Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Video : Dr Chia Thye Poh

Detained without trial by Lee Kuan Yew's government for 32 years, Dr Chia Thye Poh was the longest-serving political prisoner of Singapore. This video documents his first public appearance since his release in 1998.

Photo : Dr Lim Hock Siew quoted by the Straits Times. Full article here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Award for Asia’s ‘forgotten’ man

School honours ex-Jurong MP, confined under Singapore’s ISA for 33 years

Monday, December 19th, 2011 14:05:00

Malay Mail

KUALA LUMPUR: Chia Thye Poh may be forgiven for thinking that after 33 years in confinement, people from both ends of the Causeway have relegated him to the annals of history.
On the evidence of the reception he received at the Confucian Private Secondary School in Lorong Hang Jebat here yesterday, the 70-year-old is still fondly remembered, at least by the 400 people attending an award presentation.
Chia is Asia's longestserving political prisoner, detained under Singapore's Internal Security Act (ISA) from 1966 to 1998, with the last nine years under house arrest on Sentosa Island.
He was detained after being suspected to be an ally of the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and viewed as posing a terrorism threat to the republic.
Yesterday, the former Jurong MP, between 1963 and 1965, was awarded the Lim Lian Geok (LLG) Spirit Award at the school's function hall.
Chia largely spoke on the influence the former Nanyang University had on him and how its spirit would "live on".
"I remember when the then governor of Singapore, Sir William Goode, wanted to come to the university's launch in 1956, his motorcade was delayed by more than two hours because of the immense traffic of people who came for the launch," he said in his acceptance speech.
"Nantah (Nanyang) was the wish of over three million Chinese citizens in Southeast Asia. The spirit of this university will never die."
The university ceased to exist in 1980 when the Singapore government merged it with the University of Singapore.
This was Chia's first public appearance as he spent his years of renewed freedom pursuing a doctorate at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands.
He was a former Barisan Sosialis party member and part of a movement that protested alleged ‘undemocratic' acts by the then Singapore premier, Lee Kuan Yew.
Chia had opposed Singapore's separation from Malaysia, and campaigned for the sustainability of Nanyang University, which was then Singapore's only Chinese language postsecondary institution.
Asked if he would make his first public appearance in the island nation, he said he would wait for the "right occasion" to do so.
The LLG award, now in its 24th edition, annually honours individuals who have served the Chinese culture or people at large.
It was first given out in 1988 in memory of the late Chinese educationist Lim Lian Geok and is largely viewed as the highest honour in the Malaysian Chinese community.


The ballad of Chia Thye Poh
December 19, 2011

Free Malaysia Today

(Adapted by Kua Kia Soong from The H-Block Song, Dec 18, 2011)

“I am a proud yet simple man
In the lion city my life began
A caring teacher I became
In search of truth and peace -
And when my age was tender still
My country’s wrongs my mind did fill
By tens of thousands patriots’ trills
And my questions would not cease …

Don’t shed no tears for my plight
I’ll boldly serve my time
Let Harry brand our noble fight
Thirty two years of crime…

“I learned of many years of strife
Of cruel laws, injustice rife
I saw in Vietnam how they ruled
The same colonial way –

Protestors beaten, tortured, maimed
Divisions nurtured, passions flamed
Outraged, provoked, rights, cause defamed
This is the conqueror’s way…


“They locked me up in sixty six
On trumped up charges hard to stick
They tried to force me to confess
To all their made-up lies -

I stand for human dignity
For freedom, just democracy
I know that through those years deprived
My spirit will touch lives…”


Chia Thye Poh, 70, the longest-serving political prisoner in Asian history, was awarded the Lim Lian Geok (LLG) Spirit Award on Dec 18, 2011 by the LLG Cultural Development Centre. The former Singapore Member of Parliament was detained for 32 years from 1966 to 1998 by Lee Kuan Yew’s government, a much longer term compared to Nelson Mandela’s 28 years of detention. The citation for the award read:

“… for upholding his belief in democracy, without compromising and never losing faith throughout the 32 years of unjust detention without trial.”

In 1963, many activists in Singapore were arrested and detained. Chia selflessly stood in for a detained candidate in the general elections and was elected Member of Parliament on a Socialist Front ticket. He was thus also a Malaysian member of parliament from 1963 to 1965 when Singapore was part of Malaysia.

A defender of the freedom of expression and justice, he was banned from entering Malaysia after he had delivered a speech at the Perak division of the Labour Party of Malaysia on April 24, 1966.

He was arrested under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) by the Singapore Government on Oct 29, 1966 which allows for indefinite detention without trial. In May 1989, he was placed under house arrest in the island of Sentosa for nine more years.

After 32 years of incarceration, he was finally granted unconditional freedom on 27 November 1998. Immediately after his restriction order was lifted, Chia issued a statement condemning the ISA. Soon after, he went to Netherlands and completed his Master’s and PhD degrees at the Institute of Social Studies at The Hague.

Established in 1988, the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award is the highest honour in the Malaysian Chinese community bestowed on those who live up to the spirit of Lim Lian Geok, the civil rights leader of Dong Jiao Zong in the fifties and sixties.

His citizenship was revoked by the Alliance government in 1961 because of his opposition to the 1960 Rahman Talib Report that aimed to convert the Chinese secondary schools to national schools. Since his passing in 1985, Lim Lian Geok has been beatified as the “Soul of the Malaysian Chinese”.

Straits Times, Dec 20, 2011 _______________________________________________________________________

Chia Thye Poh commended

Largely blackout by English media, Lianhe Zaobao reports that Chia Thye Poh receives the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award.








