Friday, January 23, 2015

PAP's Governance is akin to Mafia Rule : JB Jeyaretnam (1999)

Make lt Right For Singapore
by JB Jeyaretnam, 1999 


At the sitting of Parliament on the 24 Nov 1999, I spoke by way of a motion on the RULE of LAW. The government pays lip service to the rule.

Ministers speak time and time again of Singapore's adherence to the RULE of LAW.

Yet we have on our statute books the most flagrant violation of the RULE - empowering the government to imprison a subject without first prosecuting him in a court of law — allowing the court to decide whether the subject should be imprisoned for an offence known to the law. This is not the only instance of the violation of the RULE.

In 1987 a delegation from the New York Bar came to make a study on how far the RULE obtained in Singapore. The government had detained 22 persons on suspicion of being a danger to the security of Singapore. The delegation in its report said the RULE had been reduced to mere symbolism.

There can be no democracy in a country where the RULE of LAW does not obtain — where the Ministers and law enforcement officers do not act under law. As I said in my speech such conduct is more akin to mafia rule rather than the RULE of LAW. Democracy if it means anything means that citizens live their lives under the certainty that they can only be punished for a breach of the law found against them by a court of law. Democracy also demands that everyone should be equal before the law. The Prime Minister of
the country and the dustman are equally entitled to the same rights and protection and under the same duties.

The Ministers appear to confuse the RULE of LAW as meaning RULE BY LAW. RULE BY LAW may validate the Internal Security Act because it has been passed by Parliament but the Act violates the requirement of natural justice - a vital component of LAW even though‘ unwritten. Natural justice was part of the common law which was imported into Singapore in the middle of the last century under the Charter given to the East India company. A dictator governs by decree which serves as LAW in the country and consequently validates the exercise of arbitrary power which has no place in a truly democratic society.

So law is not just the Acts passed by Parliament but the fundamental rules of natural justice that have been accepted and become part, and parcel of the common law and which, as they say, and which I have been saying, was the law in Singapore in operation before that. I was talking about the misconception in the minds of our Ministers. And it comes to my mind that sometime in the 1980s when l was in this House, there was a debate on the Internal Security Act. I said then that the provisions in the Act providing for detention of persons under an order of the Minister was a blatant negation of the Rule of Law. I said there was no question about it, because it blatantly disregarded the fundamental rules of natural justice. The then Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Chua Sian Chin, in replying asked: ‘'15 the Member trying to say that the lnternal Security Act is not law‘? lt was not passed properly"'There you have the misconception.

Even an Act of Parliament can violate the Rule of Law. It can violate the Constitution and that is specially provided by the Constitution which says that any Act which is inconsistent or contrary to the Articles of the Constitution shall to that extent be void. And further by Article 162, it enjoins the Government and the courts to modify, alter and interpret Articles in any law so as to comply with the Articles in the Constitution, if that law seems to conflict with anything in the Constitution. So it is no answer to say, "Oh, we have the law, and that is it”. The question is whether the law itself violates the Rule ofLaw as understood through the centuries. That is the main question»

I think I have said enough to try to define what we are talking about when we say the Ruie of Law is supreme and what is meant by the Rule of Law. I must now proceed without any further delay - I see time is running on — to list what I see to be the instances or examples of the violation of this fundamental principle of the Rule of Law in Singapore.

Mr Speaker, Sir, after i have listed them, I shall proceed to set out what I think the Government should do immediately, and then return back to this list of violations to try and explain how they vioiate the Rule of Law. The first on my iist of the examples of vioiation of the Ruie of Law is course, as has been asserted by us many a time, the arrest and detention of persons without trial purely on the arbitrary power invested, by Pariiament albeit, on the Minister. A person in Singapore can be detained without trial under the internal Security Act, under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act and also under the Misuse of Drugs Act, although some justification may be found for the detention under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The second is the arrest by police officers and other law enforcement officers without informing the subject of the charge. it is absolutely important under the Rule of Law that a person's liberty should not be deprived. He should not be deprived of his liberty, or in any way restrained unless he is first told of the law under which that can be done, and why it should be done. Also incidental to this is the searches - search of a person‘s house carried out by the poiice and other law enforcement agencies. There again a citizen is entitled toinsist that any search of his house be strictly in accordance with the law.

Thirdly, the denial of the right to counsel — denial of the right of arrested persons - to counsel and to visits from families for a period of time.

Fourthly, there is the denial of bail by the courts without adequate reasons. I am referring to the often heard request from police officers prosecuting to ask for a remand in Police custody when the accused is first produced in court. As I said once before, usually that request is granted without any inquiry, and l shall explain why it violates the Rule of Law. 

Then the one which we the Opposition have often raised — it is the fifth one — the denial of the freedom of speech and assembly. That violates the Rule of Law. And when I say about freedom of speech and assembly, of course, I am also referring to the freedom of the newspapers to publish — the freedom of the press. That is part and parcel of the freedom of speech. Sixthly, denial of reasons for executive decisions and shutting out appeals to the courts. As l shall say, now in almost every Act. one finds this denial of reasons for decisions and not allowing any recourse to the courts. Seventhly. the restrictions on the right to travel out of Singapore, the impounding of passports without an order of court. When I come to illustrate, I shall, of course, refer to the case of Mdm Teo Siew Har whose passport was detained for several months for no reason at all under the law.

