in 1965 but this law with modification continue to be in force. In 1989, the ISA was amended to oust judicial review.

The PAP came into power in 1959 on the election promise to release all political prisoners imprisoned without trial. It reneged on that promise. Many who were detained by the British in the 1950s were not released.

The first major arrests carried out by the PAP with the support of the Internal Security Council were in 1963. At least 151 people were arrested and imprisoned without trial for decades. Among those arrested were prominent members of the opposition like Dr Lim Hock Siew (imprisoned for 20 years), trade unionists, doctors, lawyers, journalists, university graduates and undergraduates. They formed the cream of society. With their arrest, opposition to the PAP was snuffed out.

Arrests and imprisonment under the ISA did not stop after 1963. In the name of national security, several hundred more were arrested by the PAP. They were labelled “Communists, pro-Communists, Euro-Communists, Marxists and terrorists” and included opposition members of parliament like Chia Thye Poh who was detained for 32 years. The systematic and frequent waves of arrests resulted in the closure of the prestigious Nanyang University, the Chinese language university built with the donations of people from all walks of life, from rich tycoons to hawkers, trishaw pullers, students and several news dailies. The arrests also wiped out civil society voices. Singaporeans lost their fundamental rights to free speech and assembly and the exercise of these rights has worsened to this day.

Throughout its 52-year rule, the PAP government has evoked the ISA with consistent regularity. The table below lists the ISA arrests recently compiled from newspaper reports and information obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs website. We believe arrests are under-reported as people who were detained without being served with detention orders were not reported and there is no freedom of the press in Singapore. In a speech given by C V Devan Nair, PAP representative to Socialist International reported in The Straits Times of 2 June 1976, detention orders were served on a total of 661 persons between 1960 and 1976. The figure for those arrested but not served with detention orders was not disclosed. The Straits Times of 22 January 1999 reported Minister for Home Affairs, Wong Kan Seng as having said in parliament that since 1965, 591 people had been detained under the ISA.

ISA Arrests

Year Number arrested and detained
1959 The PAP failed to keep to their pre-election promise to release all political prisoners.
1960 2 journalists of Tiger Press had their detention orders renewed.
1963 Operation Coldstore[1]: At least 151 people including prominent members of the opposition, trade unionists, doctors, lawyers, journalists, graduates and undergraduates of Nanyang University.
1964 52 undergraduates of Nanyang University.
1965 More than 22 undergraduates of Nanyang University and trade unionists.
1966 More than 30 opposition members and members of parliament like MP Chia Thye Poh who was detained for 32 years, 5 years longer than Nelson Mandela.
1970 At least 56 Opposition Barisan Sosialis members and officials.
1971 9 people, including editor-in-chief, manager, editorial writer and public relations officer of Nanyang Siang Pau, a Chinese daily.
1973 Lee Eu Seng, Managing Director of Nanyang Siang Pau.
1974 30 people, including T.T.Rajah, lawyer for many detainees.
1975 6 alleged members of Mao Tse-Tung Thought League or the Tung League.
1976 About 50 people, including Singapore Polytechnic student leaders and theatre practitioners.
1977 50 people[2], including lawyers, doctors, journalists, teachers and unknown numbers of students.
1979 2[3] people.
1987 4 Muslims.
1987 Operation Spectrum[4]: 22 people including lawyers, theatre practitioners, church workers, students, businessmen, senior media executives, journalists and engineers.
1988 8 recently-released detainees from Operation Spectrum and 2 of their defence counsel, Francis Seow and Patrick Seong.
1997 2 people.
1998 4 people.
1999 6 people alleged to have committed espionage.
2001 15 Muslims alleged to have links with Al-Qaeda[5]
2002 23 Muslims
2003 18 Muslims
2004 1 Muslim
2005 3 Muslims
2006 4 Muslims
2007 5 Muslims
2008 1 Muslim
2009 2 Muslims
2010 4 Muslims

C Impact of ISA detentions:

  • Elimination of political opponents and activists, resulting in the absence of critical voices and a robust civil society, creating a fear of political participation thereby concentrating power in the PAP with no effective checks and balances in parliament.
  • With parliament reduced to a rubber-stamp, the PAP government has an unbridled license to make any law to curb fundamental freedoms such as the absurd Public Order Act 2009 which defines illegal assembly to include a one-person public protest.[1]
  • Detention without trial under the ISA is an affront to the Rule of Law and the basic right of citizens to a fair trial. The ISA prohibits judicial review. The ISA continues to be a real threat to political participation of members of civil society, human rights defenders and opposition political parties as its continued presence in the statute book and its use effectively eliminates all forms of dissent, free speech and association and assembly of citizens.
  • The ISA has robbed citizens of the right to demand transparency and accountability of the PAP government and to shape the direction of the future of democracy in the country.

We call for the abolition of the ISA.


Dr Lim Hock Siew (detained from February 1963 to September 1982 – Operation Coldstore)
Said Zahari (detained from February 1963 to August 1979 – Operation Coldstore)
Dr Poh Soo Kai (detained from February 1963 to December 1973 – Operation Coldstore and from June 1976 to August 1982)
Dr G Raman, Ong Bock Chuan and Koh Kay Yew (all detained in 1977)
Teo Soh Lung, William Yap Hon Ngian, Low Yit Leng, Tan Tee Seng, Vincent Cheng Kim Chuan and Wong Souk Yee (all detained in 1987/1988 – Operation Spectrum)

Date: 14 February 2011

[1] Dr Lim Hock Siew at http://vimeo.com/13292596; Said Zahari. Dark Clouds at Dawn: A Political Memoir, Petaling Jaya: Insan 2001; The Long Nightmare: My 17 Years as a Political Prisoner, Petaling Jaya: Utusan Publications and Distributors Sdn Bhd, 2007; Poh Soo Kai, Tan Jing Quee and Koh Kay Yew eds: The Fajar Generation, Petaling Jaya: SIRD 2010.

[2] http://newspapers.nl.sg/ (The Straits Times, 1977)

[3] The Straits Times, 14 Feb 1980, Page 13 (http://newspapers.nl.sg)

[4] Teo Soh Lung. Beyond the Blue Gate: Recollections of a Political Prisoner, Petaling Jaya: SIRD 2010; Fong Hoe Fang ed: That We May Dream Again, Singapore: Ethos Books, 2009; Francis T. Seow. To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison (Yale Southeast Asia Studies Monograph Series, 1994); Tan Jing Quee, Teo Soh Lung and Koh Kay Yew eds. Our Thoughts Are Free: Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile, Singapore: Ethos Books 2009.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Former political prisoners joins opposition

Mr Fernandez and Mr Cheng were introduced at the SDP's anniversary dinner at Fort Canning last night. -- ST PHOTO: TERENCE TAN

Feb 20, 2011
Two ex-ISA detainees join SDP

By Tessa Wong

Former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees Michael Fernandez and Vincent Cheng have joined the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and may stand as party candidates in the upcoming general election.

The two new members were introduced at the party's anniversary dinner last night at Fort Canning.

Both men told The Sunday Times they would consider standing for election under the SDP banner if they were asked to by party leaders.

Mr Fernandez, 77, is a retired former unionist whose lawsuit against the Government for alleged torture during his detention from 1964 to 1973 was struck out last Friday.

He has another suit pending against the Government that alleges he was unlawfully detained for part of his detention.

He said he joined the party two months ago because he wanted to 'let more young people know about ex-detainees' experiences'.

He felt that his age and health would not affect his decision to run. 'I am still very healthy. As for age, Lee Kuan Yew is also very old, and he is still in Parliament.'

Mr Cheng, 64, is a former social worker who was detained in the late 1980s for being part of an alleged Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the Government. He joined the SDP shortly after speaking at its rally last November.

Both men are advocates for the abolition of the ISA, which the SDP has also called for. They said this issue would be part of their campaign platforms if they ran.

SDP chief Chee Soon Juan told reporters yesterday that the party is in the process of attracting new members. He declined to give figures on party membership, but he said that since the last election in 2006, the median age of party members has dropped from the mid-50s to the mid-30s.