Translate as below.
Former political detainee Chia Thye Poh receives the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award in view of his love and fight for the mother tongue (Chinese) education.

Chia said "I have receives much but contributed little towards Chinese and Nanyang University. Compared to those who sacrifices long time in silence, I am really nothing. This award should be rightly belonged to those who love Chinese education and Nanyang University".

Chia was borned in Singapore, graduated 1961 from Nanyang University, 3rd batch of physics graduate. During 1963, he won a seat of parliament representing Jurong constituency. He was arrested on 1966 under ISA and was released as late as 1998.

The reason for winning the award is being "prisoner of conscience, perseverance in idealism, fearless under incarceration, manifesting the spirit of Nanyang University. This is coherent with Lim Lian Geok spirit of standing firm under pressure of physical harm and under the lure of wealth".

Chia said "University is not an ivory tower. The value of university does not depend of good facilities, but most importantly on character, on its zeitgeist, and on answering the call of people; on cultivating people into somebody who are patriotic, who love human values, who contribute to human advancement and to the peace of the world".

He pointed that the founding of Nanyang University is as what Tan Lark Sye had said, the crystallization of the guts and aspiration of 3 million Chinese". It was force out of business by Singapore government.

He cited a phrase from Lim Leong Geok "One can destroy our body, but our spirit will prevail".

Chia is coming back home.
Malaysian newspaper reported. Asked if he would make his first public appearance in the island nation, he said he would wait for the "right occasion" to do so.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dr Chia Thye Poh

by Teo Soh Lung

On Sunday, 18 December 2011, Dr Chia Thye Poh, 70, will receive a very special award, the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award in recognition of his courage, integrity and belief in democracy.
[ The ceremony will take place in Kuala Lumpur this Sunday 18th December.
Venue: Confucian Private Secondary School, Lorong Hang Jebat, adjacent to Jalan Petaling, Chinatown, KL.
Time : 10 am
All are welcome. ]
[ Link ]

Chia was elected a member of the Singapore Legislative Assembly for the constituency of Jurong on 21 September 1963. He was only 22 years old and was one of 13 successful Barisan Sosialis candidates in that general election. Ong Eng Guan of the United People’s Party was the 14th opposition member in the Assembly. The PAP had 37 seats with Lee Kuan Yew as the prime minister. Chia was also a member of the Federal Parliament when Singapore was part of Malaysia.

Prior to Chia's election to the Assembly, frequent arrests under the Internal Security Act (ISA) had almost wiped out the entire leadership of the opposition. In Operation Cold Store (2 February 1963), more than 120 people were arrested. This was followed by arrests every year and two major swoops in September 1963 and October 1963 (Operation Pecah). Even before the first session of the Assembly was convened, three Barisan members of the Assembly, namely Loh Miaw Gong, Lee Tee Tong and S T Bani were arrested and imprisoned under the ISA. Two other members, Chan Sun Wing and Wong Soon Fong escaped arrests. When they subsequently wrote to the Speaker of the House enquiring if they could have his assurance that they would not be arrested if they returned to Singapore, the Speaker would not guarantee their safety. They thus remained outside Singapore till today. The number of Barisan members in the house was dramatically reduced to eight.

During the campaign for the general election in September 1963, the issue of independence through merger with Malaya was simultaneously canvassed. A wash-out referendum conducted by the ruling P.A.P. resulted in Singapore joining Malaysia on grossly unfair and unjust terms. It also resulted in confrontation with Indonesia which feared a strongly armed neighbour.

When the house sat on 9 December 1963 to debate on the address of the Yang di-Pertuan Negara’s speech, young Chia was the first opposition speaker to take the floor, moving a motion to add a note of regret to the address :

“; but this Assembly regrets that the Government in helping to impose Malaysia on the people has caused great difficulties and hardships to them in Singapore and urges the Government to take immediate steps to persuade the Central Government to get rid of foreign interference, negotiate with the Indonesian Government, and resolve all existing differences to our mutual benefit, and so help to bring stability, peace and prosperity to South-East Asia.”

Chia gave his speech in Mandarin and was exceedingly eloquent. He spoke on a wide range of issues. He opposed violence and was appalled at the millions contributed by Singapore to Malaysia for the expansion of the armed forces. He said in the Assembly on 9 December 1963 :

“… let me first remind the House that the financial arrangements under the Malaysia Agreement have literally robbed Singapore of a huge chunk of its revenue. We pay the Federation Government $117 million outright. In addition, we pay for developments of Federal departments in Singapore ($9.5 million) as well as the annually recurrent expenditure of State-cum-Federal departments ($15 million approximately).

If we add the $30 million so called loan to the Borneo territories, then the sum given away by Singapore to the Federation comes to about $170 million! $170 million of our money given away! If this money were truly used for construction and development, at least we would be consoled by the fact that our money was put to good use. But it is clear that most of our money will not be spent on construction and development, but on the expansion of armed forces and for the suppression of the national liberation struggle in Borneo! This is not the way how our money should be spent. Expenditure on armed expansion will only benefit the big arms industries in the United Kingdom and the U.S.A. Our Party had repeatedly warned against this during the debate on the Malaysia Agreement! Now all can see that what the Barisan has all along said is 100 per cent correct. The P.A.P. must be condemned for having signed away all this money of the people of Singapore! …”

On how to deal with the Indonesian confrontation, he was firmly of the view that Singapore should take steps to make peace. He said:

“… The interests of the people demand that we prevent the present friction from developing further into open conflict and war with Indonesia. Only peace will being happiness and prosperity to the people. So let all of us in Singapore make our full contribution to the defence of peace in the region…”

In numerous speeches in the Assembly, Chia spoke about the unjust and unfair manner in which the PAP called the general election. He protested against the PAP’s use of the ISA against Barisan members, candidates and trade unionists and torture inflicted on detainees.

