Sunday, May 31, 2009

Straits Times celebrates 50 years of PAP rule

Saturday's edition of the Straits Times was a surreal one.

Pages 2 and 3 of the main section was devoted to the paper's own defence against allegations of unfair coverage of the recent AWARE controversy. Its chief editor Han Fook Kwang wrote



I stand by the professionalism of our reporters. The personal attacks against the integrity of our journalists sadden me because they show the vindictiveness of our critics and the length to which they are prepared to go to attack our professionalism. In fact, there appears to be an organised campaign to discredit the media, with mass e-mail being sent, including to Reach, the government feedback portal.

The Straits Times has no hidden agenda to push this line or that, or to favour one group against another. On this story, as with others, we were driven by our desire to provide as much information to our readers as possible, in as timely a manner. That remains our primary objective.



Click here to read full article.

The date of the day's edition also happens to coincide with the 50th anniversary of People's Action Party's first electoral victory in 1959. So true to its role as a nation building press, the paper devoted a supplementary section, consisting of some 7 to 8 full pages, to the historic occasion. Nothing wrong with that per se, but the overall thrust of the writing is clear - to attribute the success of a half-century of economic transformation to the policies of the PAP. And to ensure that the messages hit home, pictures of a young Lee Kuan Yew spring-cleaning on the streets in the 1960s are juxtaposed with modern highrise public housing.

Harder to swallow, however, are just how the paper conveniently whitewashed certain political truths to paint a simplistic triumph of the PAP over communists, such as

Two mentions of Lim Chin Siong are prefixed with labels of "pro-Communist" and "hardliner". That new evidence unearthed from the record office in London casting doubts on the accusations of Lim and his Barisan comrades as communists gets no mention. See here and here.

Operation Coldstore, which resulted in the detention-without-trial of opposition politicians, journalists, union and student leaders in 1963, gets a token mention.

That the key leadership of the main opposition party Barisan Sosialis were detained without trial, some for as long as 20 years, is not mentioned. See here, here and here.

That allegations of prison torture still persists to this day is not mentioned. See here, here and here.

That the PAP, after assuming power, closed down newspapers, ban jukeboxes and shut down establishments that purveyed "yellow culture", also gets no mention. See here and here.

You certainly won't see this kind of juxtaposition in the Straits Times.



Lee Kuan Yew leading a march in 1959

John Tan of the Singapore Democratic Party arrested in 2008

While Mr Han Fook Kwang boldly defends himself and the "professionalism" of the Straits Times over allegations of unfair reporting on the affairs of a women's charity group, we can only hope that it is not lost on him that this same standard of "professionalism" should extend itself to coverage of ALL issues, including our political history.

He should take good note of what his predecessor Leslie Hoffman said 50 years ago in an editorial entitled 'Threat to Freedom', written during the general elections when the PAP, led by Lee Kuan Yew, was lambasting the Straits Times for unfair coverage.



Not for a hundred years has the freedom of the press in Singapore been in such danger as it is today. If the People's Action Party is in a position to form agovernment, one of its first concerns will be to bring the newspapers to heel. This is the only construction that can be placed on the statements of PAP leaders, includingits chairman [Dr Toh Chin Chye] and secretary general [Lee Kuan Yew]. If this conclusion is wrong, it is easy for PAP to say so. Its leaders need only affirm their respect for freedom of the press, their respect for the right to criticize, their respect indeed for the rights of all political opposition. they must not, however, qualify their affirmation with "buts". Like the individual, the press is either free or not free. It can comment and criticize, subject to the laws of defamation and libel, or it has no soul to
call its own.


A censored press remains bad even when it produces good things. A free press remains good even when it produces bad things... a eunuch remains a mutilated being even if he possesses a fine voice. A great Socialist said that - Karl Marx. It may be that PAP's spokesmen do not mean all they say, or that they intend to do all that they threaten. They have said some quite monstrous things, not only about the press, and are likely to go on saying them, partly no doubt because they believe threats sometimes work but also because a strong section of their following expect it of them. There is occasionally a conscious "bold bad boy" pose about PAP leaders, as noticeable as their undress uniform of tieless white shirt and trousers. It would be foolish and reckless, however, not to pay PAP's leaders the compliment of believing that their threats, particularly against the press, are meant to be taken seriously.


It is ominous when the press is told, in an orgy of false witness by party leaders, that PAP believes in "objective reporting and the accurate dissemination of news." This has been the classic introduction to the repression of the press everywhere. Dictatorships, whether of the Left or the Right, begin their suppression of the truth by confining the press to what they call "the accurate dissemination of news." The papers then disseminate news as the party and its leaders instruct, or the press does not publish at all. It may seem fantastic that such a threat to freedom and liberty should confront Singapore in this day and age of political advance, but PAP's leaders have made it quite clear that they do not understand the fundamental principles of the freedom of the press. It follows that they do not understand the first principles of the liberty of the people.



18 newspapers in 2009?

And finally, this graphic - which compares the number of newspapers in 1959 against the number today. The list under 1959 is fairly accurate, notwithstanding that Singapore at that time was still under Emergency Rule and there were dozens of smaller newspapers published by political parties, trade union and universities.

As for the number of newspapers in 2009, I leave it to you to figure where are these 18 newspapers.

Newspapers in 1959

1. Straits Times
2. Singapore Free Press (shut down in same year after PAP came to power)
3. Singapore Standard (shut down in same year after PAP came to power)
4. Nanyang Siang Pau
5. Sin Chew Jit Poh
6. Utusan Melayu
7. Berita Harian
8. Tmail Murasu
9. Kerala Bandhu (a Malayalam-language paper)

Friday, May 29, 2009

S'pore Rebel and One Nation Under Lee resubmitted

Singapore Rebel, previously classified as an illegal 'party political film', and One Nation Under Lee, previously seized by the censors and still unclassified, has been resubmitted to the Board of Film Censors (BFC).

Both films will be vetted by the newly appointed Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC), who will make their recommendations to the BFC, who in turn will decide if the film is allowed, or subject the filmmakers to police investigations for possible violation of the Films Act. Yes, political filmmakers can be made criminals in Singapore.

There is also a new application process for all video and film submissions to the BFC. The applicant is now required to declare potentially contentious scenes in the application form.

This is the declaration form for political films.

Submission Form (Political Film)
1. Name of Applicant:
2. NRIC / Unique Entity Number:
3. Address & Contact Number:
4. Title of Film:
5. Year of Production:
6. Place of Production:
7. Name of Producer:
8. Name of Director:
9. Purpose of Submission (please tick the relevant boxes):
 a. Exhibition
[Screening Date: ]
[Screening Venue (optional): ]
 b. Distribution

10. I submit that the film should not be regarded as a Party Political Film for
purposes of the Films Act (Cap 107), and can be shown or distributed as (please
tick the relevant boxes):

 a. it is a film which records live the whole or a material proportion of any
performance, assembly of persons or procession that is held in
accordance with the law and that does not depict any event, person or
situation in a dramatic way;

 b. it is a film designed to provide a record of an event or occasion that is
held in accordance with the law for those who took part in the event or
occasion or are connected with those who did so;

 c. it is a documentary without any animation and composed wholly of an
accurate account depicting actual events, persons (deceased or
otherwise) or situations, but not a film –
i. wholly or substantially based on unscripted or “reality” type
programmes; or
ii. that depicts those events, persons or situations in a dramatic way;

 d. it is a film without animation and dramatic elements –
i. composed wholly of a political party’s manifesto or declaration of
policies or ideology on the basis of which candidates authorised by

See Annex for the definition of Party Political Film.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

And this is page 5 and 6 of the application form (for ALL video and submissions) .

