Friday, July 27, 2007

The Long Nightmare - Foreward excerpts

The Long Nightmare: My 17 Years as a Political Prisoner is the second memoir written by Pak Said Zahari after Dark Clouds at Dawn. Though the title sounds poetic, it is written as a memoir, which notes the writer's experiences, observations and thoughts - the worldview, without distortion, of a veteran journalist and former political detainee held in Singapore prisons in the 1960s and 1970s.

Said Zahari's anti-colonial, anti-imperialist political stand is unmistakable in this book, as in his first book published in 2001. Similarly, his stand towards the PAP regime, under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, who was responsible for his arrest and imprisonment for 17 years, is very much unmistakable too.

In a brave and unflinching manner, Said Zahari reveals the cruelty of the PAP regime, especially towards its political opponents, whom they arrested and detained without trial, using laws inherited from the British colonial government. The tortures and persecution inflicted upon these political detainees are explained in detail by Said. It is hard to believe that such cruel acts happened, and we would not know, had they not been related by those who were tortured and persecuted.

Said Zahari was imprisoned without trial for 17 years. His guilt has never been proven despite his being imprisoned for so long. If this is not travesty, what is? However, after reading this book, we find a man who holds no rancour towards the person who slandered him and threw him in jail. What type of a person is this?

This second volume of Said Zahari's memoirs also tells the story of the
poignant sufferings of his wife and young children - whom he had to leave on 2 February 1963 when he was dragged to prison by the police of "Lee Kuan Yew's regime supported by the British colonialists".

Readers will find the story of the sufferings faced by Said Zahari's family during his imprisonment, awe-inspiring. We see how Said held on firmly to his principles and had no fear in defending justice and truth. But he is, in fact, a person with feelings and emotions. Like any other human being. He confesses, "I was shocked and overwhelmed. My soul was in turmoil when I heard, about the immeasurable sufferings of my wife for the first time, while in exile at Ubin Island before release."

He was deeply torn and burdened by his "sins" towards his wife and children. Said Zahari's introspection and admission of guilt is unequivocal. He asks for forgiveness from the Almighty for "breaking his oath when he betrothed" his wife, Salamah.

That was indeed a heavy "price" to pay his struggle against the slander and trumped up accusations made by Lee Kuan Yew, who conspired with the British colonialists. The challenge was to fight slander (in prison) on the one hand, and to fulfil one's responsibility towards the family (outside prison) on the other.

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia


Born and educated in Singapore, Said Zahari went on to work and reside in Kuala Lumpur. In 1961, the Malayan authorities imposed a ban on his re-entry to the peninsula, thereby banishing him to the island republic. Less than two years later, the Singapore authorities arrested and detained him, a detention which was to extend for almost 17 years until his release on 22 August 1979. His detention spelt the end of his journalistic career. Said's prolonged detention became a cause celebre, and he was adopted as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. In 1994, he applied and obtained permission to re-enter Malaysia to live near his children and grandchildren in Subang Jaya.

This is the second volume of Said Zahari's projected trilogy. This volume, originally subtitled "My 17 years in Lee Kuan Yew's prisons", was intended to chronicle his detention in Singapore. As part of this volume, Said has included a selection of his prison poems and translations in English written during the course of his long detention, which eloquently re-create the setting and mood of those years.

This volume also contains an account of the hunger strike by the political prisoners in Moon Cresecent detention centre in the early 1970s when they were housed in the newly-completed complex in separate small blocks, with not much opportunity to communicate and interact. The hunger strike was little publicized by the mass media at the time, and therefore, the general public in Singapore has remained largely unaware of the causes and duration of the strike.

Over the last decade, Said has emerged as an icon in both Singapore and Malaysia. He has come to symbolize, together with long-term political detainees in Singapore like Chia Thye Poh and others, an enduring profile of courage and human spirit rising above adversity and tragedy. In his own way, Said Zahari is waging an often lonely, but no less determined struggle to focus public attention on some ugly and less known aspects of Singapore's history, particularly the harsh repression against democratic and anti-colonial activists.



This volume of Said's memoirs, which centre on his 17 year incarceration in Singapore's prisons, serve as a poignant reminder to Singaporeans and Malaysians of the political abuse of detention-without-trial laws such as the ISA.

The PAP government repeated abuse of the ISA is highlighted by the 1987 detention of Singaporean church and political activists accused of engaging in a Marxist conspiracy. Recalling his shock at the crude and fanciful web of fabrication spun the PAP leadership, Said wrote, "I guffawed at such foolish lies... How could LKY pull the wool over Singaporeans' eyes with such blatant lies... This so-called Marxist conspiracy was created by LKY when he realised the existence of a new breed of political antagonists". Said observes that the detention and public 'confessions' of the so-called 'Marxist conspirators' was expected to reinforce "the culture of fear among the people of Singapore", thereby 'nipping in the bud' this new breed of antagonists.