He held his ground against older and seasoned ministers like Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Keng Swee, S Rajaratnam, Ong Pang Boon and Toh Chin Chye. When Rajaratnam stood up once to interrupt his speech, he was not intimidated. He refused to give way and remained standing. The Speaker had to tell Rajaratnam to back off as Chia was not giving way.

Chia’s clear mathematical mind, his agility and ability to work out figures and summarised them in simple percentages must have terrified lawyers like Lee Kuan Yew and E W Barker. He understood the intimidating methods used by the P.A.P. at that time. He was clear that the ruling party then was not achieving independence for Singapore when it decided to join Malaysia. He said:

“We in the Barisan have always fought against colonialism and imperialism, and the P.A.P. attempts to deceive the people about having achieved independence (by reading a proclamation on 31st August) will not be able to prevent them from continuing the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle.

We in the Barisan have consistently fought for the basic rights and interests of the people. We fight for the workers, farmers, intellectuals, national businessmen. We shall do our best to safeguard their interests, and we shall continue to struggle for justice, equality, democracy, peace and freedom for the people.

The P.A.P. always uses the Communist bogey to frighten and intimidate the people. And indeed because of its control of the State propaganda apparatus, it has to a certain extent succeeded. But however the P.A.P. may care to play on the theme of the Communist bogey, with the hope of isolating the Barisan and gaining support for itself, it cannot cover up the fact that “poverty in the midst of plenty and unemployment in the face of affluence” are urgent problems which have to be faced, tackled and resolved. Labelling the Barisan pro-Communist simply because we want to help solve these basic problems, cannot deceive the people for any length of time. P.A.P. lies might deceive some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time. But they cannot deceive all the people all the time. P.A.P. lies will all be exposed . Truth will out and truth will triumph.”

Chia and the Barisan Sosialis were subsequently proven right for opposing merger on the terms agreed to by the P.A.P. Singapore was asked to leave Malaysia in August 1965.

It may have been the brilliance of Chia that in order to avoid debates with him, the house rarely sat. In 1964, the house met solely for the debate on the annual budget. But it could also be the P.A.P. style of ruling – that decisions be taken without debates since they had an overwhelming majority in the house. The house was thus mainly used to debate the annual budget and to enact laws.

It was probably out of frustration about the lack of opportunity to debate on important issues in the house that led Chia or the Barisan to submit a letter to the Speaker on 8 October 1966. The material part as quoted in Hansard (col. 342 of 26 October 1966) read :

“… the Party” (i.e. the Barisan Sosialis) “has decided that all Barisan ‘MPs’ will resign their ‘Parliamentary’ seats as from today. …”

The letter was signed by Chia but not the rest of the other eight Barisan members. Whether that letter constituted a resignation of Chia is debateable. The Speaker rightly refused to accept the resignation of the eight until personal letters of resignation were received subsequently. He however accepted the resignation of Chia on 18 October 1966, the same day as a letter of resignation signed by Lee Tee Tong was received by the Speaker. (Col. 344 of 26 October 1966). Why 18 October 1966 and not 8 October 1966 (the date of receipt by the Speaker) is also a mystery.

Tragically, on 29 October 1966, Chia was arrested under the ISA and imprisoned without trial for 26 years. Ironically, towards the latter part of his imprisonment, the P.A.P. insisted that Chia renounce violence. He refused since he had never advocated violence. It was clear from his speeches in the Legislative Assembly that he is a man of peace and did not believe in arms and violence. For his principle, Chia lost 26 years of the prime of his life and was subjected to severe restrictions for another 6 years. He left Singapore to pursue a Master and then a doctorate degree from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague after restrictions on his freedom to travel were lifted.

A true hero of Singapore, I salute Dr Chia for his courage, integrity and sacrifice for Singaporeans. When he graduated from Nanyang University at the age of 20 and embarked on a teaching career, the world was so bright for him and his family. Effectively trilingual, he is proficient in English, Malay and Chinese. But for cruelty of the P.A.P., Chia would have made enormous contributions to our country and the region.

I heartily congratulate Dr Chia on his receiving the Lim Lian Geok Spiritual Award.

[1] The award ceremony will be held at the Confucian Private Secondary School, Lorong Hang Jebat, 50150, Kuala Lumpur on 18 October 2011 at 10 a.m.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tributes to Francis Khoo (1947 - 2011)

A memorial service for Francis Khoo will be held in Singapore at a date to be announced. Contact :

A Tireless Advocate of Justice for Palestinians

Francis Khoo Kah Siang passed away on November 20, 2011. He will be missed because he leaves a void for many of us who were and remain inspired by his work for Palestinian rights. Francis Khoo is an icon of countless others, who like himself, are neither Arab nor Muslim, neither from the Middle East nor culturally or politically connected to Palestine by birth, but who support the Palestinian cause.

Many of us, but especially Westerners and Americans it seems, learn essentially nothing about the Nakba in school. Yet many, often quite by chance and for one reason or another, have come into contact with the Question of Palestine and, learning about the great injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people, could not remain indifferent or idle. Francis was one of these.

But by the time we finally met, which was just fourteen months before his sudden and untimely death last month, I knew what kind of a person he was and something about his lifelong quest for justice. Over the past half-decade I learned something about his remarkably work through my friend, his wife, the gifted orthopedic surgeon and well known humanitarian, Dr. Swee Chai Ang, who for three decades has embraced and supported Palestinian refugees both with lifesaving medical care under heavy and indiscriminate bombardment inside Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp and Gaza Hospital in Beirut, and with her indefatigable work for the refugees’ return to Palestine. The latter included lectures and appearances around the World, sometimes in the company of Francis.