Then we have the eighth on the list - the power given to the Housing and Development Board to throw out lesees or tenants without having to take them to court. That is, if ever there was one, clear violation the person's rights and the Rule of Law. Then we also have have the suspension and cancellation of people's licences by executive officials, and l have in mind,  of course, the licences of taxi drivers, without a proper judiciary enquiry.

So you have in Singapore an abundance of power exercised by the executive through its officials which offend the Rule of Law. That is the first limb - that no one shall be deprived of anything, except under the law. Now, if I may come to the second limb, the equality of all persons under the law, and as Prof Dicey says - from the the Prime Minister down to the constable they are equal before the law. The Prime Minister is not more equal than a postman or a collector of rubbish. 

And under this, I have about four heads, and that is, the blatant violations during election time by Government and Ministers to secure the victory of their party the ruling party, including intimidation of voters. There you have clearly the law not evenly applied as between one Party and another.

Then we have the disparate treatment of Opposition political parties in their applications for licences to hold their activities or conduct their programmes. I will explain that if we have the time.


It is like not seeing the wood but just simply seeing one or two trees there. But if you want to commend the Government for upholding the Rule of Law you have got to answer a number of questions and ask whether the Rule of Law has been observed in the situations that are being looked at.

Prof. Chin again raises. what was already said by Mr Simon Tay, that the laws are properly enacted, passed by Parliament and subsidiary legislation is made under the authority ofthe parent legislation. We all know that. But the point is, as the Privy Council pointed out in the judgment of Ong Ah Chuan that even an Act of Parliament may violate the Rule of Law if it is completely contrary to the rules of natural justice. Of course, Parliament, which is controlled almost entirely by Members of the Government party, can pass any law according to the Constitution.

Having more than a two-thirds majority the Constitution can be amended at any time. That is why it is absolutely essential in any democratic society that the ruling party should never have more than a two-thirds majority if the country is to have a stable democratic government. It follows without any explanation. Otherwise, it becomes a tyranny, a tyranny by the Party which controls Parliament. as we know the situation in Singapore.

From 1966 to l98l. it was an entirely PAP Parliament. There was no one from any other party in Parliament. So it was one party passing laws, yes. strictly following the Constitution, the procedure - but ignoring the fundamental rules of natural justice and claiming that they were abiding by the Rule of Law when they passed/any Bill. That it had been passed in accordance with the Constitution. That is not compliance with the Rule of Law as the Privy Council tried to point out.

After l98l. Parliament continued with a majority of PAP Members And this is the great drawback in Singapore and the one on which the PAP has capitalised. and that is. they go to any length to keep out any Opposition building up in Singapore. That in itself to me, is a flagrant violation of the Rule of Law. I will illustrate what l mean by making references to how elections are conducted.
Elections in Singapore are all one-sided. The field is not an even playing field. It will be idle to pretend that we have an even playing field in
Singapore when it comes to elections. I have said this before. In many countries. particularly in the Commonwealth countries, elections are the
responsibility of an independent body that is, the Elections Commission. Do we have an Elections Commission in Singapore? The Opposition parties, I remember. asked for it in the l970s. Have we got an Elections Commission? No. The elections are run as though it was a matter for the Government. and Government alone. It is run on the decree of the Prime Minister in whose Ministry the Elections Department is put.

So. where is the Rule of Law there to ensure equality to all parties to contest the elections’? Straightaway, you have a fundamental breach of the Rule of Law, when you. on your own. decide to re-draw boundaries just because an Oppoition Party has gained a foothold in one constituency. You decide you will bring it into a GRC, put it with other constituencies. This is done ad nauseam to ensure that the Opposition is kept out of Parliament. So, that is a glaring instance of a violation of the Rule of Law.

And then when it comes to the actual conduct of the elections, I am surprised that no attempt is made to try to answer what I have said in myspeech. I mentioned about the conduct of the Government Ministers during an election campaign. Have Members here forgotten how the Government won the constituency of Cheng San‘? The Parliamentary Elections Act has a provision which says that any elections won by intimidation or bribery of voters is illegal and can be set aside on an election petition.

What took place on lst January I997? The Prime Minister came to Cheng San, held a rally and he had only about 2,000 people in front of him and what did he  he say? Did he say. "You vote for the PAP. we are a better party. the Worrkers’ Party cannot be trusted?" That is all in the rules. What did he say to the voters? Please look it up. It was next day headlined in the Straits Times I will come to that. That was another violation of the Rule of Law. In the front page it said "PM to voters" -all or nothing". You vote for the Workers’ Party, you would not get anything. Even what you have in the way of any benefits will be taken away from you. But if you vote for us, you will have what you have got and you are going to get more. But if you vote for the Workers’ Party upgrading will cease, you may not get your MRT, trains will not stop here, you would not get your LRT, you would not get your new town, your children may not get good places in schools. lf that is not intimidation, I would like to know what is intimidation.