Corroborating Francis Seow's experience of torture in Singaporean jails, Said's second memoir is strongly focused on exposing the mental and physical torture of political dissidents deprived of their civil liberties under the ISA. During their initial period of incarceration, detainees are often subjected to severe mental and physical torture. Said recalled the torment of a young detainee who was severely beaten for 22 days when he refused to betray his friends. He also denied being involved in an underground movement, carrying firearms and planning to overthrow the government. To shatter the spirit of detainees, prolonged periods of solitary confinement were enforced when they refused to 'confess' to crimes alleged by the government. Worn down by mental and physical stress, some agreed to public 'confessions' to secure their release. Confessions were also 'negotiated' by promises of attractive jobs upon release. Said has suggested that psychotropic drugs may have been prescribed to Operation Cold Store detainees, rendering them emotionally erratic and suicidal. The strain of detention was compounded further by the emotional and financial toll incurred by the families of detainees. In the 17 years of Said's incarceration, his late wife Salamah Abdul Wahab and their children suffered immense hardships. She struggled to make ends meet by running a food stall while the children often went to school without a cent in their pockets. Said's memoirs includes heartfelt snippets of the camaraderie, courage and dedication of many other political detainees who have become lifelong friends.

What will the political future hold for a post-Lee Kuan Yew Singapore? Will a post-PAP government unleash the ISA on former PAP government leaders known to have used the ISA against dissenting voices? Or will detention-without-trial laws be pronounced unconstitutional by a newly formed Constitution Court and Human Rights Commission? Will a post-authoritarian Singapore see the formation of a Truth Commission, set up to fully investigate the persecution of Singaporeans detained without trial, legally harassed and persecuted for their political convictions? Will a national apology be issued to political detainees incarcerated under the ISA? Will a post-authoritarian Singapore adopt foreign and security policies that are independent from the dictates of Washington, and acknowledge that the PAP government's support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake? Will relations with neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand improve in a post-authoritarian Singapore not plagued by a kiasu mindset? The possibilities are endless.

I am deeply honoured to have been invited by Said to write a Foreword for the English edition of his second memoir. Said's moral courage, intellectual integrity, irrepressible spirit and multiracial ethos provide us with the inspiration to work towards a truly democratic Singaporean society. In this era of the so-called 'war on terror', which has enabled governments to resuscitate the existence of, and draw up even more, draconian laws, Said's plea that "these outdated, restricted laws such as the ISA are abolished" is particularly salient. Terima kasih Pak Said for showing us the way!

University of Sydney, Australia


The book is now available in Malaysia at RM25. Select Books in Singapore may be be arranging to stock it but there is no confirmation as yet.

Book review of 'Ousted!"
How To Make Enemies and Alienate People . . . In Malaysia

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Don't shade the past, tell it like it is, says LKY

Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin launching the book "Dalam Ribuan Mimpi Gelisah" and its English version "The Long Nightmare" authored by a former detainee, Said Zahari (next to Zainuddin). Pix: Noraini Ahmad

Said Zahari, a former journalist detained for 17 years without trial in Singapore, launches the English and Malay editions of his memoir in Kuala Lumpur. Officiating the launch is Malaysia's Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin, who elected to break into song midway into the proceedings and then quipped about sending Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew a copy of the book.

Watch the video here.

Malaysian opposition activist Tian Chua's blistering take of the launch

Kakiseni's report - complete with lyrics of song crooned by the Info Minister

Bernama's report - topped by a headline that bears no relevance to Said Zahari

Meanwhile, encouraged by an upcoming publication of memoirs to be written by former MPs, including those of the opposition, MM Lee Kuan Yew has written to the Straits Times to urge the authors not to fudge history, and to tell it like it is.

Strange call, this one. Almost as surreal as the one about allowing 'Singapore Rebel' if it was left up to him, and this recent one about decriminalising gays and senseless censorship.

In any case, the publishers should take his statement at face value and invite ex-political prisoner Chia Thye Poh to write his side of the story. After all, he was a MP from 1963 until his arrest three years later.

MPs should tell it like it is when writing memoirs

July 17, 2007

I READ ST, July 11th 2007, the views of Dr Chiang Hai Ding and former PAP MPs on their writing of their memoirs.

They would refresh their memories if they read up old written materials, speeches, press cuttings, notes, letters and photos. It is worth the effort.

MPs are important actors in determining Singapore's history. I encourage all MPs, including those who opposed the PAP, to give their accounts of the past.

They will give a multi-dimensional view of past events and provide richness and texture to the story.