It was in September of 2010 that I met Francis in person when he came to Beirut for the 28th annual commemoration of the September 1982 Sabra-Shatila Massacre. He attended a reception at the office of the Palestine Civil Rights Campaign and participated in a heavy schedule of activities during his visit.

All the while he was in Lebanon he was on peritoneal dialysis for kidney failure which he administered himself three to four times a day. On the bus south, to visit Palestinian camps, Francis entertained the passengers with songs, including Beladi (‘my land’) the beautiful Arabic anthem of the Palestinian revolution, followed by a soliloquy on the origin of the song and his interpretation.

Few of the passengers on the bus had much idea about Francis’ background. He was born into a closely knit, devoutly Catholic Singapore Peranakan family. As a lad he sang in the Singing Khoos with his brothers and at an early age developed a passion to work for the rights of the oppressed. Once admitted to the Singapore Bar, Frances began working on sensitive civil rights cases that many other lawyers preferred to avoid.

Francis had earlier developed a reputation as a defender of the downtrodden and while as an undergraduate at University, or later as Vice President of the Student Law Society, he opposed the introduction of the Suitability Certificate, fought the abolition of the jury system in Singapore and condemned the indiscriminate criminal 1972 Christmas Day bombing of Hanoi ordered by President Nixon.

Before long Francis found himself being accused of violating Singapore’s Internal Security Act which, particularly during the 1977-1987 period, was used to arrest hundreds of Singaporeans who were held without trial. Following their January 1977 marriage, his young wife Dr. Swee Chai Ang, was also sought by authorities who came for her and threatened to handcuff her while she was in the operating theatre performing surgery. Eventually, and following torture, Dr. Swee was released as part of a government scheme to try to lure back to Singapore Francis, who by then had escaped and left for England and he began his 34 years of exile from his country. Swee joined her loved one and they developed their careers in London.

Francis’ niece recently wrote that, “They could kick Francis out of Singapore, but they could not kick the Singaporean out of Francis,” as he followed events in his country, frequently wore his Peranakan skirt — the Sarong, and wrote about his homeland including the well-known song, “And Bungaraya Blooms All Day.” Francis had hoped that 2011 would be the Singaporean Spring.

Some friends saw a parallel between Francis’ wish to return to his homeland and his decades of advocacy of the Palestinians Right of Return.

Francis Khoo, was a gifted humanist. With many talents that included using his legal education to challenge injustices and using his energy and organizational abilities to defend the oppressed such as the UK’s striking miners in 1985, working as Director of War on Want, established by the late British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, co-founding with his wife and their friends Pamela and Derek Cooper, Medical Aid for Palestinians and serving as its Vice Chairman from 1984 to 2007, and donating his times and abilities to numerous other charities.

Francis’ passions included writing, especially articles, poetry and songs, photography, and drawing. He possessed a particularly unique skill as explained by his niece Melissa, currently doing her residency in surgery and using the medical term ‘eidetic memory’ in describing her uncle’s photographic memory, that gave Francis the ability to recall images, sounds or objects with remarkable precision.

Francis Khoo lived a full and valuable life and left this world a better place because of his lifelong labors for justice. Those of us who share his commitment to the liberation of Palestine and the full return of her six million refugees will pay him tribute by continuing his work for peace and justice.

FRANKLIN LAMB volunteers with the Palestine Civil Rights Campaing in Lebanon.

A tribute to Francis Khoo Kah Siang
by Tan Wah Piow

We take the opportunity of this gathering to pay our respects and register our tribute to Francis Khoo, husband of Ang Swee Chai and a patriotic son of Singapore.

Born on the 23.10. 1947, Francis sadly died unexpectedly in London last Sunday 20 November 2011.

Some of us who had the privilege of knowing him, and had worked with him during the 1970s will feel the great loss of a passionate, courageous and creative advocate for change.

I first met Francis in 1973, he was then a 26 year old young lawyer and an active member of the Student Christian Movement in Singapore, He was then an important source of inspiration amongst his peers. He helped to organise the demonstration outside the American embassy protesting against the US bombing of north Vietnam, a rare anti-war event in Singapore.

In 1974 he represented one of the two workers from the American Marine factory who, together with me, were victims of a frame-up stitched up by the Singapore government controlled trade union. The trial brought Francis closer to the student leadership at the University of Singapore. 1974 was a time of economic recession in Singapore, hence a time of intense political persecution against dissent. He had already made his mark in 1971 when he, together with 4 others, tried to form a cooperative to revive the Herald newspaper, which was closed down by the authorities in a crackdown of the independent press.

Although for a period in the 1970s he suffered malicious, unjustified and unfounded slanders to his integrity as a political activist, Francis was able to rise above them, thanks to his deep political commitment and faith.

In February 1977, the Singapore government launched one of their periodic sweeps under the draconian powers of the ISA. Scores of people were detained without trial. Francis knew he would be arrested due to his active political dissent. He managed to escape to the UK. He and Swee Chai were newly weds then. When the Singapore Government realised that Francis had escaped from their clutches, they arrested Swee Chai instead. They released Swee Chai on the understanding that she would coax him to return to Singapore. Francis and Swee Chai were reunited and they sought asylum in the UK.

