Thursday, September 03, 2009

New PAP book neglects founding members detained for 19 years

"It was a no-holds-barred report", gloats Richard Lim, one of three senior journalists who were commissioned to write the history of the People's Action Party in a new book entitled Men In White, The Untold Story of Singapore's Ruling Party.

The untold story of S'pore's ruling party
Making of Men In White

In the above reports, the Straits Times goes to great lengths to depict the book as a definitive and objective account of PAP's history, supported by interviews with its opponents - including former communists now exiled in Thailand and leftists (a catch-all byword for staunch anti-colonialists) who had left the PAP to form the breakaway Barisan Sosialis.

But remarkably, the two full page report mentions not a single whiff of Operation Coldstore, the infamous 1963 mass arrests that decimated the entire leadership of the political opposition to the PAP.

Another glaring omission was how the writers failed to contact two founding PAP members, Dr Poh Soo Kai and Dr Lim Hock Siew, who were arrested under Operation Coldstore and detained without trial for periods of up to 19 years. Along with Said Zahari, Lee Tse Tong and Ho Piao, both of them were Singapore's longest-held political prisoners after Chia Thye Poh.


Dr Lim Hock Siew was a founding member of the PAP. But like many of his anti-colonialist colleagues of the PAP, Lim broke away from the PAP and formed the opposition Barisan Sosialis in 1961. On 2nd February 1963, he was arrested and detained under Operation Coldstore. Even after Singapore's independence in 1965, Lim continued to be detained under the Internal Security Act by Lee Kuan Yew's government. On 6th of September 1982, he was finally released, capping a 19 years 8 months incarceration - making him Singapore's longest-held political prisoner after Chia Thye Poh. Dr Lim has confirmed with me that he was never contacted by the writers of Men In White. He is now 78 years old and continues to operate his clinic on Balestier Road.

Dr Poh Soo Kai and Dr Lim Hock Siew in the front row during the launch of Our Thoughts Are Free in March this year.

In a rare press statement released in 1972, nine years into his incarceration, Dr Lim Hock Siew recalled an interrogation session with the ISD where the jailers attempted to strike a "bargain" with the prisoner..

Dr Lim Hock Siew Speaks from Singapore Prison (Date - 18.3.1972)
(through his legal adviser)

(Released by Dr Beatrice Chen, wife of Dr Lim Hock Siew)

I and hundreds of others were arbitrarily arrested on the 2nd of February, 1963. Many are still in prison. Ever since that day, we were, and are, unjustly and arbitrarily detained in prison without any kind of trial whatsoever for over 9 years. We have gone through various kinds of persecution, struggles, hardships and difficulties during this very long period of over nine years of detention in prison. Recently an unusual development took place. On the 13th of January, 1972, I was taken to the Headquarters of the Special Branch at Robinson Road where I was detained for 40 days together with my brother, Lim Hock Koon.

Two high-ranking special branch agents of the P.A.P. regime indicated to me that if I were to issue a public statement of repentance, I would be released. They told me that 9 years had passed since the date of my arrest and that it was time that my case be settled. They admitted that 9 years was a long time. I told them that it was pointless to remind me of this long period.

A week after my transfer to the Special Branch Headquarters, the same two high-ranking employees spelt out the conditions of my release. They demanded from me two things. They are as follows: -

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

(2) That I must issue a public statement consisting of two points : -
(a) That I am prepared to give up politics and devote to medical practice thereafter.
(b) That I must express support for the Parliamentary democratic system.

I shall now recall and recapitulate the conversation that took place between me and the same two high-ranking Special Branch agents during my detention at the Special Branch Headquarters.

Special Branch - You need not have to condemn the Barisan Sosialis or any person. We admit that it is unjust to detain you so long. 9 years is a long time in a person's life; we are anxious to settle your case.

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

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

Dr Lim Hock Siew - To say that the key is in my hands is the inverted logic of gangsters in which white is black and black is white. The victim is painted as the culprit and the culprit is made to look innocent. Four Gurkha soldiers were brought to my house to arrest me. I did not ask or seek arrest or the prolonged detention for over 9 years in prison without trial.

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

Dr Lim Hock Siew - I am not interested in saving Lee Kuan Yew's face. This is not a question of pride but one of principle. My detention is completely unjustifiable and I will not lift a single finger to help Lee Kuan Yew to justify the unjustifiable. In the light of what you say, is it not very clear that I have lost my freedom all these long and bitter years just to save Lee Kuan Yew's face? Therefore the P.A.P. regime's allegation that I am a security risk is a sham cover and a facade to detain me unjustifiably for over 9 years.

My stand on the Making of a Secret Oral Security Statement for the records of the Special Branch

I cannot and will not make any statement to condemn my past political activities. My past political activities were absolutely legitimate and proper. Whatever I had done or said was in the interest of and in the service of the masses of our people and of our country. Even an accused person need not say anything to incriminate or to condemn himself. Why should I who am arbitrarily detained without any kind of trial for over 9 years be coerced to act as an agent to the Special Branch by making a secret deal behind the backs of the masses? I resolutely reject this demand. Furthermore, I have not the slightest obligation to account my past political activities to Lee Kuan Yew.

A. My Stand on the Demand of Making a Public Statement

I completely reject in principle the issuing of any public statement as a condition of my release. This is a form of public repentance. History has completely vindicated my position. I was arrested for opposing merger with "Malaysia" because I held the view that "Malaysia" was a British sponsored neo-colonialist product and the creation of "Malaysia", far from uniting our people and our country, would cause greater dis-unity and dissension among our people. I believe that the formation of Malaysia would be a step backward and not forward in our struggle for national unity.

I have nothing to repent, to recant or to reform. If anything I have become more reinforced in my convictions, more reaffirmed in my views and more resolute to serve the people of Malaya fully and whole-heartedly. I have nothing to concede to Lee Kuan Yew. By right, he should make a public repentance to me and not I to him.