World War II accounts, whether in books, on TV or on film, that draw on sources from all parties, the Allies, Germans, Russians and Japanese, make fascinating reading because they give a three-dimensional depth to past events.

When writing memoirs, you are talking to posterity. Among them will be historians who will check what you write against the accounts of others. So do not shade the past.

I read Chin Peng's memoirs in English and the Plen's (Fang Chuang Pi) unfinished memoirs in Chinese.

I respected Chin Peng, so I asked to see him when he was in Singapore.

However, the Plen was a disappointment. He avoided the facts. Chin Peng did not.

Lee Kuan Yew
Minister Mentor

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Founding PAP member and ex-political prisoner to pen memoirs

James Wong Wing On
Jul 9, 2007

Encouraged by the determination of fellow former political prisoner Said Zahari to unveil the other side of history, Singapore’s Dr Lim Hock Siew has also decided to publish his memoirs.

“Although I have told my story in a documentary film many years ago, I have decided to write it down myself in the form of memoirs like my ‘good brother’ Said,” he told malaysiakini during an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur.

“I am now conducting research to find out more newly declassified materials in London to link up more dots,” added the 76-year old founding member of Singapore’s now ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

Lim was detained without trial for almost 20 years from 1963 to 1982. (Which makes him the second longest-held political prisoner in Singapore after Chia Thye Poh)

According to him, although he was alleged to have participated in the activities of the so-called ‘Communist United Front’ in Singapore from the mid-1950s to early 1960s, he was never formally charged in any open court of law for the allegation.

“I still remember even my police interrogators told me that they knew I had never been a member of any communist party or group,” said Lim who was a central committee member of the opposition Socialist Front in Singapore at the time of his arrest.

He was detained during the 1963 Operation Cold Store, which saw more than 130 leaders of opposition parties, labour and student unions and journalists deemed to be left wing held as well.

Serving British interests

“Now, from all the already released records in London as well as other historical researches, it is clear that in launching Operation Cold Store, Lee Kuan Yew was serving the then strategic interests of Britain which wanted Singapore to continue to provide a forward military base in Southeast Asia,” said Lim

“It is also now an undeniable fact that Lee worked earlier for the Japanese military during the Occupation making Britain’s English materials available in Japanese-language for the occupiers,” he added.

Lim was a graduate of Singapore’s prestigious Raffles College and a medical doctor trained in University of Malaya, which was then located in Singapore.

“I was also a founder of University of Malaya’s Socialist Club which became the cradle for many politicians and intellectuals in both Malaysia and Singapore who fought for independence,” he recalled with a sense of pride.

“In those days, anti-colonialism was a very powerful and popular sentiment even in Singapore … I helped found the People’s Action Party (PAP) to fight for the freedom of Singapore from British rule and to reunite it with Peninsula to form an united, non-communal and progressive Malaya but when Lee turned right wing and started serving British interests, the party split and I left to join the Socialist Front,” he explained.

“We certainly opposed to Singapore being maintained as a military base for Britain and that was why Lee had to crush the Left in Singapore at all cost … The Left in Singapore also opposed to the 1963 merger because we thought it was an opportunistic adventure on the part of Lee who wanted to exploit Tunku Abdul Rahman’s anti-communism to suppress the Left in Singapore … we wanted merger but not in the 1963 version which proved to be an utter failure just two years later in 1965.

“I was completely English-educated,” stressed Lim, which was obviously a sarcastic and subtle rebuttal to the now stereotyped and widespread notion that the Left in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s was a “Chinese-educated” phenomenon.

Political conviction

As for his detention, Lim said he did not suffer any physical torture.

“But, detention without charge or trial for an uncertain period of time is itself a form of torture, albeit a psychological one,” Lim said.

“When I was first arrested in February 1963, my son was only five-months-old but when I was released in 1982, he was already studying at the Cambridge University in Britain.

“I wish to thank my wife Dr Betruce Cheng for her understanding, fortitude and solidarity for the entire period of my 20-year detention and also for bringing up our boy,” he added.

Quizzed on what helped him preserve his sanity during his detention, Lim replied: “Political conviction, intellectual integrity and moral conscience”.

“I certainly have no regret for my involvement and participation in politics although I had to pay a heavy price for it. I am still a socialist who believes in democracy for the people and social justice for the working classes,” he stressed.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Video : Said Zahari launches book

Said Zahari, a former anti-colonialist newspaper editor, launches the Chinese edition of his autobiography 'The Long Nightmare - My 17 Years As A Political Prisoner' at the Southern College in Johor, Malaysia on 1st July 2007. The video includes an introductory speech by Dr Lim Hock Siew, a founding member of the PAP who broke ranks in 1961 to form the Barisan Sosialis, but was subsequently arrested and detained without trial for 20 years under the Internal Security Act in Singapore.