Cut off from his Singapore base, Francis quickly adapted to life abroad redefining his role as a humanitarian internationalist, immersing himself in many worthy causes including helping Amnesty International to launch the Lawyers’ Group and spoke at several of their International Human Rights Days. In the late 1980s, he became the Director of War on Want. He was also active in local social issues and was chairman of RADICLE, the London-wide charity providing services and accommodation for teenage mothers, drop-in centres and support for the elderly. His most enduring achievement was, together with Swee Chai, setting up Medical Aid for Palestinians, which is now a well supported charity giving much needed help to the Palestinian people.

Francis Khoo was politically a socialist and spiritually a Christian humanist. His 34 years exile did not diminish his commitment and concern for Singapore and Malaysia. Despite the exile, he maintained close contacts with family and political friends. He will always be remembered by friends and comrades for his deep convictions, amiable attitude, love for life and food, and for his song, “the Bunga Raya” and for his poems.

Francis selflessly supported the work of his beloved wife who spared no effort or time in promoting the Palestinian cause. His life, and the way he chose to live it, will remain an inspiration to us all.

Tan Wah Piow


This eulogy was published by the Straits Times, 25 Nov 2011.

Francis Khoo Kah Siang, 23 October 1947 to 20 November 2011
by Ang Swee Chai

It must be so bizarre that the one person who loves you beyond words and whom you also love the most in this world goes on to make you a widow – and without polite notice!
So it is the case with my beloved. As I stepped off the plane, I received a text message sent a few hours ago that he “cannot come”. As I came into the house, I smelt delicious chicken macaroni soup freshly cooked in the kitchen. There was some left in a bowl which he must had eaten from to stem his hunger as the plane was delayed. But there was no answer to my call, except from our agitated cats. Yes, my beloved had died in the room upstairs.

Did he choose to die before I got to him to spare me the pain of resuscitating him? Was it Divine Mercy that he was taken home to God so painlessly, silently, and alone before medical science complicated his humanity? Was it to spare his wife anxious moments waiting at the hospital intensive care? Could I not just cradle him in my arms in these last precious moments on earth? Only at our re-union with our Maker and with each other can these questions be answered. For now, I am grateful to be able to look after him on this last lap of his earthly journey as he returns to the One who created him.

As news of his death broke out, thousands of emails, letters, text messages, phone calls, flowers poured from all parts of the world and all walks of life. From heads of states, diplomats, politicians, and friends employed and unemployed. I am not only overwhelmed by the volume but by the affection and admiration they held for him. Friends and family are flying in from all over the world. I have managed only to reply to just over a thousand messages over the last 48 hours. The rest might have to wait for their reply until the funeral is over.

So who was this Francis Khoo?

He was the fourth generation of an established Singapore Peranakan family. It is a close knit family. As a boy he sang in the Singing Khoos with his brothers Lawrence and Victor, and the family is devoutly Catholic. As he grew up he began to acquire a strong sense of justice – beyond merely legal. Of course he was a lawyer, but even in University as Vice President of the Students’ Law Society, he served a greater justice. He opposed the introduction of the Suitability Certificate, the abolition of the jury system, and later on the heavy bombing of Hanoi on Christmas day. His other nterests include photography – he patented a pocket camera at the age of nineteen. He loved drawing, writing and ran the St Joseph Institution school paper and the university Undergrad.

Despite all the above “distractions”, he qualified and was called to the bar. Within months of arriving as a junior lawyer in his firm, he took on the legalities of forming a Citizens’ Co-op to save the Singapore Herald, the liberal English daily closed by the government.

In 1974, I met him at a Justice and Peace meeting. His deep commitment to social justice was to him a Christian obligation. The first commandment is to love God; the second is to love your neighbours as yourself. Two weeks later I read in the Straits Times that my new acquaintance was to defend a controversial trial in which factory workers and a student leader were charged with rioting. I called him to ask him to re-consider since he might invite personal repercussions. Being a “kiasu” (law-abiding timid ) Singaporean, I sensed that the government wanted the workers and the student leader imprisoned, and to defend them would be seen as being anti-government and the consequences would be dire!

He patiently explained that everyone is entitled to legal defence – and no one should be deemed guilty until proven beyond reasonable doubt. These workers were poor and established lawyers would not take their case on and someone just got to do it, in the interest of justice. If he had to pay the price of doing so, he would accept it!

I am still not sure when my admiration for him turned to love. In 1976 when I sensed that he might be detained under the Internal Security Act I asked him to marry me, so that if he were to be arrested I can visit him in prison and at least be his link to the outside world. We married on 29 January, 1977.

The arrest came, and he managed to escape. I was detained shortly afterwards and questioned about him. Upon my release I joined him in exile in the United Kingdom.

Francis started his live in exile as a cleaner in a Central London Hotel. He then went on to work as an administrator in a British Charity, Medical and Scientific Aid for Vietnam. Two years later he was journalist for an international third world magazine, South. From there he went on to direct War on Want, a prominent international NGO founded by the late British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Apart from chairing numerous charities he was co-founder and Vice Chairman of the British Charity, Medical Aid for Palestinians from 1984 to 2007. He had to step down as new British Charity Commissioner Legislation advised against office bearers serving more than 9 years , He had served 23 years!

From War on Want he returned to legal practice in London until his failing health forced him to stop work. Despite this, his work for many charities continued.

He wrote many poems, songs and articles. He sang for many including the wives of the striking miners. One of his songs Father Christmas in the Slag Heap brought the whole of Hemsworth, a town faced with pit closure, to tears during their poverty stricken Christmas in 1984. He also sang at canteens catering meals for the aged. His songs and writings are available to the Singapore public for those who are interested.