Among the younger members are academic James Gomez and civil society activist Vincent Wijeysingha, both in their 40s and seen as potential election candidates.

Since joining the SDP last year, Dr Wijeysingha has become more prominent in the party, and is the key figure behind its recent Shadow Budget.

When asked if Dr Wijeysingha could be his successor, Dr Chee, who has been the SDP's secretary-general for 18 years, said: 'That would be a question that our party members would have to answer. He would have to convince party members that he should be in the leadership and would continue to lead this party.'

On leadership renewal, Dr Chee said he found the idea of grooming successors 'off-putting'.

He said he preferred that members with leadership qualities step up instead, and that party members would recognise talent and leadership.

He said the party was non-hierarchical. 'We include young members in our discussions and decision-making processes. So they learn, and when they learn, they build confidence, and they develop as leaders themselves.'
The SDP would field more young candidates in the next election and would unveil them once the electoral boundaries report comes out, he said.


Further readings :

23 years after Operation Spectrum : Ex-detainees recall mental and physical abuses

More ex-detainees speak out : Political violence and the abuse of the ISA in Singapore

The Scars of Detention by Michael Fernandez

Saturday, February 19, 2011

AWARE's EGM video rated M18, distribution suspended

MDA hits pause button on Aware's DVD of 2009 meeting

By Cassandra Chew

WOMEN'S advocacy group Aware's plan to distribute a set of DVDs of its dramatic extraordinary general meeting (EGM), held in May 2009, has hit a snag.

That was the EGM where Aware's old guard ousted a group of newcomers who had wrested control of the association.

The Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has not been able to distribute the DVDs, as it is appealing against a requirement that it needs a government licence to do so.

Aware has been corresponding with the Media Development Authority (MDA) on the matter.

The MDA has, in the meantime, given the DVD an M18 rating - meaning it should be seen only by those aged 18 and above.

Aware planned to sell the four-disc DVD box set of the EGM only to its 600 members, as an official record of the event.

But its executive director Corinna Lim, 45, said an MDA official contacted her 'a few days' after news of the $100-per-set DVDs broke last October, to ask if Aware had a distribution licence.

Ms Lim, a former corporate lawyer, said Aware has appealed against the need for one. She argued that the licensing requirement applies to businesses, not non-profit organisations.

Section 6 of the Films Act states that a person must have a valid licence in order to 'carry on any business, whether or not the business is carried on for profit, of importing, making, distributing or exhibiting films'.

Nearly 3,000 people attended Aware's eight-hour EGM in 2009. The meeting at Suntec convention centre was documented by an event management firm.

Aware has received 'fewer than 100 orders' for the DVDs, and has not distributed any to its members, said Ms Lim.

'I really take the view that we are not obliged to have a licence, and if they make us have a licence, they would be setting a terrible precedent for Singapore.

'That means any organisation that wants to distribute to your shareholders or just your members would need a licence.'

She noted that recordings of the EGM were online, such as on video-sharing site YouTube.

But MDA director of customer services and operations Pam Hu told The Straits Times yesterday that the MDA has required some religious and arts groups - and not just businesses - to possess the distribution licence.

Ms Hu added, however, that the MDA is reviewing Aware's appeal and would notify the group of the outcome shortly.

On the M18 rating, she said this is because the DVDs 'feature discussion of homosexuality and Aware's sexuality programme, which stirs up strong emotion among the members'.

'This contributed to the M18 rating as it requires maturity to understand the issues discussed and not be carried away by the emotive passion of the meeting.'

Observers were divided on how to interpret the law.

Singapore Management University assistant law professor Eugene Tan said the language of the law does not limit its reach and thus could apply to Aware.

But Professor Ang Peng Hwa, of Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, said Aware should not need a licence as it does not distribute films in its normal course of work.

'If it needs to have a licence, that means any company that does a corporate video will also need (one). MDA will be flooded with licensing (applications),' he said.

Ex-ISA detainee's suits thrown out

He started legal action against Govt for alleged torture, unlawful detention

By Tessa Wong

A LAWSUIT brought against the Government by a former detainee for alleged torture was thrown out of court, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) told The Straits Times yesterday.