Below are major content concerns. Please indicate by ticking the content concerns that are found in the title you are submitting for classification. The information you provide may assist in the classification process.

e.g. suicide, child abuse, prostitution, terrorism, homosexuality etc

e.g. sex scenes, verbal or visual references, foreplay, fetishes etc

e.g. coarse, sexual or religious connotations etc

e.g. impact and shock effects, gory,disturbing visuals etc

e.g. animated, fantasy, gory, torture, gangs, sexual, and/or erotic portrayal etc

e.g. frontal or rear, above or below waist nudity. Is it sexualized,incidental etc

e.g. are there verbal references,use of drugs, instructive details etc

Please specify:

Fields marked with* are mandatory. Indicate 'N/A' or '0' where not applicable
If you have ticked any of the content concerns, please provide details of the contentious material in the space provided below
Time (min:sec) Element Description
Example
(Specify the episode number if submission is a TV series)
Disc1/ 25:15 Language Woman screams at man "Mother-fucker". Man yells back "Cunt".
Disc1/ 51:50 Violence Man repeatedly stabbing woman in the chest with a knife.
Disc1/ 55:13 Drug Use Middle-eastern looking man smoking a pot-pipe and passing it to friend.
Disc2/ 100:45 Sex Man thrusting woman whose wrists are tied to the bed post.
Disc2/ 122:15 Theme Film deals with Paedophilia and incest.


For more examples
Concentious Material Detail
Title *
Disc No *
Time (min:sec) * :

Element *

Description * Characters Left

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Govt appoints 7 gatekeepers to vet political films

Using the power of film then

Television won't get more emotive than this. This is the most iconic political image in Singapore's television history. Lee Kuan Yew shedding tears over the expulsion of Singapore by Malaysia on 9th August 1965. Lee was to become the first Prime Minister of an independent Republic of Singapore on that day.




"Without much of an opposition in Parliament I missed a foil to project issues. I made up for it with a major annual speech. On a Sunday evening a week or so after my eve-of-National-Day telecast, I would speak at an indoor National Day rally of about 1,200 community leaders. It was televised live. With only notes, I would speak for one to two hours on the important issues of the day.. Television polls showed I had high viewership.. This annual speech was an important occasion when I set out to move the people to work together with the government and overcome our problems."
- Lee Kuan Yew, page 148, From Third World To First

Controlling the power of film now


In 1986, the Singapore Government under Lee Kuan Yew introduced the Films Act to vet all productions of video and films in the island state. In 1998, the Act was amended to ban all 'party political films' that contain "biased references" to any political matter or persons. Last month, the Government amended the law again, freeing up political parties to make campaign videos but introducing new restrictions to the definition of what constitutes a 'party political film' (see here).

Not contend with the new restrictions, the Government yesterday appointed a Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC) to vet political films.

Here's how it works :

After you make a film in Singapore, you are required by law to submit your film to the Board of Film Censors (BFC).

If your film has political content, you have two choices - to declare that it is a political film, or not. Even if you don't, the BFC can still deem your film to be a political film.

Your political film then goes before the PFCC. Although its role is an advisory one, the PFCC's decision can mean the difference between a red carpet premiere of your film or a maximum term of two years imprisonment or a $100,000 fine. Yes, in case the press hasn't reminded you - it is a criminal offence to make a 'party political film.'

It gets worse: Even if the PFCC lets you off the hook, the BFC still retain the final say. Your last hope would be to appeal to a Films Appeal Committee (FAC). If that fails, you will be subjected to a police probe, similar to the one I went through for 15 months for the making of Singapore Rebel.

Here's the final nail : Even if the PFCC, BFC and FAC lets you off, the Minister can still ban your film under the Section 35 of the Films Act, like my other film Zahari's 17 Years (The saving grace in Section 35 is that it is not a criminal offence).

--------------------

Panel to engage film-makers
By Aaron Low
STRAITS TIMES

A NEW body formed subsequent to the liberalisation of a ban on so-called 'party political films' has assured film-makers it will engage them before making a decision on the fate of their films.

The Political Films Consultative Committee (PFCC) will ask a film-maker to clarify the intent of the film before deciding whether it should be allowed for public screening, said its chairman Richard Magnus on Tuesday.

'The intent, and not just the specific elements within the film, is an important element in determining if a film should be allowed,' he said.

Introducing the seven-member committee, he also explained its charter and the procedures it will undertake when making its decisions.

To establish intent, the committee could, for instance, draw up a list of queries after reviewing a film, he said.

The queries could include whether the film-maker took steps to verify the accuracy of the content, why the film was made and the costs incurred in making the film, he added.

Until this March, Singapore had in place a wide-ranging ban on political films in the Films Act, which defined these broadly as advertisements for Singapore political parties, or made by an individual with political intent.

The ban was eased in March following recommendations from the Advisory Council on the Impact of New Media on Society (Aims).

Some political films will be allowed, but not those which distort or sensationalise the truth, as the Government said when the Films Act was amended in Parliament. In addition, film-makers are still required to submit their films for classification online with the Board of Film Censors (BFC).

They can opt to declare at the outset that their film is political, in which case the film will be sent to the PFCC for assessment.

-----------------------------

Who's who on political film panel


MR RICHARD MAGNUS
Retired Senior District Judge and chairman of the Casino Regulatory Authority

MR LIM JIM KOON
Editor of Singapore Press Holdings, Lianhe Zaobao

PROF LILY KONG
National University of Singapore Vice-President, University and Global Relations Office, and Director of the Asia Research Institute

MR TERRY LEE
President of Singapore Insurance Employees Union and member of NTUC Central Committee

MR MUHAMMAD HANIFF
Senior Research Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

MR M. RAJARAM
Senior director of law firm Straits Law Practice

MR DANIEL YUN
Managing director of MediaCorp's movie arm Raintree Pictures

---------------------

Independent committee formed to assess political films
By Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE: An independent Political Films Consultative Committee has been formed to assess if political films are suitable for public viewing instead of leaving it to government censors alone.

Political films by Ho Choon Hiong were passed by the Board of Film Censors (BFC) last year and filmmakers hope more will make the cut now that a committee has been formed to advise the Board.

The committee is made up of members of the media, union, academia, and legal sector.

Its chairman, Richard Magnus, said films will be judged independently, rigorously and objectively.

