Sunday, March 18, 2007

Detention of journalists and lawyers under the ISA

The detention without trial of journalists and lawyers during the 1970s is the focus of this concluding chapter of Amnesty International's report on Singapore, published in 1980.

(V) Professions in Singapore


Amnesty International has been concerned for many years that journalists, newspaper editors and publishers who have been critical of government policy have been detained without trial in Singapore under the ISA. The best known case is that of Said Zahari, a former editor of Utusan Melayu, the leading Malay-language paper in Singapore in the early 1960s, who was detained for nearly 16 years without trial under the ISA and then spent another nine months in exile on the island of Pulau Ubin before his final release in August 1979.

The Singapore Government has consistently sought to curb press freedom in the Republic in a number of ways. In 1971, for instance, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew publicly forced an American bank in Singapore to foreclose on a newspaper, the Singapore Herald, which had been critical of the Government. Through the Printing Presses Ordinance every printing press in Singapore requires an annual licence from the Government, and the same is true for newspaper publisher. Moreover, through the Essential Information (Control of Publications and Safeguarding of Information) Regulations, the Government decides what is fit to print. The Government used this in 1969, for example, to prevent public discussion in the press of the Government decision to abolish trial by jury for capital offences. Under Section 20 of the ISA, the Minister of Home Affairs is also empowered to prohibit any publication, inter alia, which he qualifies as 'prejudicial to the national interest, public order, or security of Singapore'.

These instruments together with the frequent detention of journalists under the ISA have secured for Singapore an almost uncritical press. Thus, when detainee Chan Hock Hua died of cancer in March 1978, no newspaper in the Republic was willing to carry an obituary notice from his family.

The most draconian crackdown on the press occurred in May 1971, when in the space of a few weeks the Government detained four members of the staff of the Chinese-language newspaper Nanyang Siang Pau, including its editor, Shamsuddin Tung, and its former manager Lee Mau Seng, deported the editor of a new English-language daily, the Singapore Herald and closed down both the Herald and the Eastern Sun. The four staff members of Nanyang Siang Pau were accused of glamourizing the 'communist way of life', despite the fact that two of them had a long history of supporting the virulently anti-communist Kuomintang.

Despite these arrests, the Nanyang Siang Pau continued to publish and in January 1973 its managing director, Lee Eu Seng, was also arrested and detained under the ISA. The four senior members of staff arrested in 1971 were all released by the end of 1973 after making 'confessions' to secure their freedom. Lee Eu Seng himself was detained for five years without trial under the ISA before his release on 1 February 1978.

The former chief editor of the newspaper, Nanyang Siang Pau, Shamsuddin Tung, was rearrested in December 1976 during general elections in which he was a candidate for the United Front party. He was again detained under the ISA, allegedly exploiting communal issues, and remained in detention until 22 January 1979. As well as imposing on him the usual stringent conditions forced on an ex-detainee, the Government in October 1978 deprived Shamsuddin Tung of his Singapore citizenship under the Banishment Ordinance, thus making him a stateless person.

Further arrests of journalists took place in 1976-77 following the forced withdrawal of Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP) from the Socialist International. In June 1976, Hussein Jahidin and Azmi Mahmud of the Berita Harian Singapore were detained under the ISA. Within a short period both made 'confessions' that had attempted to slant their news in their journal in a manner critical of the Government. Their arrest was followed in February 1977 by that of Arun Senkuttuvan, Singapore correspondent of the Economist and the Financial Times. Some weeks later the arrest took place of the correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review in Singapore, Ho Kwon Ping.

Both journalists made televized 'confessions' within a month of their detention acknowledging government accusations that they had sought to defame the Government of Singapore by their reports. The editors of both the Financial Times and the Far Eastern Economic Review issued categorical statements that there was no cause for suspicion that the journalists had written in a slanted fashion and placing the 'confessions' in the context of continuous interrogation and the prospect of indefinite detention under the ISA. Both men were released on 29 April 1977. Arun Senkuttuvan was deprived of his citizenship while in detention.

The Legal Profession

The position of the judiciary and the legal profession generally in Singapore has been gravely undermined by the Government's use of its wide provisions for preventive detention. Those lawyers who have been active in defending political detainees have exposed themselves to harassment and the Government has not hesitated to include lawyers among its political detainees.

T T Rajah, a distinguished member of the Singapore Bar was imprisoned without trial under the ISA from June 1974 to December 1975. Since his release he has been hindered from the free practice of his profession as a result of restrictions imposed on him by the Government; in particular, he has been barred from taking any work in connection with political detainees under the ISA. Another lawyer, G Raman, who had also been active in assisting political detainees and had criticized the Government's human rights violations, was arrested under the ISA in February 1977 and detained until February 1978. On his release Mr Raman was barred from returning to the legal profession for two years and is, like T T Rajah, forbidden indefinitely to represent political detainees.

Lawyers who have sought to interview clients who are political detainees have frequently found themselves requested by security authorities to specify in advance those matters which they wish to discuss with their clients. When interviews do take place between lawyers and their clients these communications are never private but in fact take place via monitored telephone calls through a glass partition. During the initial 30 days' interrogation that all political detainees are subjected to, they are invariably refused access to a lawyer. In Amnesty International's experience, this greatly increases the likelihood of ill-treatment and torture of detainees.

- Amnesty International (1980)



Political detention in Singapore : Prisoner case histories
The ISA as a political tool
Life in Singapore's political prisons
Surviving long-term detention without trial
Detention of journalists and lawyers under the ISA


Thomas Koh said...

These types of crimes are really intolerable.
Anyone in the world should be given the basic human rights including prisoners.ISA must be abolished for they serve no good purpose for the country or the people at all.It is definitely nothing more than a political tool for the authority.

Thomas Koh said...

I am also a political prisoner subjected to all these forms of immense torture as well and there should also be a human rights organisation to be set up in the country to protect all these prisoners subjected to illegal jailing and abuse.