That was his threat, all or nothing. We referred this matter for an opinion to a Queen's Counsel in London and he said it was clearly an intimidation and in breach of the section under the Parliamentary Elections Act. PM told the voters that if they did not vote for the PAP, they were going to lose everything. But that is not all. On election day, when the law is that no one. other than the voters, the candidate and his agent, will be allowed into the polling centre, we had the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Ministers driving in, shaking hands with voters queuing up to vote, and going beyond that into the area where they were casting their votes, watching over them. That seemed to us to be a clear breach of the Parliamentary Elections Act which says that no one. other than the voters, the candidate and his agent will be allowed, besides of course the election officials and the police officers to keep order. If that is not a violation of the Rule of Law, what is it then?

May I also refer to the publication by the papers. The Straits Times carried it on their front page. I have no doubt that the Chinese newspapers also carried the same message on their front page. The New Paper thought that it would go better. It tabulated. for the benefit of the readers, what they would get and what they would not get, depending on their choice. Vote for the Workers’ Party. you would not get this, you would not get that, etc. The Parliamentary Elections Act says that on polling day itself. there shall be no campaigning, there shall be no intimidation. there shall be no forcing of voters and yet, the papers blatantly carried all these on polling day. Was any action taken against the papers? Is that a violation of the Rule of Law or not? And yet, we are asked to commend the Government for upholding the Rule of Law and ensuring that it is fully observed by all. I selected the elections because that is the starting point. the main foundation for ensuring that there is a democracy — a properly elected government ruling the country, a government elected by the people with complete freedom to chose their representatives without any fear, without
any constraint.

Did the Cheng San voters have that freedom? Will you please try and answer that? You have the Prime Minister, not the PAP official. You have the Prime Minister because he was already Prime Minister on nomination day. There was no question that he would be the Prime Minister. He went there and he said this. So what freedom ofc hoice did the Cheng San voters have? Let us be honest and ask this question. Here is the Prime Minister telling you, "I am going to withdraw everything from you." What is more. he told them. "If you vote for us you’ll have a hot line to me. You'll have a hot line to the two Deputy Prime Ministers." l have been telling some of the Cheng San voters, "Why did you not ring up the Prime Minister?‘

‘Ring him up and say. This is the hot line, Mr Prime Minister. Will you listen to me? And see what response you get".

The detention under the lnternal Security Act is not answered simply by saying that we may need it. It is justified. The question you have to answer is does it or does it not violate the Rule of Law? The rule, as I said, was propounded in the l3th century when the Barons said. "No one will be deprived of his liberty except by a lawful judgment of the court." is it or is it not a violation of the Rule Of Law." It is no answer to argue that it is necessary because you want to keep Singapore safe. If you want to keep Singapore safe. then shoot all criminals. Then perhaps people may not take to crime. Have summary trials. summary justice and then Singapore may be safe. But is that what we want in Singapore‘?

So we must look at the picture as a whole. Does detention without trial violate the Rule of Law‘? Do not just say that it keeps Singapore safe. we will not have any trouble if we keep the ISA. Let us be honest and say. "No. in Singapore. we do not uphold the Rule of Law. We don’t think the Rule of Law really is necessary for our society because we want to keep Singapore safe. So we are going to give our Ministers arbitrary power to keep Singapore safe." Then, at least, the world will know that we are being honest, that we are not interested in the Rule of Law. We have our own way doing things. But if you keep saying that we observe the Rule of Law. then you have got to ask the question, do we? And if you examine the record of this Government, certainly from 1965 onwards, you will find that this is a Government which, through its Ministers. through its civil servants. especially the law enforcement agencies violate the Rule of Law. l have mentioned the instances.

But as I said. you do not just look at one instance or two instances. l could go on and explain in detail. but I do not think I will have the time for that.

The way Police investigations are carried out violates the Rule of Law, not informing arrested persons of their right, denying them counsel once they are taken into custody for up to three weeks violates the Rule of Law. Yes, you can, of course, say it is necessary. Our police have to investigate. Our police have to stamp out crime. So we have got to give them these powers. Let us say we do not want the Rule of Law. For us, it is more important that ourofficers have the power to get criminals out of the society and, similarly, with other powers of the police.

The amendment ignores the realities in Singapore. It does not look at the situation in Singapore but seeks approval or approbation because ‘Singapore is such a good place‘. Everyone is happy. That is questionable. But it ignores the realities. We have the results. The means do not matter. But means are important. It is the means which will justify the end. not the end that justifies the means.

The other constant theme of Mr Simon Tay and even Prof. Chin is, "Go to the courts. go to the courts." But that is to miss the whole point of the argument. Does Mr Simon Tay know that with the amendment to the Internal Security Act. the courts are now precluded from inquiring into the merits of the detention‘?

Mr Simon Tay: May I clarify?

Mr Jeyaretnam: Do that afterwards. This happened after the Court of Appeal in 1989 decided it would no longer follow its past.

Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Mr Jeyaretnam, you have used up your 30 minutes.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Video : Former ISA detainees describe prison conditions

Two former political prisoners, Tan Jing Quee and Michael Fernandez, recall their experiences of detention without trial under the ISA. Held in 2006 at the Esplanade, the talk marked the first time in post-independence Singapore that ISA detainees spoke in public about their detention. Tan Jing Quee passed away in 2011.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"A life without idealism & convictions is a mere meaningless existence"

Add caption

by Teo Soh Lung

“Now some of you may have heard that when you are young you are idealistic, when you're old you are realistic. Now this is the kind of rubbish that is used by those who have either lost their ideals or have sold their ideals for self-interests. Age should not wither one's ideals or convictions. 
If anything, it should only consolidate and make it more resolute. If age has anything to do with it, it is only by way of expression and application of these ideals and convictions having the benefit of a youthful experience. And a life without convictions, without idealism, is a mere meaningless existence, and I'm sure most of you will agree that as human beings, we are worthy of a life much more meaningful than just that.”  
- Dr Lim Hock Siew at the launch of Fajar Generation on 14 Nov 2009.

Dr Lim Hock Siew was a friend of former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew. A brilliant orator, talented artist and true socialist, he was about 9 years younger than Lee. He helped Lee found the PAP in 1954 and assisted in the drafting of the constitution for the party. In 1961, Lee did not renew his membership with the party. Together with others who had been either expelled from the party or left because of ideological differences, Dr Lim founded the Barisan Sosialis.

On 2 Feb 1963, just a few months before the general election, Dr Lim together with almost the entire central executive committee of the Barisan were arrested under the ISA. Codenamed Operation Coldstore, a total of not less than 133 people were arrested and imprisoned for an inordinate period of time, many exceeding 10 years. At the time of arrest, Dr Lim’s son was only five months old. An idealist and a principled man, Dr Lim remained in prison for 20 years. He refused to give Lee the satisfaction of any signed statement. Lee himself could have released Dr Lim at any time by imposing conditions for his release without having to obtain his signature. He did not do so and I can only conclude that it was fear that Dr Lim could revive opposition politics in Singapore that would endanger the survival of the PAP that caused Lee to exert such cruelty on his erstwhile friend who had contributed hugely to his party.

Incidentally, 20 years is more than a sentence for life imprisonment for a convicted criminal. A life sentence with its usual one third remission for good behaviour is 14 years.

Ex-political prisoner speaks out in Singapore (Banned in Singapore)
Ex-ISA detainee issues challenge to Dr Tony Tan
Dr Lim Hock Siew : A Singaporean Patriot
Tributes to Dr Lim Hock Siew
Dr Lim Hock Siew Speaks from Singapore Prison (Date - 18.3.1972)

"Mr President, I urge you to seek the truth about Operation Coldstore and Battle for Merger"

Mr President, I urge you to seek the truth about Operation Coldstore and Battle for Merger during your State visit in the UK
The President (
cc Prime Minister (

Dear President,

Early this year, I responded to your challenge issued during the 2011 Presidential Election TOC TV Forum that "one must be able to back up" "the very serious charge" that "the Internal Security Act had been used for political purposes".

In my response [link], I referred to recently declassified British Government documents relating to Operation Coldstore which revealed that Lord Selkirk, the UK Commissioner to Singapore at that time, reported to Duncan Sandys, secretary of state for the colonies, that 'there is no important new evidence of subversive activity on which arrests at this juncture can be justified. We could not substantiate a charge that they are planning to use violence. In the absence of specific evidence of subversion the arrests would be construed as an attempt by HMG to stifle legitimate opposition.' (Geoff Wade)

Independent check of archives in London

As I have produced before you the evidence that you asked for, Singaporeans expected you to follow up on it. More than 8 months have passed, but you have neither replied my letter nor shown any interest or follow-up action to verify the evidence. Perhaps the declassified papers were too far away from Singapore but now that you are in London on a State visit, physical distance is not an issue. The documents are kept at the British National Archives in Kew, London which is about 8 miles or a short drive of 15-20 minutes, from Buckingham Palace where you are currently staying. You can of course spend as much time as you want to go through the papers and satisfy yourself of their authenticity and accuracy. If this short journey or research work is too arduous for you to undertake, you can always request Her Majesty's Government to arrange for their intelligence officers to brief you. I am sure the HMG as gracious host, will be happy to oblige.

Your independent verification of the evidence is particularly important at this juncture in view of 2 recent events :

1. In disallowing the film "To Singapore, With Love" from public screening or distribution in Singapore, a documentary about political exiles who fled from Singapore, the Government has alleged that it contains "untruths and deceptions", designed to "whitewash their past actions" as " Communist Party of Malaya members and Communist United Front sympathisers" and

2. The Government has launched a reprint of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's radio broadcasts on The Battle For Merger of 1961 " 'to provide a reality check' to attempts by some historians to recast the role played by communists and their supporters on the issue" (Straits Times, 10 Oct 2014).

Truth about the Merger

Singaporean historian Dr Thum Pingtjin, a Rhodes Scholar and Commonwealth Scholar educated at both Oxford and Harvard, has written about events leading to the battle for Merger in ARI Working Paper No. 211 'The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger': Singapore's "Progressive Left", Operation Coldstore, and the Creation of Malaysia.