He suffered renal failure from 1998, went on dialysis, but had a successful renal transplant on the NHS in July 2011 – the generous gift of an anonymous British woman donor. The day before his death he was at the Annual General Meeting of Living Stones, a charity to which he was trustee. His diary is full of future engagements including the Haldane Law Society, charities for the homeless, Medical Aid for Palestinians, the Scottish Parliament, and the House of Commons - plus supporting me in dozens of public lectures and talks. It is full of engagements until end of September 2012.

His untimely death left a huge void in all our lives. We are all in a state of shock. But by God’s grace, time will make it possible for his memory to overwhelm the pain of our loss. My tribute to him will be to continue to serve the cause of peace and justice. I also hope to be the widow who will take his ashes back to his beloved Singapore after his 34 years of exile.

Dr Ang Swee Chai
(Mrs Francis Khoo)
22 November 2011

No barrier to lawyer's widow returning here, MHA says
Sunday Times

The Government has made it clear that there is no barrier to Dr Ang Swee Chai returning to Singapore. The widow of lawyer Francis Khoo placed an obituary in The Straits Times on Friday in which she wrote of her hope of taking her husband's ashes back to Singapore. Mr Khoo fled Singapore in 1977 to avoid being questioned by the Internal Security Department. He died of a suspected heart attack last Sunday, leaving behind his wife who had joined him in London in 1977. He was 62. Responding to queries from The Sunday Times, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said 'there is no barrier to her return'.


How the Straits Times reported it, Nov 22 2011.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Photos : Lee Kuan Yew's Analects

Part ll
Part lll
Photos : Will the real Kuan Yew please stand up?

More open letters to Teo Chee Hean

For Teo Chee Hean (4) - Making use of the Church?

Referring to the arrest of the alleged Marxists on 21 May 1987, Minister Teo Chee Hean said in parliament:

“When the Government did move against this group in the mid-1980s, it made clear that it was not acting against genuine social activists or members of the clergy, but only those who were covertly pursuing their subversive Marxist political agenda by hiding within the church organisations.  Appreciating the sensitivities involved, the Government made every effort to explain to the Church leadership that this was not targeted at the Church.  The Church leaders and the Vatican itself acknowledged this publicly… “ (para 18).

It was by chance that I read the notes recorded by the ISD of the meeting between the late Archbishop Gregory Yong, Fr Giovanni D’Aniello of the Holy See, several representatives of the Catholic Church and the then prime minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew with the director of ISD and other officials at the Istana two weeks after 16 alleged Marxists were arrested. The notes reminded me of the hours I stood before the former prime minister and his colleagues at the parliamentary select committee hearing on the Legal Profession Amendment Bill in 1986 and the interrogation I was subjected to by ISD officers at Whitley Road Centre.

As Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church, one would have expected His Holiness to be treated with courtesy, respect and patience. If the notes are accurate, the Archbishop and his colleagues were treated like political prisoners. They were “imprisoned” for nearly three hours at the Istana. The hot and cold tactics used by ISD interrogators were used on those eminent Church leaders. The Church was praised and then threatened. When threats failed, words softened. Ideas that the Church was being used by communists were subtly suggested. The “culprits” who the government alleged necessitated the arrests in 1987 shifted from  the 16 detainees to four Catholic priests.  Just study this passage and you will understand what I mean:

“PM said that he was not interested in VINCENT CHENG and his group, but he had to deal with them in a way that would make it less likely for others to follow in their wake. He was however more concerned about the involvement of several priests and that the Archbishop had been told about them by the Ministry of Home  Affairs (MHA) in JUL 86. PM said that he took the matter so seriously that when the Pope visited Singapore, he informed the Pope that the Church was a source of strength for Singapore but that there were now problems coming from the Church and that the Archbishop knew about it. PM said that the Archbishop was told about Fr EDGAR D’SOUZA, Fr PATRICK GOH, Fr JOSEPH HO and Fr AROTCARENA. PM then read out the Church’s press statement issued on 28 MAY 87 in which the Church stated that:

“The Catholic Church ….. must continue its mission of spreading its teachings on matters pertaining to justice as they apply to social, economic and political issues …. To the best of our knowledge, the full-time workers have been fully committed to the work of the Catholic organisation in which they served. The six voluntary workers have generously contributed their time and talents to specific work in the Catholic organisation with which they were associated. We hope and pray that justice will be done and be seen to be done.””

I was surprised that instead of arresting the four priests who were “creating problems” for the prime minister in 1986, 16 people were arrested in their stead! Was the government afraid of the Catholic Church? Did the prime minister think then that slaughtering 16 chickens would make the Church compliant?  I don’t know.  The notes were full of contradictions. It was familiar style. Even the issue of  who initiated the meeting at the Istana had to be altered. The person in charge could say anything and no one, including His Grace, was brave enough to correct any error or contradiction.

And so statements were made and then contradicted. Like a theatre performance, actors appeared suddenly and key players bowed out only to return after a change of costume. The intervals were meant to temporarily relieve anxiety from the “prisoners”, giving them  short respite. At the same time, (I suspect) ,it enabled the interrogators to plan their next move and change their tact. While political prisoners were interrogated in freezing cold rooms with spotlights shining into their eyes, the “interrogation” of Church leaders were done in the comfort of the Istana.  The techniques used however, were the same. Documents were produced to His Holiness who must read them quickly.

“… PM pointed out that the Archbishop had read ISD’s documents in 3 meetings with MHA officials…” Wow, three meetings to read, digest and be convinced about a conspiracy to overthrow the government!

From the notes, I gathered that agreements had to be reached quickly and statements issued for public consumption.  Time was of the essence, at least on the part of the prime minister. It was either His Grace issued a statement there and then or the Church would be seen as being on a collision course with the government.  The strange and bewildering Kafkaesque atmosphere was sufficient to frighten the Archbishop and the representative from the Holy See.