Members on the committee include Prof Lily Kong, vice president at NUS; Terry Lee, central committee member of NTUC; Daniel Yun, MD of MediaCorp Raintree Pictures and Lim Jim Koon, editor of Lianhe Zaobao.

The Films Act was amended in March this year to allow political films that are factual and objective and do not dramatise and/or present a distorted picture. Previously, there was a blanket ban on party political films.

Richard Magnus, chairman, Political Films Consultative Committee, said: "Although we are advisory in our deliberations, I think the advise of the committee will need to be given much weight by the BFC. Our objectivity will depend upon how much information we get from the applicant.

"We will encourage the applicant to be completely honest in giving the information. We would expect the applicant to have complete integrity in providing the information and that would be something we are looking for."

Submissions for the political films can be made online.

The committee said it will engage the filmmaker and allow him or her an opportunity to clarify queries before any decision is made.

If a film is not approved by the committee, the Board of Film Censors will be told why and it is up to the board whether or not the reasons will be made public.

If a film is not passed by the committee and the BFC, film makers can also write to the Films Appeal Committee.

Filmmaker Martyn See plans to submit "Singapore Rebel" for consideration. The film, about Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan, was banned in 2005.

Mr See said: "Singapore Rebel is on YouTube and Google Video, and it has been watched by more than 200,000 people. So by submitting the film to the film consultative panel, yes it's a symbolic gesture on my part. However, it also means that if the panel allows the film, then other film makers will be less afraid to make their films because it's not cheap to make a film.

"We can speculate all we want about whether this panel will lead to the opening up of political space. But I think the real acid test is when they sit down and watch Singapore Rebel and decide for themselves if the rest of the population is allowed to watch it."

The government had previously said it recognises that Singaporeans want greater space for political discourse and it has over the years widened that space. - CNA/vm

Friday, May 22, 2009

Video / Photos : Remembering May 21st 1987

Sixty people showed up at Speakers' Corner on Thursday May 21st 2009 to mark the 22nd anniversary of Operation Spectrum a.k.a. the 'Marxist Conspiracy' arrests .

Video by Ho Choon Hiong



Straits Times report here
TOC report here
Seelan Palay's report here







Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lee's Betrayal of PAP and Singapore : Devan Nair

Read also:
FORMER PRESIDENT OF SINGAPORE DEVAN NAIR'S LETTER OF 8 JULY, 1988 TO LEE KUAN YEW



21st May 2009 marks the 22nd anniversary of a security sweep codenamed Operation Spectrum, which saw the arrests and detention of 22 young professionals in Singapore under the Internal Security Act.

The "Marxist Conspiracy" arrests, as it is commonly known, also involved the detentions of lawyers Francis Seow and Patrick Seong in 1988 as they sought to represent some of the detainees who were re-arrested that year.

Upon release, Seow contested in the 1988 General Elections under the Workers' Party ticket and lost narrowly to the PAP incumbents. The Government subsequently filed tax evasion charges against Seow, who was overseas at that time and has remained in US until today.

In 1994, he published 'To Catch A Tartar', which documented in considerable detail his 72 days' ordeal under ISA detention in Whitley Detention Centre.

The following is the foreword to the book, written by former President and founding PAP member Devan Nair, who himself lived in self-exile after openly criticising the Government over the 'Marxist Conspiracy' detentions. He passed away in Ontario, Canada in 2005.



By C.V Devan Nair
Foreword to To Catch A Tartar, Francis T. Seow
Published in 1994


Before reading Francis Seow's manuscript, I had decided that I would decline his request for a foreword. My political days are definitely over - and more reasons than either friends or foes imagine. Apart from a series of reflective essays (in preparation) on the making of an ideal (in which I too had been privileged to share), on its unmaking (which I watched in helpless pain from the sidelines), and on the dubious - to say the least - political and social aftermath of phenomenal economic success, I had, and still have, no intention of becoming involved in promoting the political views or program of any individual or group, whether within or without Singapore.

After reading through the manuscript, however, I realized that I would never again be able to look at my face in the mirror without flinching, if I said no to Francis, at least in regard to this particular piece of writing by him. For this was no political harangue by one of Singapore's leading opposition figures, excoriating the political or economic program of the powers-that-be, and pleading the virtues of his own political cause. On the contrary, central to this book is a grim account of how a citizen of Singapore was treated while under detention without trial under the republic's internal security laws.

As an ex-detainee myself, who had undergone in two separate spells a total of five years of political imprisonment in the fifties under the British colonial regime as an anticolonial freedom fighter, I recalled that I was never treated in the shockingly dehumanizing manner in which Francis was by the professedly democratic government of independent Singapore. Indeed, my fellow detainees and I had as legal counsel a brilliant lawyer and vocal freedom-fighter by the name of Lee Kuan Yew, who has publicly borne witness to the comfortable circumstances in which we lived under detention, and how he was able to visit us, without supervision, to discuss, among other things, strategies for bringing the colonial rule of our jailers to an end.



Francis's account of his seventy-two days of detention by Prime Minister Lee's government confronted me yet once again with acutely poignant questions: What has the nation come to? And what malefic hidden persona has emerged in Lee Kuan Yew of today? Surely, this cannot be the same man, whom I and several other starry-eyed anticolonial revolutionaries in the fifties and sixties had jubilantly accepted as our captain in the grim, heroic struggles of those early days to create what we expected would be a new Jerusalem? Alas, it took us thirty years to realize that we had been treading on air.

Mr. Seow's book is an eye-opener; that is, for those whose eyes still required to be opened. Mine too, for that matter. Nobody is blinder than the captain's inveterate hero-worshipper. And none probably as wilfuly, self-righteously closed to unfolding reality as I was. Indeed, until fairly recently, I had believed that the People's Action Party (PAP) government, by which I had once sworn, had all along been tolerably civilized and humane in its treatment of political prisoners. Yet another scale had to fall from my eyes, the latest in a series of scales which had already fallen earlier, and which I will deal with in my own book.

The economic transformation wrought by the PAP government is there for all the world to see. The towering skyline of the island city state, the great vistas of new high-rise apartments which had replaced the sordid sprawling slums and malarial swamps of only three decades ago, the magnificent international airport at Changi about which all visitors rave, the world latest and, perhaps, the best mass rapid transit system, the clean and green garden city - all and more - quite rightly evoke the envy and admiration of foreign visitors, especially those from developing countries with much less to boast of by way of efficient development-orientated governments.

Lee Kuan Yew with Toh Chin Chye [centre] and Goh Keng Swee

I would be the last person to denigrate the material achievements of Singapore, for the good reason that I was also a member of the ruling team responsible for them. Like other members of the PAP old guard, I saw the creation of a solid socioeconomic base as a vitally necessary springboard for the realisation of human ends and values. At least for me, and for the others in the anticolonial movement like me, the human agenda was primary. In short, the urgent, organized, disciplined drive for economic growth and technological progress was powered by noneconomic aspirations and ideals.