Citing the declassified British Government documents, he made the following points :

1." ....Lee engineered a 'Hobson's choice' (in the Merger Referendum) : he ensured that all alternatives to the PAP option were repugnant, leaving the public with no real choice. The British called this 'a dishonest manoeuvre' and the Tunku 'a dirty game' ....", 
2. "... Under Lee's direction, Singapore Special Branch produced a paper describing an extensive communist conspiracy in Singapore, directed from the underground by the CPM and led in the open by Barisan politicians as part of a Communist "United Front". The Security Liaison Officer (SLO), Maurice Williams, tore apart the paper, noting numerous major deficiencies. Firstly, ' ín spite of intensive investigations, no evidence has been obtained' of a conspiracy, and that the paper's conclusions were entirely 'surmise'. Secondly, sharing the goal of Singapore's independence with the Communists did not make someone a Communist sympathiser. Thirdly, it was ínconceivable that Secret Branch investigations would have failed to yield any evidence of such control and direction' of a conspiracy of such massive breadth and scale. "Finally, the label Communist "United Front" was so broadly applied that it referred to anyone unhappy with the government. Thus, he concluded, 'The developments since August 1961 outlined in the paper do NOT support this conclusion' stated in the Special Branch paper, and strongly advised against repression.

"Unable to proceed with arrests, the Federation and Singapore governments sought to provoke the Barisan into unconstitutional action on their own. A campaign of harassment against newspapers, publications, trade unions, and opposition politicians commenced.
"Meanwhile, Lee sought to go over Selkirk and appeal directly to his superiors in London. But when he met British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in May 1962, Lee was forced to admit under close questioning that the Barisan leaders were merely 'stooges' and not leading Communists, and that the trade unions were no more communist than the Electrical Trades Union in Britain - i.e., not controlled by communists and functioning chiefly as a left-wing pressure group.111 .........."

Dr Thum's research paper, dated November 2013, can be accessed by clicking over this[link].

Seek truth

Mr President, the Government is now disputing the accounts of historians even though they quoted, from official British Government documents, the professional judgement of British Special Branch officers that those arrested were not communists or communist united front sympathisers but merely leftwing politicians and trade unionists opposed to the PAP. It is important that this fundamental matter be resolved as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our independence.

Mr President Sir, I urge you to get to the bottom of this issue, to seek and establish the truth by checking it out at the British National Archives in Kew, London during your present State visit in the United Kingdom. You owe it to the people of Singapore to do so particularly when you asked for evidence to prove that the ISA had been used for political purposes.

Yours sincerely,
Tan Jee Say

Ex-political prisoner speaks out in Singapore (Banned in Singapore)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Activists speak about their police interrogations

A police investigation is not something that most civil activists would look forward to. It is an annoyance and an intrusion. But given the State's liberal enforcement of our many illiberal laws, such a prospect can never be totally discounted.

In the wake of the police interrogation of Han Hui Hui, former lawyer and ISA detainee Teo Soh Lung had written a brief guide on what to do when one is summoned for police investigation.

Her views are further expanded here by other human rights advocates and filmmakers who had spent hours on the interrogatee's chair. Some were eventually prosecuted, others were not. Their experiences and advices offer snapshots on the extent of police powers in Singapore, and some methods by which activists can use to overcome their fear of isolation and prosecution.

Seelan Palay

Describe your role in civil society: Activist, Artist, Video/Filmmaker

Years active: From 2004 to present

How many police interrogations have you undergone? I believe 7-10

What were the nature of the investigations? Flyer distribution, assembly without permit, screening of political film

How did the police serve the notices? Hand delivered to my house

Total number of hours under interrogation? Each time is about an hour.

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes

How much fine did you pay? I did not pay the fine

How many days of prison time did you undergo? 12 days

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line? 

Every single time they arrest and charge us for "illegal assembly and/or procession", especially the way they surrounded and forcefully arrested us during our Tak Boleh Tahan march from Parliament House.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work? 

I answered almost every question by citing that I was only excercising my constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly. I believe this is a good way to answer and remind people/authorities about those rights, and to avoid any incrimination through the questions that the police ask you. 

Chong Kai Xiong

Describe your role in civil society: Not sure what to write here

Years active: from end 2006 to present

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 
5 in total in connection to the following events:
- 10 Dec 2006 Human Rights Day Walk,
- 16 Sep 2007 IMF/WB anniversary walk,
- 15 March 2008 TBT rally/walk from Parliament House (arrested)
- 9 August 2008 TBT National Day
- 12 Jan 2009 MOM Protest (arrested)

What were the nature of the investigations? Arrested twice. Questioned for participation in assembly or procession without permit for four times and once for “criminal trespassing”.

How did the police serve the notices? By registered mail and by coming to my doorstep.

Total number of hours under interrogation? 1 to 1.5 hours each time.

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes, thrice.

How much fine did you pay? Approximately $3500

How many days of prison time did you undergo?  None

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?