Also struck out by the High Court was a related suit claiming unlawful detention.

The lawsuits were brought by Mr Michael Fernandez, 77, a leftist unionist who was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) from 1964 to 1973.

He initiated legal action last December, naming the Attorney-General, the legal representative of the Government, as the defendant.

This was followed a month later by a second suit claiming that a portion of his detention was unlawful.

The AGC applied to strike out the cases, arguing that they disclosed no reasonable cause, and were frivolous and vexatious and an abuse of court process.

Mr Fernandez was a trade unionist who, among other things, led a month-long strike involving 11,000 workers in October 1963. He was detained under the ISA the following year.

The Government accused him of being a member of the Communist United Front. He has denied the accusation, saying he was only a workers' rights activist.

In his writ, he alleged that during his detention, he was force-fed, manhandled, deprived of sleep, and made to live in conditions that were 'not humanely habitable', among other things. He claimed unspecified damages.

He filed a similar lawsuit against the Malaysian government, which is still pending. At the time of his arrest in September 1964, Singapore was part of Malaysia. Singapore left Malaysia in August 1965.


Read : More ex-detainees speak out : Political violence and the abuse of the ISA in Singapore

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dr Lim Hock Siew sues NLB and book publisher

Lim Hock Siew sues four parties over book
Offending words tarnished my reputation, says ex-political detainee
By Cai Haoxiang

FORMER political detainee Lim Hock Siew, 80, is suing four parties for defamation over a news item in a book, Chronicle Of Singapore: Fifty Years Of Headline News (1959-2009).

He is claiming damages and a court injunction to stop the defendants repeating the words in the particular item. The book recounts Singapore's history through summary reports from newspapers and news magazines.

The four being sued are book publisher Editions Didier Millet (EDM), the National Library Board (NLB), book editor-in- chief Peter Lim, and printer Tien Wah Press.

Dr Lim was a political activist first with the People's Action Party and then with the opposition Barisan Sosialis.

In 1963, he was arrested and detained without trial for nearly 20 years before his release in 1982.

Dr Lim is taking issue with a news item on page 77, headlined 'Lim Chin Siong hurt in prison fight'.

The item, culled from newspapers, said Dr Lim and his supporters were in a fight at Changi Prison with fellow detainee Barisan Sosialis secretary-general Lim Chin Siong and his supporters.

Details of the fight and a reported injury to Mr Lim were first published in 1965 in The Straits Times and in the Chinese daily Sin Chew Jit Poh.

But in 1966, the newspapers - in court hearings on libel suits against them by Dr Lim and Mr Lim - settled the cases with the payment of a sum of money.

In statements read out in court at the time, their lawyers confirmed there was no truth in the allegations about Dr Lim and Mr Lim that appeared in the articles.

The article was based on information from an outside source which was believed at the time to be reliable and genuine, but subsequently found to be false, the lawyers added.

The lawyer for The Straits Times noted the newspaper took the earliest opportunity to print a correction and apology.

In the case of Dr Lim and Mr Lim, The Straits Times admitted to publishing the words complained about, but denied that these defamed the two men.

Sin Chew admitted defaming Dr Lim and paid $7,000 in damages. It did not admit defaming Mr Lim but paid him an undisclosed sum.

In the suit Dr Lim filed this month, he cited various articles in 1966 and said these made clear 'there was no truth in the report that there was a fight'.

The news item Dr Lim complained about appeared in both the first edition of the book in 2009, and in a reprint last year. EDM published the book in association with the NLB.

Mr Peter Lim, a former editor-in-chief of Singapore Press Holdings' English and Malay newspapers, oversaw the book's editorial team.

Dr Lim, represented by lawyer R. Joethy, said in his writ of summons filed on Feb 10 that, because of 'widespread publication' of the offending words, his reputation has been 'seriously' tarnished and that he has 'suffered considerable hurt, distress and embarrassment'.

Dr Lim issued letters to the defendants last December demanding a withdrawal of the offending words, an adequate apology, as well as damages and costs.