We looked at the sad fate of other multiracial and multireligious developing countries and recognized that life's highest rewards and fulfilments were beyond the reach of societies riven by sterile, senseless class and ethnic strife, and cursed by a corrupt polity, inefficient production, material poverty, and hungry bellies. Modern technology and management systems would be necessary means to advance the human agenda. Alas, we failed to forsee that human ends would come to be subverted for the greater glory of the material means, and our new Jerusalem would come to harbour a metallic soul with clanking heartbeats, behind a glittering technological facade.

History bears abundant witness that idealists generally come to grief. They awaken high human aspirations and hopes and ignite the liberating fires of revolution. The pains and humiliations of foreign subjection and exploitation are scorched, and, for a brief, blazing period, men transcend themselves in the inspiring vision of a great common future. The revolution triumphs - but idealists become expendable thereafter. One by one, sooner or later, they are eased out. And the revolution is inherited by cold, calculating power brokers at the head of a phalanx of philistines.

Lee Kuan Yew in 1957

Lee Kuan Yew's earlier speeches echo the great themes of freedom fighters everywhere. As the several irrefragable quotes Seow offers in his book testify, Lee too had once waxed eloquent about liberty, freedom, harmony, justice, and the dignity of man. But reading Lee Kuan Yew today, or listening to him, one realizes how brazenly he has abandoned the positions which had so convincingly persuaded an earlier, revolutionary generation of Singaporeans, both old-guard colleagues and the population at large, to confirm him in the captainship of party and nation. We had taken him at his powerfully eloquent word. If Lee had then given the mildest hint of the apostate he was to become, he would have received short shrift from the revolutionary following who had put their trust in him.

Those who order, systematise, and govern in the aftermath of revolutions often become votaries at covert and pernicious altars. Ineluctably, the Olympian gods are displaced and a Titan holds sway, with lamentable results. The march of the human spirit is first arrested, then retarded.

A march along St. Andrew's Road outside City Hall, circa 1964
What we launched as the independent republic of Singapore succeeded, as the world knows, all too well, only to discover that in the eyes of Lee Kuan Yew, means had become ends in themselves. First principles were stood on their heads. Economic growth and social progress did not serve human beings. On the contrary, the primary function of citizens was to fuel economic growth - a weird reversal of values. The reign of Moloch had begun. Not an unfamiliar phenomenon to those who browse in the pages of history. My old-guard colleagues and I might have been wiser men and women if we had read our history with greater comprehension than we do now. Alas, one cannot alter the past.

The inevitable drift to totalitarianism begins with the typically symptomatic thesis of the progenitors: "Society as No. 1, and the individual, as part of society, as No. 2." The words are Lee Kuan Yew's, speaking to journalists in Canberra, ACT, on November 16, 1988. He was dutifully echoed by Goh Chok Tong, the First Deputy Prime Minister, (now Prime Minister), when he announced this as one of the pillars of the government's new goal of "a national ideology" for Singapore. Portentous words, given the current morbidities of the republic, which include the account given by Francis Seow in the following pages of his seventy-two days of detention and interrogation by the guardians of "national security," the Internal Security Department. Seow learned at first hand what happens to the individual as No. 2, when subjected to society as No. 1 in the shape of his jailers and interrogators in the Whitley Detention Centre.


"The individual, as part of society," is a marginal improvement on Mr Lee's egregious penchant for referring to fellow-citizens as "digits" of the development process. You are either a productive "digit" or an inefficient one. And "digits", like robots, if they are to be functionally useful, have to be programmed. So one need not be surprised that Singapore's political programmers should now be working on a "national ideology," in addition to the social and genetic engineering already in the works. Shades of Huxley's Brave New World!

History bears irrefutable witness to the self-evident truth that no harmony is possible between the individual and society where either seeks aggrandisement at the expense of the other. The mutual need for each other, for mutual completion and fulfilment, is frustrated if one seeks to devour the other. Invariably, the end result is material and spiritual impoverishment, stagnation and death, for both individual and society. The equation is infallible, whether the nation concerned is eastern or western, although Lee Kuan Yew pretends that Confucious would have sanctioned the outrages he has perpetrated in Singapore. Which, as those who decline to traduce history for political ends will appreciate, would be an unwarranted insult to the memory of the venerable figure, whose proverbial wisdom laid primary emphasis on character-building enhancement of the human spirit and of social mores - not their mutilation.

The tree is known by its fruits. The supremacy of the state over the individual which those inclined to totalitarianism always propound has invariably meant, in practice, the immolation of the individual at the altar of an impersonal, faceless, and conscienceless deity, sanctified by the grandiose term: "the organized community." But the voices which issue from the iron throat are recognisably those of the political elite in power. They spell out the implacable social "imperatives" which override the rights of the individual. And in the name of these imperious mandates, the social juggernaut driven by political roughnecks grinds the hapless individual under its wheels. Francis Seow was one such victim. Another was Chia Thye Poh, whose lengthy incarceration has been compared to the experience of Nelson Mandela. It would be invidious to mention others by name, for either their spirits have been broken, or they remain subject to tongue-tying restrictions.

Devan Nair in a march with the trade union in 1961

Seow survived the ordeal. Because he is a free man outside Singapore, he becomes the first ex-detainee to place on record the ordeal of arrest and detention without trial in Singapore. In doing so, he has rendered a signal service to all Singaporeans, as indeed to all sane and humane men and women everywhere. But they must know that he will have to pay a heavy price for his pains in the shape of repeated or fresh calumnies and of rearrest should he choose to return to Singapore. Indeed, this will be in addition to the price he has already paid for raising his voice against Moloch. It is a rare kind of courage which would take on so perverse and formidable an adversary.

I am personally able to confirm the brutal fact that exile, for whatever reason, uprooted from one's entire milieu of life, culture, and career, from friends and relatives, is, to put it bluntly - unremitting spiritual agony. Nonetheless, an ordeal certainly preferable to the individual as No. 2 suffering systematic asphyxiation by society as No. 1. And writing this foreword, I am cruelly aware that I am, in effect, finally and irretrievably burning my boats with my country and a people whom I love and served over the greater part of a lifetime. But what would you? Exile, pensionless to boot, at least ensures the survival of the integrity of the person.

The story, as Francis Seow tells, is a grisly symptom of a high-seated (rather than deep-seated) political malaise afflicting Singapore. History will indict Singapore's eminence grise, now Senior Minister and Secretary-General of the ruling party, Lee Kuan Yew, as the source and bearer of what, despite transient and misleading appearances to the contrary must, without radical political surgery, turn out to be a terminal condition.

Lee Kuan Yew in a street march in 1959
I may be wrong in believing that the point of no return has already been passed, for currently it does appear that a population rendered politically comatose over the years will be unable to bestir itself sufficiently - apart from surreptitiously immobilizing subway trains by stuffing well-chewed chewing gum into their doors - to cancel the blank cheque it has given to the Singapore government.

However, I am also aware that we live in times when reality keeps exploding in the faces of experts. It has more than once exploded in mine, not to speak of Francis Seow's. There is no guarantee that one day it will not explode in Lee's own face, or in the face of those who will inherit his creed and style of power. Gorbachev, Ceausescu, and Honecker are only the more visible among the many who, undercurrents which suddenly surfaced, ensuing in utterly unforseen, convulsive change in the sprawling Soviet empire and eastern Europe, leaving all the world's normally voluble geopolitical pundits and pontiffs flummoxed.