Arrested outside MOM for “criminal trespassing” even though I was standing on public pavement, shared with loads of pedestrians; obstruction of procession and forcible removal of placards during arrest (TBT protest) without proper reason given.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

- Meet with your peers and seek legal advice.
- Keep calm and firm and don't let anyone goad or guilt trip you. Know you have done nothing wrong and it is the police that has to justify their actions.
- Do not volunteer information for whatever reason. It will likely be used against you or your peers in court.
- Do not make self-incriminating statements, or statements implicating others.
- Refuse to answer where possible.
- Check through the printout of the recorded statement given by the investigation officer. Make sure your words have been accurately recorded.
- Ask for a copy of the statement; if the police refuses to hand you one, manually copy the questions and answers down.

Tian Jing

Years active: 2006-2010 

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 3 interviews

What were the nature of the investigations? Illegal Assembly without permit, illegal procession, attempted procession

How did the police serve the notices? Letter by hand
Total number of hours under interrogation? 30 minutes to 1 hour

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes, 1 charge

How much fine did you pay? $1000

How many days of prison time did you undergo? None

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

There is no need to answer anything in the investigation, there's no obligation. Just say no comments.

Rachel Zeng

Describe your role in civil society: I work on human rights issues and in recent years, I have been focusing on the campaign against the death penalty. I have also worked on issues pertaining to G8, (conducted a protest outside the Japanese embassy in 2008), ISA, Burma, freedom of speech and assembly, the atrocities in Sri Lankan, LGBT rights (as an ally), among others.

Years active: From 2008 to now.

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 2

What were the nature of the investigations?
Disributing flyers outside Liat Towers (on the case of Yong Vui Kong) and selling Once a Jolly Hangman during Freedom Film Festival at the Substation.

How did the police serve the notices?

For the first case, they sent the notice to me thrice - personally, by registered post, and via normal post. In the second case, the Investigating Officer (IO) came personally to my flat and served it to me in person - at about 7.15am in the morning.

Total number of hours under interrogation? First case - about an hour; second case - close to 2 hours.

Have you ever been formally charged? No.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?

I was told by the IO in the first investigation, "I am the one doing the questioning" when I repeatedly asked him why he was asking me certain questions which I felt were irrelevant. This might not be out of line, as he did try to maintain his cool but I just wanted to put this down anyway.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

Before investigation - read up on the particular act that you are investigated under, and identify which clauses you have violated, and which ones actually protect you. If you can, bring a copy of the act along for reference in case you need to challenge the IO. Always inform fellow activists that you will be investigated, and if possible, do not go alone. Also, if the stipulated date and time of the investigation is inconvenient for you, feel free to change it.

During the questioning - ask the IO if you will be able to get a copy of your signed statement, and if the answer is no, establish an agreement to take down notes of the questions and answers. If they aren't rude, be nice about it, but maintain the stand that you must have some sort of a record for your personal reference. During the questioning, keep your answers short and clear. If the questions are irrelevant, just say so. Just be frank, and don't need to lie, and be confident about your answers. Get out of it as soon as you can, and do bring a jacket if you are at Cantonment Police Complex.

Martyn See

Describe your role in civil society: Documentary filmmaker, blogger

Years active: From 2005 

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 6 interrogations

What were the nature of the investigations? 

Making of a political film 'Singapore Rebel' and organising a private indoor human rights forum featuring foreign MPs

How did the police serve the notices? Mostly by calls to my mobile phone, and once via registered mail.

Total number of hours under interrogation? About 11 hours over 6 sessions.

Have you ever been formally charged? No.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line? 

During the 'Singapore Rebel' investigations, my video camera was confiscated, but at no point did I surrender my mobile phone, so it came as a shock when friends informed me that they were called up by the police to attend questioning over my case. 

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work? 

Civil activists under investigation need to be mentally prepared. Other than M. Ravi, lawyers will not be forthcoming. Audio-visual recordings are prohibited in the interrogation room, although you can bring your mobile devices. When summoned, ascertain with the police the exact law under which you are being investigated. In the interrogation room, take your time to formulate replies but keep them short. Don't be afraid to answer "I don't know", "no comment" or "I don't remember". Bring a notepad. Officers tend to be professional and cordial in cases involving civil rights, but do avoid being lulled into providing unnecessary information.

Leslie Chew

Describe your role in civil society: Observer

Years active: from 2011 to 214

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 1

What were the nature of the investigations? Accused of sedition

How did the police serve the notices? No notice. Direct arrest and detained for around 44 hours before bail is allowed. Then forbidden to travel out of the country for 3 months while they take their own sweet time to decide that they have no ground to charge me for sedition.

Total number of hours under interrogation? Over 30 hours.

Have you ever been formally charged? Not for sedition.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?
Seizing all the computers and data storage devices in my parents' home including my elderly father's work computer "for investigation".

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

1. The police are not your friends.
2. Smile, keep clam and be friendly, but do not trust them one bit. No matter how friendly they pretend to be, they are not your friends.
3. Keep your answers short and sweet.
4. Do not volunteer any information. I repeat, they are not your friends.
5. Anything you say, even innocently, can and will be used against you. Once again, they are not your friends.
6. There is no coffee at Cantonment.
7. On the bright side, if arrested, it is a good opportunity to get any medical conditions you have treated for free.

Lynn Lee

Describe your role in civil society: Documentary filmmaker

Years active: From 2008.