The writ said that EDM, through its lawyers, offered an apology on Jan 31, but in terms unacceptable to Dr Lim. The other defendants had not complied with his demands.

An NLB spokesman said yesterday the matter was in the hands of its lawyers. Mr Peter Lim and EDM declined comment while Tien Wah Press did not respond to queries.


Below is an earlier exchange of letters, published in the Straits Times forum page, between Lim Chin Joo and the publisher.


Jan 21, 2011

Book publisher's reply raises more questions

PUBLISHER Editions Didier Millet took sole responsibility in general manager Charles Orwin's reply ('NLB didn't perpetuate any falsehood, says publisher'; Monday) to my letter about an error in a book his firm 'co-published' with the National Library Board ('Chin Siong story in book was admitted to be false in 1966'; Dec 31).

But Editions Didier Millet's (EDM) reply about the book, Chronicle of Singapore: Fifty Years Of Headline News (1959-2009), raises further questions such as:

Was it appropriate for a national institution such as the National Library Board (NLB) to agree to lend credibility to a privately undertaken publication by having itself acknowledged as a partner and co-publisher when, as EDM now says, it was not?

Does a national institution, by allowing itself to be identified as a co-publisher of a privately undertaken publication, associate itself with the accuracy of the contents?

As my letter stated, the book carries a news item which was established to be false in 1966.

I have urged, as a matter of public interest, that falsehoods should not be perpetuated as part of our history.

These were the pertinent matters raised that should have been swiftly and appropriately addressed.

Lim Chin Joo


Jan 17, 2011

NLB didn't perpetuate any falsehood, says publisher

MR LIM Chin Joo's letter ('Chin Siong story in book was admitted to be false in 1966'; Dec 31) incorrectly suggests that the National Library Board (NLB) failed in its duty to the public by allowing falsehoods to be perpetuated.

Mr Lim's suggestion is based on the mistaken belief that the book, Chronicle Of Singapore: Fifty Years Of Headline News (1959-2009), was co-published by the NLB. It was not. The book was published solely by Editions Didier Millet.

EDM had earlier published similar books in Thailand and Malaysia and came up with the idea of having one for Singapore. To enable us to obtain material for the book, we requested NLB permission to access its library materials. The NLB kindly agreed.

Once access was granted, we researched and selected stories for inclusion in the book, including the item which Mr Lim had raised. After the selection, we completely rewrote the materials. We were also wholly responsible for the conceptualisation, design and production work of the book.

In the circumstances, the NLB did not co-publish, much less perpetuate any alleged falsehood.

Far from failing to discharge its duties, in granting us access, the NLB was in fact complying with its duty under the National Library Board Act to provide a repository for library materials, including newspapers, to facilitate access to such materials.

In the book, we acknowledge the NLB as co-publisher, not to suggest that it had any role in publishing the book, but to thank it for its assistance in granting us access to the materials.

Charles Orwin
General Manager
Editions Didier Millet


Dec 31, 2010

Chin Siong story in book was admitted to be false in 1966

THE book, 1959-2009 Chronicle Of Singapore, Fifty Years Of Headline News, carries a report published in The Straits Times on Nov 22, 1965 ('Chin Siong: Hurt in free-for-all'). This story, which claimed that my late brother Lim Chin Siong had been involved in a fight in prison, was established to be false back in 1966 itself.

My brother had sued the paper for libel and the lawyer for Straits Times Press (Malaya) had acknowledged that 'there is in fact no truth' in the allegations made against my brother in the report (''Free for all' libel action by Chin Siong is settled'; May27, 1966).

The paper had also printed a correction and apology, and 'paid into court a sum of money in satisfaction of the plaintiff's claim in this action without admission of liability'.

The book is a collaborative effort by Editions Didier Millet and the National Library Board. It is difficult to understand how a story that had been acknowledged to be false escaped detection despite all the corrective proof-reading such a major collaborative effort involving a national institution would have entailed.

As a key custodian of published national history, the National Library Board owes members of the public a duty not to let falsehoods be perpetuated as part of history.

Lim Chin Joo