Some believe that the necessary inspiration for surgical intervention to rescue Singapore from terminal risk might arise from within the republic's own undoubtedly intelligent establishment. A good number of professionals and civil servants do know, and will private acknowledge - looking over the shoulder, of course - what has gone grievously wrong with the once promising Singapore experiment. In the strictest privacy, they readily admit that, if there is any country in Southeast Asia which, by virtue of economic success and probably the best educated population in Asia after Japan, can afford a more relaxed style of government, tolerant of free __expression and dissent - that country is Singapore. They appreciate that the people of Singapore are certainly intelligent enough to discern where their best interest lie, and run the risk of falling prey to rabble-rousing politicians with easy panaceas and quick fixes.

Devan Nair at the press conference announcing Separation in 1965

Indeed, they vividly recall that an earlier, less educated generation of Singaporeans had, after listening to open public arguments and debates, repeatedly rebuffed at the polls slogan-shouting demagogues who clearly did not know the social and economic priorities of a small, island nation with absolutely no natural resources to boast of, dependent on neighbouring Malaysia even for its water, and entirely dependent on the stability of export markets for comfortable living. Finally, they know that the source of the overweening authoritarianism - so entirely contra-indicated by one of the most vibrant and successful economies of Asia - issues from the increasingly obsessive fixations and bizarre values of one man - Lee Kuan Yew.

But it remains to be seen whether knowledge goes with moral courage and the will to action. I confess that, with every passing year, I have come to fear that the point of no return has already reached and passed. For Singapore's grey eminence lords it over the republic from the top of a tower of undeniable previous achievement. He had been the superb captain of a superb team which had led a highly responsive and intelligent population out of a savage and sterile political wilderness into outstanding success and internationally recognized nationhood.

Today every member of that superb team has been eased out of power and influence in the name of political self-renewal, while Lee himself has ensured that he presides, as Secretary-General of the ruling party, not as he once did, over equals who had elected him, but over a government cabinet and a judiciary made up entirely of his appointees or nominees. In relation to old guard leaders, Lee had been no more than primus inter pares. He had perforce to deal with equals, and they were fully capable of speaking their minds. Once, in the early days of the PAP, in sheer exasperation, I myself had responded to him with a four-letter word and thought no more about it.

Devan Nair in a pro-Nair demonstration in 1965

Today, Lee no longer deals with his equals, but with his chosen appointees, who did not earn power the hard way, but had it conferred on them. They are highly qualified men, no doubt, but nobody expects them to possess the gumption to talk back to the increasingly self-righteous know-it-all that Lee has become. Further, the bread of those who conform is handsomely buttered. Keep your head down and you could enjoy one of the highest living standards in Asia. Raise it and you could lose a job, a home, and be harassed by the Internal Security Department, or by both, as happened to Francis Seow.

Nonetheless, one must hope, even against hope, that the daunting challenge is not evaded by intellectually honest and spiritually courageous members of the Singapore establishment. The inevitable alternative is clearly the abortion of what began as the Singapore miracle. An abortion and a treachery. For not many societies return whole from the graveyard of elementary human rights and decencies.

Admittedly, Lee is right in talking of the remarkable economic transformation we wrought in Singapore, an achievement at once collective and individual. The people of Singapore well deserve the material success for which they worked so hard. But, all the same, they have reaped a baleful harvest. Lee bakes a bitter bread. The relish of greater material well-being gives way to the acrid taste of ill-being along other equally vital, if less tangible dimensions, beyond the gauge of GNP, the only measuring rod Lee knows. As his career progressed, he revealed, in increasing measure, enormous blind spots.

Lee Kuan Yew in spring-cleaning exercise in 1959

"Transformation" is quite the wrong word word for qualitative aberrations which have occurred in the noneconomic areas of life in Singapore. On reading Seow's manuscript, the word which leaps to mind is "transmogrification" or the grotesque metamorphosis that has overtaken the perception and treatment of the individual in the republic.

My thoughts go back to my own arrest by the British colonial authorities in Singapore in the fifties. I have already indicated that my experience as a political prisoner under a British colonial administration had nothing in common with what Seow went through. I can come to only one conclusion. The colonial Special Branch were saints compared to Lee Kuan Yew's Internal Security outfit. The end result of our struggle for political freedom and independence turns out to be not a progression in terms of respect for human dignity, but a surreptitious regression into barbarity.

Few can appreciate how painful a contemplation from the sidelines Seow's account is for those like me who had spent a good part of our active lives helping to launch modern Singapore. Contrary to Lee's pretensions, Singapore is not only his baby. It's our baby as well. But under Lee's exclusive charge, the miracle child suffocates today beneath a pile of heavy swaddling. Small wonder therefore that a disturbing number of Singaporeans have chosen to emigrate from Lee's utopia to less strait-jacketed places like Australia, New Zealand and Canada, According to government figures, the exodus reached 4,000 families in 1989, around 16,000 people. The London Economist observed:

His (Lee's) statistically-inclined government may well reflect that, proportionally, the exodus from Singapore, which faces no threat from China, was not far below the flight from Hong Kong last year.

Lee himself appears to be the only person who does not seem to have got the message. In his National Day Rally speech in 1989, he affected incredulity - even turning lachrymose - that so many Singaporeans should opt out of his paradise. Nobody present could summon the gumption to tell him that to discover the reason why, all that he need do was look into the mirror.

For Lee's entire approach to government pointedly ignores some crucial ingredients of nation-building. Full employment, well-fed digestive tracks, clean streets, and decent homes are not the be-all and end-all of good government. They are only a necessary beginning - an essential foundation from which to aspire to greater human ends. Like people elsewhere, Singaporeans also have keen nonmaterial appetites, the satisfaction of which will not brook permanent denial. For these are fundamental urges which return after every banishment.

Devan Nair in General Elections 1976
A new and better educated generation, increasingly open to the great winds of change blowing all over the world, is bound to intensify the search for an invigorating image of desire and hope, a liberating political formula, a more satisfying life scheme and scene than are available under the present pervasive system of coercion and control. Also, in this day and age, ideas and hopes increasingly scorn border check-points and censorship laws.

A society burdened by a multitude of prohibitions must come to suffer that stifling of innovation and creativity which comes of excessive regulation. Singaporeans today have to memorise an exhaustive list of prohibitions. But they are without a comparable list of what they are free to do.

Certainly citizens of a civilized community need to cultivate that sense of order and discipline which has served Singapore's economic success so admirably thus far. But where a sense of social responsibility goes unnourished by an equally vivid sense of individual rights, and of participation and involvement in the entire political and legislative process, there the human spirit is bound to shrivel under the deadening touch of authoritarianism. Indeed, what has become increasingly evident to Singaporeans is Big Brother's total lack of trust and confidence in the good sense and judgment of his citizens. Hence the hectoring speeches by ministers, and worse, the ubiquitous voice of the oracle telling everybody else, including government ministers who perform under his watchful eyes, what is good for them.