How many police interrogations have you undergone? Two

What were the nature of the investigations? The Internal Affairs Officer (IAO) said they were investigating allegations of police brutality made by 2 SMRT bus drivers. I had interviewed the drivers and posted segments of the interviews online.

How did the police serve the notices? They came to my house. They also asked to confiscate my harddrive, computer, laptop and mobile phone.

Total number of hours under interrogation? 2 hours + 9 hours (parts of the second interview involved police taking apart my laptop and examining data in it; they also examined my mobile phone).

Have you ever been formally charged? No.

The AGC sent me a letter informing me that they had decided not to prosecute me, despite finding that I was in contempt of court. I had no idea when I was being questioned, that the IAO was investigating me for contempt. I had always thought they were investigating the SMRT drivers' allegations of police brutality.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line? 

The IAO said they were investigating the SMRT drivers' allegations of abuse. But they kept asking me lots of irrelevant questions about whether I championed any "causes". The police superintendent sent to confiscate my laptop and mobile phone was not from the IAO (which is supposed to work independently), but from Bedok branch. When I asked him to justify why it was necessary to take my things, he said I should just let them "seize first" and lodge a complaint later!

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work? 

Take notes. Write down all questions and answers. Write down the name and rank of the people questioning you. Bring a sweater, wear comfortable shoes and bring your own water. If you wear contact lenses, bring eyedrops and your glasses. I realised when I was being interviewed, that my eyes felt really dry after six or seven hours. Give short, truthful answers. Don't ramble. Take your time. If you feel that a question is irrelevant, say so and decline to answer. If you can't remember, say you can't remember. Read and re-read your statement before signing it. Don't be afraid to ask for amendments if something is wrong. Be polite but assertive. And finally, make sure some one you trust outside is monitoring the situation.

Jolovan Wham

Describe your role in civil society: Migrant workers' rights

Years active: 2004 to now

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 2
What were the nature of the investigations?  One for protesting without permit and one for organising a protest which foreigners participated

How did the police serve the notices?  First one they conducted the investigations on the protest site, 2nd one they called. 

Total number of hours under interrogation? Both were slightly over an hour

Have you ever been formally charged? No.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?  

For the first case, filming me without permission as we were being interviewed.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

Keep answers really short and to the point. I am not so seasoned in handling police but I refuse to sign the interview statement if I can't have a copy of it.

Describe your role in civil society: 

I did what needed to be done. I did not sign up with a volunteer corp of sorts so there was not any "assigned" roles but I was with sghumanrights, Free Burma Campaign Sg, SADPC and other occasional group actions.

How many police interrogations have you undergone? There are too many for me to recall at this moment.

What were the nature of the investigations?

To "assist investigation" on events like:  giving out flyers in public to raise awareness on issues, being in candlelight vigils, wearing a tshirt with a certain design, peaceful protest following the announcement to increase public transport and costs of utilities that would take place simultaneous with the increased salaries of the ministries.

How did the police serve the notices? Once by hand, at night. Others by mail, occasionally coupled with phone calls.

Total number of hours under interrogation? I cannot recall the exact number at the moment.

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes.

How much fine did you pay? I was billed $1,600 in one case. In another, it was $5,000. In the latter, it was technically defined as pay costs to the AGC (Attorney-General's Chambers) and not as fine.

How many days of prison time did you undergo? 7 days.

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line?

To agree or disagree is entirely human. To express sentiments peacefully is naturally human too, and these were most often made out of genuine concern. Getting into legal trouble for doing so is not characteristic of a society that proclaims to be democratic.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work?

1. Read the Constitution to understand your legal rights and the legal technicalities relevant to your situation. You would be surprised that most officers do not have knowledge about the Constitution.

2. Be firm but civil and courteous in interactions with the police. Be respectful (as you ought to fellow human beings) but firmly state your rights. Know what you stand for and remind the officer that you are not a criminal. However, if the officer is outright rude or threatening despite you being respectful, do not hesitate to lodge a complain.

3. Keep a record of what was said during the investigation. Bring a pen and paper to take down notes. You will be asked to counter-check and sign against your statement as typed in by the officer but the copy will not be given to you. Therefore, the notes you take down will be your own copy.

4. If you are being monitored and followed, try to verify and confirm that you are indeed being followed. If so, take pictures of the culprit as record. Inform others around you. Monitor and follow the culprit.

5. As in everything, always remember to pause and reflect. To fight systemic injustice is only half the battle, to grow as a better person is the other half. Always be motivated by love because it nourishes no matter what you have to go through. In this way, you win even when you lose. Never succumb to hate because it is blinding. The greatest tragedy is to embody the injustice you set out to stop.

Jaslyn Go
Describe your role in civil society: Civil activist, and now a member of SDP

Years active: From 2007

How many police interrogations have you undergone? 3 or 4 (can't remember)

What were the nature of the investigations? Illegal assembly, protest

How did the police serve the notices? 

First notice was served at almost 10pm when two male officers banged on my door very loudly. I reprimanded them and later lodged a formal complaint with the Investigating Officer (IO). Subsequently, letters were discreetly thrown into my house even though my door was open and I was at home at that time. After I did not respond to these notices, they were delivered via registered mail. 

Total number of hours under interrogation? Not more than 2 hours each time.