During the meeting, the Archbishop had read from a prepared statement defending the 16 arrested. I reproduce part of the notes:

“… The Archbishop said that the Church had given the Government the benefit of the doubt because they believed that it was a responsible Government. He ended that just as the Government could not condone corruption by one of its Ministers recently, the Church also could not condone any violation of human rights. He hoped the Government could show that the detainees were guilty of what they had been accused of and that when this had been done, the Church would have no reason to fight for them or fault the Government.  He would then be most grateful to the Government for having prevented people from using the Church for subversive purposes. He added that the Church recognised the right of the Government to safeguard the security of the nation but at the same time the Government had an obligation to prove that those detained were a threat to security…”

That belief in the innocence of the 16 until proven guilty vanished in the three-hour meeting.  His Grace issued  a statement which read as follows:

“We are satisfied that the Government of Singapore has nothing against the Catholic Church when it detained 10 of our Church workers amongst the 16 who were arrested for possible involvement in the clandestine Communist network.”

The Church had abandoned her flock in three hours and saved herself from the wrath of the government. It was a wise decision - to save the majority, save the four priests and disown the ten detainees.   The four priests were spared in that they were not detained though they were relieved of their duties a few days later by the Archbishop, because it was the 10 who had made use of the  Church. I wonder who were the unlucky ten. To incur the wrath of the government is an inconsequential matter. To incur the wrath of God as represented by the Archbishop (if one believes in God) by making use of the Church is another matter.

Minister Teo Chee Hean may be right to say that the arrests in 1987  was not targeted at the Church because the Church said so. But can we believe a statement that was drafted by the Archbishop within three hours? Maybe not. After all, the Archbishop was a sort of “prisoner”  in  the Istana.  But if the statement was issued in haste or involuntarily, the Archbishop should have taken the earliest opportunity to correct the statement.  She had that opportunity in 1989 when the Far Eastern Economic Review was sued for defamation for reporting among other matters, that the Archbishop was “tricked” into issuing the statement (at the Istana meeting). I remember the Church was silent then, thus impliedly disagreeing with the magazine’s report.  In recent years, the Church repeated the government’s claims against the detainees in a publication  Going forth … The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819-2004 [1].  With this publication, we should  no longer doubt that the Archbishop voluntarily issued the Istana statement (even though the Archbishop never saw the publication as he passed away in 2000).  Under the heading  “Detention of some Catholics,”  the authors dismissed the arrest of 22 people  as an “unfortunate event” and the law suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review as an “unpleasant episode”.

The authors had their facts wrong from the beginning. The majority of the 22 arrested had absolutely nothing to do with the Catholic Church.  They could have spared themselves from having to explain the “unfortunate event” if they had interviewed the living protagonists of the alleged conspiracy.   I am sure the three priests and Vincent Cheng who are alive today would be happy to tell their side of the story. The authors could have analysed the 1987 event more carefully and inform the readers that the government’s allegations that those 22 arrested were not accurate because the majority had nothing to do with the Church.  Disappointingly, the authors chose to regurgitate published materials without investigating the truth. They did not analyse or express their own views on those published materials thus misleading readers to believe that the detainees made use of the Church.  They wrote:

“Articles appeared in The Catholic News on the issue of foreign workers and maids written by a priest. In 1986, Archbishop Gregory Yong was informed that this constituted involvement of the Church in politics. Nevertheless, the articles continued to appear. The authorities established that a communist net was growing and that a number of Catholic organisations, the Students’ Christian Movement, the Young Christian Workers’ Movement and the Catholic Students’ Societies of the National University and the Singapore Polytechnic had been drawn in.  The Straits Times reported that a Marxist conspiracy to subvert the political and social system of Singapore had emerged which went beyond pure social concerns…”[2]

The authors even wrote briefly about similar arrests of Catholic priests and workers in Operation Lalang which took place in October 1987 without informing readers that the Catholic Church in Malaysia courageously stood up for their workers and those arrested in Singapore.  I remember receiving many notes and cards from individuals and Catholic organisations in Malaysia throughout my detention. Again relying on secondary source, The China Post of 24 November 1988 was partially quoted by the authors:

“Meanwhile, a similar story was unfolding in Malaysia. In 1987, the Malaysian government arrested one hundred and six people connected to Marxists and Christian groups subscribing to liberation theology which threatened to “disrupt Malaysia’s delicate racial and religious balance. … (They) Had infiltrated several Christian societies, including the young Christian Movement and the Catholic Students’ Society to win wider acceptance of Marxist ideology… The government described liberation theology as an approach which stresses that Catholicism contains teachings that human freedom can be achieved through a class struggle, and force may be used when all other means have been exhausted.””[3]

The authors appeared intent on putting the Singapore government in good light by repeating the praises lavished by the former prime minister when they again cited published materials, this time The Straits Times of 3 June 1987. They wrote:

“Mr. Lee Kuan Yew met the press, accompanied by Archbishop Gregory Yong, after the meeting of 1 June 1987. “Twice during the Istana Press conference, Mr Lee showed that he held ordinary Catholics in high regard. He said that he had found the Catholics to be amongst the most stout-hearted defenders of the democratic society and against Marxism and totalitarianism as represented by the communists … good relations between Catholic Church and the state will be maintained … (lay Catholics) are very staunch supporters of the community in education, health, social work and so on”.[4]