The obvious danger is that if ever Singapore is faced with a serious economic downturn, as is entirely possible given the republic's overwhelming dependence on increasingly volatile export markets, the current disturbing brain drain may be expected to gush into massive exodus. And that would be a sad end for what began as the most promising experiment in socioeconomic growth in Southeast Asia.

Lee Kuan Yew in 1955

Lest it be considered that I have revised my views about the conditions of my own detention, after having parted company with Lee Kuan Yew, I will quote here from the statement I made on behalf of the People's Action Party of Singapore at the meeting of the Bureau of the Socialist International held in London on 28-29 May 1976, with the approval of Prime Minister Lee. I said:

In 1950 I joined the Anti-British League, an underground auxiliary of the Malayan Communist Party. I spent, in two separate spells, a total of five years in British prisons. I am not in the least bitter. Indeed, I look back back nostalgically to my years of incarceration, for they were years of intensive reading and self-education. On the whole, my fellow detainees and I were well-treated. One of the few complaints we had was that the British allowed us radio sets which were doctored to receive only Radio Singapore. We wanted to listen in to Peking and Moscow as well.

We were in touch, through easily bribable camp warders, with the communist underground in Singapore. We were instructed to go on a hunger strike and to protest against against "ill-treatment and torture." When some of us pointed out that there was no ill-treatment and torture, our chief fellow detainee told us that "it was a revolutionary duty to expose the imperialists, through whatever means were available." Our anticolonial zeal being greater than our commitment to truth, we swallowed whatever qualms we had and embarked on a six-day hunger strike. It had the required effect, not upon the British - who were quite unmoved - but as far underground communist propaganda in Singapore was concerned, for our hunger strike was extolled as an example of our heroism and of the vileness of the imperialists...

I was reminded of the episode when I read the Dutch Labour party paper about the torture of detainees...

I also happen to know a good deal about both prisons and detention camps in Singapore. For, soon after Lee Kuan Yew formed the first PAP Government in May 1959, I persuaded him to set up a Prisons Inquiry Commission, for I had not liked what I had seen of the demeaning conditions of imprisonment imposed by the British authorities: not on political detainees, but on convicted prisoners. For example, on the approach of a British prison officer, every convict had to kneel down on the floor, with his head down. That aroused my ire, and it still does, when I think of it.

I was appointed Chairman of the Prisons Inquiry Commission, which included two British academics from the University of Malaya in Singapore - the late Dr Jean Robertson and Professor T.H. Elliott. The recommendations my commission made, to humanise prison conditions, still form the nominal basis for the administration of prisoners and detention centres in Singapore. The International Red Cross has had access to our prisoners, detainees, and places of detention. You will appreciate that the Red Cross is not allowed in several other countries, and I can confidently challenge any country in the world to boast a more efficient prison system than the one we have in Singapore.


Crowd gathering on South Bridge Road awaiting a press conference by Devan Nair and Lim Chin Siong after their release from detention in 1959.

This explains why I read with wry amusement the absurd allegations of ill-treatment, torture, and inhuman conditions in our prisons and detention centres, made by the communist united front group in Singapore, and faithfully repeated in the Dutch Labour Party paper.

Today I am obliged to eat a good number of the words I uttered in London in 1976. A humbling obligation, and therefore good for the soul. I have no difficulty, of course, reaffirming that my fellow detainees and I were well treated in British colonial centres of detention. That was a fact of direct personal experience. Not so, apparently, the conditions political detainees were subjected to in the seventies. I had then accepted, all too gullibly, that these were humane and civilised purely on the word of the powers-that-be. I was not the only credulous Singaporean to do so.

Lee Kuan Yew greeting Lim Chin Siong

There is no better teacher than painful personal experience. I know today that in this matter, as in several others, my trust and confidence were grievously misplaced. I am certain now that if any of these detainees had brought themselves to write of their experience as Seow has done, their accounts would not have been greatly dissimilar. If anything, going by what Seow learned from other detainees whom he had represented as legal counsel, some of them went through much worse ordeals. I can also appreciate today that detainees do not speak up during guided tours of detention centres for Red Cross representatives.

Seow's account of the horrendous process of interrogation he underwent, the freezing coldness of the soundproof interrogation room, an air-conditioner blower duct on the ceiling which directed a continuous and powerful cascade of cold air down at the spot where, barefooted, he was made to stand, the sudden paroxysms blasts of cold air sent him into, the total darkness save for the powerful spotlights trained on him, the obscenities, shouts, and threats he had to endure, all left me stupefied.

Sleep deprivation, for instance, is a fiendishly effective means employed by Singapore interrogators to thoroughly disorient the detainee, so that he may be suitably readied for abject "confessions" which would later be copiously presented by the government-controlled media as a "statutory declaration." One cannot think of any other country in the civilized world where "statutory declarations" exacted under duress from political prisoners are published and unabashedly palmed off on the public as gospel truths.

I found acutely disturbing the following paragraphs in the book at page 121 et seq.:



As I walked through the doors of the interrogation room, a freezing coldness immediately wrapped itself around me ...

I had lost all sense of time. I had been standing there under the pitiless glare of the spotlights. I felt the urge to go to the toilet. I told them. Two Gurkha guards appeared and escorted me to the toilet. Having stood motionless at one spot for so long I had great difficulty walking. I found myself rooted to the ground - a term more descriptive of the reality of the situation than a mere figure of speech. My limbs were stiff all over. I was unsteady. The two Gurkha guards on either side of me supported me under my arms. I staggered out of the interrogation room, half carried by them, along the dark corridors up two flights of stairs to the ground level of Block C, along a corridor, to a toilet located in an empty cell in Block D. I blinked at the unexpected harsh light of day. I was quite shocked. The urge to go the toilet forgotten for a moment. I asked one of the two Gurkhas for the time of day, ...I was astounded. It was 11.30 in the morning. I then realized that I had been standing in the interrogation room for about sixteen hours warding off questions thrown unremittingly at me. It seem incredible to me that I could have stood at one spot, almost motionless, for that length of time. I recalled with shame that, when my detainee-clients had previously complained to me that they had been deprived of sleep and forced to stand for as long as 72 hours at a stretch, without sleep, I had great difficulty in believing them. I thought they were exaggerating; but now I was, incredibly, undergoing a somewhat similar experience!...