Have you ever been formally charged? Yes, twice.

How much fine did you pay? 

First charge was $900 for each offence - total $1,800 (for illegal assembly and protest). Second charge was $600 (for illegal assembly).

How many days of prison time did you undergo? None

Cite one aspect of your experience in which you feel the authorities were out-of-line? 

During the interview at the Bukit Merah Neighbourhood Police Post, I had wanted to write down the questions but the IO said that would take up too much time. So he suggested that he would allow me the time to write only after I had answer the questions. But after the interview was over, he refused to let me do so.

What's your advice for activists undergoing police probe for their work? 

Know your rights and be assertive. We need not be rude, but if you feel the police have crossed the line, lodge a formal complaint.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

National security bogeyman used to disallow film

"The contents of the film undermine national security because legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals"
- MDA, Sept 10

"People who were communist or sympathisers or activists.. Why should we allow them, through a movie, to present an account of themselves.. Which will sully the honour and the reputation of the security people, and the brave men and women who fought the communist, all those many years."
- PM Lee Hsien Loong, Oct 3, 2014

"Many of the individuals featured in the film were former armed communist guerillas. Unlike a book, a film can more easily arouse emotional responses and reach a wider audience. To allow public screening.. would be like allowing jihadi terrorist groups today to produce and publicly screen films that glorify their jihadist cause."
- Yap Neng Jye, Press Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs, Oct 14, 2014

Here's why the Government's official reason for the NAR rating of Tan Pin Pin's 'To Singapore With Love' is utter bollocks, or at best, a red herring.

In 2006, MDA passed a film (rated PG) made by 5 Singaporean researchers and filmmakers entitled 'I Love Malaya'. While the premise of the documentary centres on the debate in Malaysia regarding Chin Peng's application to return to his hometown, much of the film's 45 minutes captures the lives and interviews of communist exiles in the Betong Peace Villages of Southern Thailand, the same place where Tan Pin Pin interviewed her subjects.

Watch Al Jazeera's report of 'I Love Malaya' here.

You can order the DVD here


In the same year, Malaysian director Amir Muhammad's film 'The Last Communist', which also features extensive interviews of exiles in Betong, was rated PG by MDA and given a commercial run in Cathay cinemas.

You can watch The Last Communist in its entirety here.


In 2007, Amir's follow-up 'Village People Radio Show', which contained more interviews with communist exiles in Betong, was rated NC16 by MDA and screened in public.

You can order the DVD here


In 'To Singapore With Love', the story of the elderly exiles in Betong Village makes up a small segment. There are no central characters, just a tapestry of vignettes that offer snapshots into the lives of octogenarian (ex)-communists. The Betong Village story is like refreshment to whet the appetites for the main course of the film.

And what is the main course?

They are the depiction of the lives of political dissidents Tan Wah Piow, Ho Juan Thai, the late Francis Khoo and Dr Ang Swee Chai, and a small cameo by Said Zahari, whose interview film 'Zahari's 17 Years' remains banned (not NAR, but gazetted and criminalised). All of whom were not featured in the aforementioned documentaries passed by MDA.

So what is it about the four main characters in TSWL that frightens the government so much?

To be sure, none of them were communists, or much less accused of being one, although Tan Wah Piow was named as the mastermind behind the bogus 'Marxist Conspiracy' arrests of 1987.

There is hardly any mention of Francis Khoo or Dr Ang Swee Chai's appearance in the film by the Government. In fact, after the death of Mr Khoo, Dr Ang was granted a one-off visa to visit Singapore. It was her first visit in decades. Moving freely, the world-renowned campaigner for Palestinian rights gave public talks. No threat to national security there, although it is unlikely the government will grant the ex-ISA detainee a permanent stay considering her outspokenness on human rights abuses.

Tan Wah Piow and Ho Juan Thai were both cited by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim as having left Singapore illegally. And the Minister added that "both Ho and Tan can return to Singapore, although they cannot expect to be granted immunity if they are found to have flouted the law." Do both fugitives undermine national security? Not by a long shot, and this is supported by the absence of statements pinning them down as such.

So how does the film undermine national security?

It lies in the reason behind the police's investigation of the SDP in 2011 after the party organised a public forum featuring political exiles Francis Seow and Tang Fong Har speaking via teleconferencing.

Police probe SDP forum involving exiled ISA detainees

It is also the same reason that moved the Government to criminalise my films 'Zahari's 17 Years' and "Dr Lim Hock Siew'.

And it is this.

From the Government's perspective, personal accounts by political dissidents and the humanising of their lives via the medium of a film or video presents an affront to the authority and the public image of the PAP Government, particularly of the Internal Security Department. It raises questions of past human rights abuses which undermine the legacy of Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP.

20 films that undermine the national security of Singapore
Allowing exiles film is “like allowing jihadi terrorist groups” to show film publicly
Let's talk about the past openly, warts and all
“To Singapore With Love” – the making of a new political folklore
Film on exiles, To Singapore, With Love, has four screenings at arts festival in London
Rebutting DPM Teo
What is the Government trying to hide?
Public records counter exiles’ claims: Sam Tan
The truth from a Singapore exile ll