B. My Stand on the Demand that I must give up Politics in Exchange for my Release

I hold the view that these two demands are self-contradictory, because if there is democracy, I need not give up politics. The fact that I had been detained for over 9 years in order to coerce me to give up politics is proof enough that there is no parliamentary democracy. The question of taking part on politics is a fundamental right of the people.

An indirect offer was made to me to leave Singapore for further studies. I have replied to the P.A.P. regime that if I had to leave the country at any time, it must be on my own free volition and not under coercion by the P.A.P regime.

C. My Stand on the Demand for support for Parliamentary System

I hold the view that to support the P.A.P. regime's so-called parliamentary system would mean giving the public and the masses a false impression that there exist today a genuine parliamentary democratic system in Singapore Island. It is an undeniable and unforgettable fact that comrade LEE TSE TONG who was elected by the people of Singapore in the 1963 General Elections, was arbitrarily arrested and detained without trial soon after he was elected. Subsequently, he was deprived of his citizenship and he is still under detention as a so-called "banishee" in prisoner's clothes in Queenstown prison. The arbitrary arrest and prolonged detention of Comrade Lee Tse Tong affords concrete proof that the so-called parliamentary democracy is a cruel mockery. It does not exist in Singapore Island. Giving support to such a sham parliamentary system means complete betrayal of the people. I will never betray the people of my country under any circumstance. Bitter sacrifice strengthens bold resolve.

Parliamentary democracy does not mean merely casting of votes once in 5 years during election time. Far more important than this is the freedom of thought, the freedom of expression, the freedom of association, the freedom of organisation everyday during the 5 years period and continuously thereafter. I was arrested when the Barisan Sosialis was actively participating in the parliamentary system. For such participation, the colonial government, the Lee Kuan Yew and Rahman regimes had rewarded me with over 9 years of imprisonment. This again amply indicates the utter shamness of the so-called parliamentary democratic system. After over 9 years of detention, I am now asked to give support to their so-called parliamentary system in order to secure my release. I firmly refuse to give my support for the sham and illusory democracy in Singapore Island.

My Stand on the Request by the Agents of the P.A.P. Regime to Concede something to save Lee Kuan Yew's Face

Since history has fully vindicated my stand and my position, Lee Kuan Yew should openly and publicly repent to me and to all other political detainees, now unjustifiably detained in prison. By right a just and proper base for my release from my prolonged and unjustifiable detention (and this equally applies to all political detainees now under unjustifiable detention) should be : -

(a) Our unconditional and immediate release from detention and the complete restoration of all our democratic and human rights.

(b) Payment of adequate compensation to me and to all other political detainees for the prolonged and unjustifiable detention in prison.

(c) The issuance of public apology by Lee Kuan Yew to me.

We are willing and prepared to concede the last two conditions as listed above. We do not believe that an arrogant man like Lee Kuan Yew will apologise or to compensate us.

On the first condition that is to say, our demand for unconditional and immediate release from detention, and for the complete restoration of all our democratic and human rights - we must resolutely say : WE WILL NEVER CONCEDE, BITTER SACRIFICE STRENGTHENS BOLD RESOLVE.

+ + + +

The above was published with permission from Dr Lim Hock Siew.

Dr Lim is currently penning his memoirs.

Dr Lim's speech at the launch of Said Zahari's book in Johor Bahru can be viewed here.

Dr Lim is featured in a 10 minute video tribute to Lim Chin Siong which can be viewed at the Singapore History Museum.

Zahari's 17 Years remains gazetted as a prohibited film. Any possession constitutes a criminal offence.

The Straits Times is a publication of the Singapore Press Holdings, who commissioned the book.

Thanks to Isrizal for finding the above press release.


Further readings

Political detention in Singapore : Prisoner case histories

Detention of journalists and lawyers under the ISA

Surviving long-term detention without trial

The ISA as a political tool


Isrizal said...

I call to the readers attention the opening remarks made by Sdr. Jomo K.S. in the preface of the book, Comet In Our Sky - Lim Chin Siong In History. He wrote;

"Not unlike other scholarship, politically sensitive historical research in and about Singapore has been constrained, to put it mildly. Hagiography and apologia are well rewarded, while dissent from official versions often suffers from self- and other censorship as well as peer pressure. Some observers even point to a 'growing band of scholars who, more for career considerations, rather than political or ideological reasons are being absorbed into active scholarship in line with officially dictated projects' especially on the recent history of Singapore"

alfian said...

Thank you so much Martyn and Rizal for this. My hair stood on end as I was reading it. The good...really die young. : (

Anonymous said...

Good stuff. Anyway i have mirrored your article if your site goes down but meanwhile it's in the drafts.

Hopefully by putting it on the content distribution networks it will be preserved and hard to take down as it's propagated across the entire internet. :-)

Anonymous said...

Which also includes the "videos". ;) on P2P and CDN if it becomes necessary.

Anonymous said...

Hi Martyn,

This is Jeremy from the Temasek Review.

We will like to interview Dr Lim Hock Siew if possible.

His side of the story must be made known to young Singaporeans for them to judge for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Martyn, why don't you read the actual book before you comment?

PS today's ST excerpt does mention Cold Store in some detail.

booong!!! said...

There should be a Commission of Inquiry to finally and conclusively close the controversial "Marxist Conspiracy" with the irrevocable TRUTH. Afraid of the truth or unable to handle the truth?? This is for the ultimate closure of political reconciliation between the incumbents and the alternatives of this very, very sad political episode in the history of our Nation. The COI should and must be initiated by the apolitical national-elected President as the magnetic unifying force to upscale the nation forward as one world class united people in the present economic global competition.