I noticed, too, dried sunburnt blisters peeling from the skin of both arms. I could not at first comprehend how I could have acquired them until I realized that I had been burnt by the powerful rays of those spotlights, which had also dried up the moisture in my eyes. Cold rashes had broken out all over my atrophied limbs under my clothes. Unlike many people who are sensitive to sunburn, I am susceptible to cold rashes. It was always troublesome for me whenever I had perforce to travel abroad during winter. In this instant case, as if signaled by a faithful built-in thermometer, the rashes broke out in chilling confirmation of the coldness of the room. My interrogators had swaddled themselves up in warm winter clothes and left it, time and again, whenever they could no longer withstand the wintry cold.
As a prisoner of the British, my fellow detainees and I had simply refused to be interrogated. We told our captors that we would only speak as free men. We were left alone after that. We experienced no soundproof room, no brutal interrogation and sleep deprivation for hours on end, no air-conditioner blower duct directing a powerful and continuous cascade of cold air at the spot where the barefoot detainee stood on "a floor like a slab of ice," no spotlights, no threats and obscenities shouted in our ears, no absolutely solitary confinement throughout the period of detention, indeed none of the things which Mr Seow had to undergo at the hands of the rulers of free, independent, and professedly civilized Singapore.

After the statutory period of 21 days' solitary confinement, my fellow detainees and I were allowed to live together in camp conditions, whether in Changi or, even better, on salubrious St. John's Island. Our lawyer, Lee Kuan Yew, was freely allowed to visit and talk to us, without Special Branch supervision, and to plan with us the downfall of the British colonial power. So free were we as political detainees to pursue our own interests and studies that we light-heartedly referred to our places of detention as "St. John's" University and "Changi" University.

Lee Kuan Yew addressing marchers in 1959

Mr Lee knows all this. It surely cannot be termed progress in freedom and humanity to arrest and treat his own political prisoners so brutally, and with far less reason than the British had to detain me and my revolutionary comrades. After all, we had made no secret of the fact that we were committed to the violent overthrow of the British colonial power. But Seow and others like him certainly did not aim to overthrow the elected government of Singapore by unconstitutional means. Even if they did, Lee and his government would still stand convicted of the kind of inhumanity of which "the perfidious British colonialists" (as we referred to them in those days) were not guilty.

The government's assertion that it does not ill-treat detainees strains credulity. Seow's readers will find extraordinary (to put it mildly) Brigadier General Lee's (Lee Kuan Yew's son and Singapore Deputy Prime Minister) statement in an interview with the BBC World Service:



The Government does not ill-treat detainees. It does however apply psychological pressure to detainees to get to the truth of the matter ... the truth would not be known unless psychological pressure was used during interrogation.


Systematic sleep deprivation, continuous interrogation over sixteen hours by strident, foul-mouthed intelligence officers, while standing barefoot in flimsy clothing on a cold cement floor in a freezing room under the skin-blistering and eye de-moisturing glare of spotlights, unlimited solitary confinement, are at once physical and psychological ordeals.

Mr Seow quotes to potent effect a comment by Jerome A. Cohen, a prominent legal representative of Asia Watch, while on a visit to Singapore at the time. Mr Cohen



... found deeply disturbing both the use of psychological torture and what he called a pervasive Singaporean, if not Asian view that "if you haven't hit somebody, it isn't torture." Psychological disorientation is evil whether it happens in South Africa, the Soviet Union, China, Singapore or the United States. Yet here they seem almost proud of their psychological tactics - breaking down the defenses of people in captivity. They need to be more sensitive to the definition of what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.


One can understand why the Singapore government hurriedly withdrew its initial offer (made inadvertently by junior ministers when Big Brother happened to be out of town) to appoint a judicial Commission of Inquiry to examine public allegations of ill-treatment by nine ex-detainees in April 1988. They were rearrested instead, and it came as no surprise that some of them duly signed, while in renewed custody, "statutory declarations" withdrawing their earlier allegations, and asserting that they had not been ill-treated. Much more convenient, certainly, for Lee and his government, than a judicial Commission of Inquiry, which would publicly examine and pronounce on charges made from the witness stand by free men and women, subject to no constraints but those of conscience and of cross-examination by defence and prosecution alike.

The circumstances of Seow's arrest and the subsequent ordeal of interrogation and detention provide occasion not only for grave disquiet over the brutal mistreatment of detainees. (they certainly put paid to any continued pretense of Lee Kuan Yew's part that he walks in the company of civilised statesman.) It raises another question - perhaps the most crucial one - in my own mind. I may explain, even if the effort proves, as it certainly will, an unflattering commentary on some of my own past judgments of persons and events.

I had once publicly supported the need for the Internal Security Act when the democratically elected PAP Government was engaged in the life and death struggle against a murderous communist united front movement, committed to the violent overthrow of constitutional government. In subsequent years, I had continued to believe that the Act was justified given the volatile geopolitical milieu in which Singapore had to survive. Never had it occurred to me that the PAP government was capable of the gross abuse of the draconian powers conferred by the Act. And never was I more wholly wrong, and my conscience so grievously misplaced.

What an unconsciously long time some people take to learn that power really does corrupt, especially its exercise when placed outside the purview of an impartial third party - like an independent judiciary. No statesman was ever more resoundingly correct than Thomas Jefferson when he warned:

In questions of power, let no more be heard of confidence in man but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the constitution.

Alas, because he was not stopped in time, Lee Kuan Yew has proceeded to alter the laws to bind down the judiciary and the media instead.

President Devan Nair in the National Day Parade in 1982
The crucial question is this. What internal or external dangers threaten Singapore so gravely today to justify the need of a law like the Internal Security Act. allowing, as it does, indefinite detention without trial? None that anyone acquainted with the current political and economic situation in Southeast Asia can think of. None at all that cannot be more effectively dealt with by sensible democratic political process, under the ordinary laws of the land.

There is no longer a communist insurrectionary movement in Malaysia committed to the violent overthrow of lawfully constituted governments in Singapore and Malaysia. There is no communist united front movement left in Singapore. By all accounts, communist potential in the area has been decisively scotched by economic, political, and geographical developments. the Communist Party of Malaysia, a sad and bedraggled relic of a once truly formidable movement, which it took all the military and political skills of the British and subsequent Malaysian governments to defeat, finally laid down their arms on December 2, 1989, after signing peace agreements with the Malaysian and Thai governments, and thus brought to a formal close 41 years of armed conflict.

When this was announced, the first Prime Minister of Malaysia, the late Tungku Abdul Rahman, promptly and publicly recalled the pledge he had given in the free Malaysian parliament to the effect that the internal security laws providing for the arrest and detention without trial of suspected subversives were directed solely at the communist insurrectionary movement, and would be repealed once the insurrection was overcome. He therefore called for the outright abolition of the Internal Security Act since the communist threat to constitutional government had ceased to exist. Not so Lee Kuan Yew whom the London Sunday Telegraph reported as saying: "I don't see myself repealing it." Do Confucian conformity and stability require powers of detention without trial?

In Singapore, by the early seventies, we had decisively debunked and defused a once powerful communist united front movement, which is no longer in evidence. I should know, because I was right out in the front line of that battle, among the foot soldiers, in constant danger of life and limb, leading the free trade unions - now, under Lee's surrogates, no longer free. The economic, social, and administrative successes we registered clearly do not provide fertile soil for violent insurgency of any kind. With the notable exception of Singapore, everywhere else economic success, even of much less magnitude than we can boast of, has invariably been accompanied by more relaxed political climates and styles. Not so under Lee.

Success has been followed by an even further tightening of the screws. Indeed, even the insurrectionary communists of the fifties and sixties, with their unconstitutional resort to armed violence, civil riots, and strikes, were dealt with under laws and custodial treatment more benign and civilised than were constitutional law-abiding dissenters like Seow, and other social workers and professionals arrested and detained in Singapore in recent times. Neither were they obliged to produce abject statutory declarations "confessing" their numerous "misdeeds." Much can be said of the defects and shortcomings of previous British colonial regimes in Singapore. But these did not include the systematic and ruthless crushing of the human spirit at which Lee's Internal Security boys excel. One can appreciate now why he proudly refers to them as "professionals."

Devan Nair with Goh Chok Tong in 1985

Only recently, yet another striking departure from decent civilized practice occurred. Detention without trial is no longer subject to judicial review in Singapore. The government on January 25, 1989, amended the Internal Security Act to place its powers of detention without trial beyond challenge in the courts, with retrospective effect into the bargain. And nobody will ever know what takes place behind the walls in the soundproof, freezing rooms of the Whitley Detention Centre, from which issue "statutory declarations" by political prisoners abjectly admitting to a variety of anti-government offences.

Thus, by means the venerable Confucious would never have condoned, Lee hopes to enforce in his ideal city state the Confucian conformity and respect for authority he so much admires. In these circumstances, it will be a rash Singaporean who, knowing the grave risks he is likely to incur, will dare even to murmur dissent. But alarm bells are already ringing in the night. As already observed, internationally mobile Singaporeans are leaving "the Singapore Miracle" in disturbing numbers to seek their fortunes in more congenial pastures, where they can breathe more freely.

+++

Devan Nair in 1975
The road to perdition gets rougher and spikier as one goes down it. Relentlessly downhill has forged the predatory road with a vengeance, especially in the last few years. Consider the spate of repressive legislation enacted in a brief three to four years.

Parliament is converted into "a political mine-field," as a pained and shocked Dr Toh Chin Chye, the founder chairman of the People's Action Party, observed in 1987. A mine-field which blew opposition leader J.B. Jeyeratnam out of the legislative chamber and made certain that he would have not be able to contest another election for at least five years. An even worse fate has befallen Francis Seow.

Parliamentary select committees, by hallowed Westminster convention serious and sedate forums to consider public or professional reservations about government bills tabled in Parliament, are transformed into criminal courtrooms where a fiercely prosecuting, browbeating prime minister puts startled witnesses in the witness box for gruelling cross-examination. This was what happened to Francis Seow, the then president of the Law Society, and to members of the Society's governing council. Subsequent legislation ensured that Seow no longer remained president, and that the Law Society would never again be able to comment publicly on bills before the legislature, on the ground that they were beyond the limited professional competence of the Society. The curious theory was trotted out that politics is only for politicians, not for professional bodies, even though their members are citizens with legitimate concerns about matters of public interest.

Draconian laws were passed to bring to heel foreign journals and newspapers which were critical of what they considered bizarre going-ons in the republic. The Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far East Economic Review were accused of "meddling in domestic politics," and their free circulation was drastically curtailed. They were told that they were not reporting Singapore to Singaporeans "fairly," as if that were the role of the free international media.

Lee forgets that in the colonial past, his British predecessors were not knocked off by free reporting on Singapore by the foreign media, even though they had to deal with an obstreperous population and its equally restive politicians who included, for instance, rambunctious types like Lee Kuan Yew and Devan Nair. In particular, he forgets that his own international reputation as a staunch anticolonial freedom fighter owed a great deal to the free and open manner in which the foreign media covered him and his party's activities.

One could go on ad infinitum about the road Lee Kuan Yew has chosen to travel. My immediate purpose, however, is to as paint vividly as possible, with a few basic strokes, the political context in which Francis Seow's book should be read. I hope I have managed to do this with at least a minimum of adequacy. For there have been other detainees in Singapore whose predicament was, if anything, worse than Seow's was.

Lim Chin Siong with Chia Thye Poh
There is, for example, Chia Thye Poh. First arrested on October 29, 1966 under the ISA, Chia was banished on May 16, 1989 to the off-shore pleasure island of Sentosa. One cannot improve on what Christopher Lockwood of the London Sunday Telegraph noted:

Exile on Sentosa is a diabolically-crafted alternative. Who can take a prisoner of conscience seriously on a holiday island? With Chia out of jail, he (Chia) fears, world disapproval of his detention will simply evaporate.

But Nelson Mandela was unconditionally freed by President F.W. de Klerk of South Africa - free to begin shaking the evil apartheid system down to its foundations. Chia Thye Poh is incapable of shaking anything. So why this extraordinary vindictiveness?

I recalled Lee Kuan Yew once quoting, in euphoric mood, Churchill's resonant words:

"In war, resolution. In defeat, defiance. In victory, magnanimity."

Lee and his comrades-in-arms were resolute in all the political battles we fought in the early years against the colonialists, and the crooks. But Lee has never yet known defeat. So far he has met only victories, in all of which he has shown himself incredibly vicious. Unlike Churchill, who, incidentally, could not boast anything comparable to Lee's two firsts and a star for distinction in Cambridge, Lee misses human greatness by several million light years.

As was inevitable for one who, in arrogant contempt for soulcraft as a vital ingredient of successful statecraft, recklessly opted for an errant orbit, traced in benighted times past by the trajectory of Moloch.

Lee's major justification for his policies is the example of Singapore's remarkable economic success. But what will haunt generations to come in Singapore and the Southeast Asian region generally are his even more monumental failures. Well did the Bard observe:

The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interr'd with their bones.

Ultimately, his most unpardonable failure is the crass betrayal of the ideal which launched the People's Action Party into political orbit - that of an equal, multiracial, democratic society which would banish from its midst, for ever and a day, invidious notions of ethnic or religious majorities or minorities. In Singapore there would be no majorities and minorities. There would only be Singaporeans. This was the flaming aspiration on which Lee rode to power on the crest of revolutionary fervour. Today he has defiled the social atmosphere of Singapore with the sordid evil of ethno-centrism, which he had vowed to eradicate, in my company and in that of countless other comrades in the common struggle against colonialism, communalism, and communism. But this is not the place to expatiate on this particular piece of treachery. I will deal with it in my own book.

Lee is gifted with a brilliant brain and an eloquent tongue. But the capricious gods omitted to equip him with the saving grace of that essential wisdom which makes for true greatness. And Singapore thereby missed the infinitely more potent miracle of the political and spiritual success it might so easily have provided, as a practical, living demonstration to the other unhappy, struggling, heterogenous nations in Southeast Asia, not merely of singular economic achievement, but also of the eminent viability of a free, open, sane, and equal multiracial democracy, worthy at once of economic, political, and moral emulation.

As things are, one can only wonder how much longer successful economic performance and a loutish political style can sleep together in the same bed. While one dreams of electronic paradises to come, the other enacts, in political nightmares, vengeful vendettas against foes real or imaginary, mostly the latter. Alas, both must perished in fatal embrace, on the same bed.

- C.V. Devan Nair (1923 - 2005)