If the Archbishop’s Istana statement made in 1987  was extracted under duress, surely an important publication on the illustrious history of the Catholic Church in Singapore published 20 years after should make clear the Church’s position.  It was a golden opportunity for the Church to explain the work of the arrested Church workers and the intention of the Second Vatican Council which the authors proudly claimed “had emphasized a pastoral response to a fast changing world that had affected various groups of people. It found expression in what came to be known as Development Theology. It was directed at championing the cause of people in all situations of life and the creation of a more just society…” [5]

The Church chose not to dispute the voluntariness of the statement. Reading the authors’ brief exposition of the Second Vatican Council, I suddenly realised why the Catholic Church was so active in championing the rights of the workers’ in the 1980s.  The four  priests were putting the text of the Second Vatican Council into action. They sought help from Catholics and non Catholics to manage their organisations in Jurong (the Young Christian Workers’ Centre)  and Geylang (the Geylang Catholic Centre). I was one of the volunteers.  Those volunteers and underpaid Church staff  worked very hard to defend the human rights of foreign workers.  But what happened when the Church was confronted by the state about the work of those volunteers and workers?  The Church buckled and left them to defend themselves. She sang the tune of the government.  I cannot therefore agree with Archbishop Nicholas Chia that  Going forth … The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819-2004  is a  “well-documented publication of the history of the Church in Singapore.” [6] Until the Church investigate the 1987 arrests earnestly and preferably while witnesses to that “unfortunate event” or “unpleasant episode” are alive, there will be no closure for those volunteers and workers accused of making use of the Church and imprisoned without trial by the state. Until the Church examine her past action or inaction, the stain on the Catholic Church in Singapore for failing to stand up for her volunteers and workers in their time of need will remain, at least as far as I am concerned.

[1] E. Wijeysingha in collaboration with Fr. Rene` Nicolas, mep Going forth…The Catholic Church in Singapore 1819-2004  His Most Rev. Nicholas Chia, Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore  2006

[2] P. 197

[3] P. 199

[4] P. 199

[5] P. 196

[6] P. 3


For Teo Chee Hean (3)

By Teo Soh Lung

T.J.S. George in his book Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore[1] wrote :

“Almost any speech he (Lee Kuan Yew) made in the Assembly between 1955 and 1959 could go straight into the liberal democrat’s bedside bookshelf. The most celebrated of these – celebrated partly for the parliamentary thrust he displayed but mainly for the irony it was to provide in the years to come – was the repression-is-like-making-love speech of October 1956.. in which he deplored the arbitrary arrests of trade union and civil leaders. It was an outstanding example of the popular pose he struck in the years before power, and of the distance he was to travel in the years after. In other ways, too, it was an important landmark in Lee’s political career.

Examining how governments could fall all too easily into the habit of suppressing the liberty of the individual, Lee said:

`First the conscience is attacked by a sense of guilt. You attack only those whom your Special Branch can definitely say are communists. They have no proof except that X told Z who told Alpha who told Beta who told the Special Branch. Then you attack those whom your Special Branch say are actively sympathising with and helping the communists, although they are not communists themselves. Then you attack those whom your Special Branch say, although they are not communists or fellow travellers, yet, by their intransigent opposition to any collaboration with colonialism, they encourage the spirit of revolt and weaken constituted authority and thereby, according to the Special Branch, they are aiding the communists. Then finally, since you have gone that far, you attack all those who oppose you.

`… All you have to do is to dissolve organisations and societies and banish or detain the key political workers in these societies. Then miraculously everything is tranquil and quiet on the surface. Then an intimidated press – and some sections of the press here do not need intimidation because they have friendly owners – the press and the government-controlled radio together can regularly sing your praises and slowly and steadily the people are made to forget the evil things that have already been done. Or if these things are referred to again, they are conveniently distorted, and distorted with impunity, because there will be no opposition to contradict.

`… But if we say we believe in democracy, if we say that the fabric of a democratic society is one which allows the free play of ideas, which avoids revolution by violence because revolution by peaceful methods of persuasion is allowed, then in the name of all the gods we have in this country, give that free play a chance to work within the constitutional framework.’”

Mr Lee Kuan Yew had got it all worked out. He knew the path he was going to take when he assumed power in 1959. He was not going to give free play of ideas  “a chance to work within the constitutional framework” that he articulated when he was in opposition. He had seen how the British used the Emergency Regulations and the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance. He knew the usefulness of indefinite detention without trial.

Conspiring with the Tunku and the British, Operation Cold Store was launched that dawn of 2 February 1963.  Following that, waves of arrests continued throughout the 60s and the 70s. In the 80s, there was hardly anyone left to challenge his government. Yet he deemed it necessary to pass on his expertise to his successors, Mr Goh Chok Tong and his colleagues. How he explained the arrests of the alleged Marxists or “do-gooders” was interesting. He was perhaps not as agile as in the 60s but those arrested in the 80s and the Catholic Church needed no knuckleduster treatment to be driven to silence.

Minister Teo Chee Hean entered politics in December 1992.  By then, all the alleged Marxists had been released, albeit subject to restrictions. Teo became a full fledged minister in 1995. After 9/11, he was involved in the decision to arrest alleged Muslim terrorists, some 80 of them. As Minister for Home Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister I do not know if he and his colleagues have chosen or will choose the path taken by Lee.

[1] T.J.S George, Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore, Andre Deutsch Limited, 1975, pp 111-112

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Open letters to Teo Chee Hean from ex-ISA detainee

by Teo Soh Lung

26 Oct 2011

After more than 4 decades, we are informed by the Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Teo Chee Hean that more than 800 people were arrested in the 1970s. This number is not small and I dread to speculate the number arrested in the preceding decade.  We are aware that more than 120 people were arrested on 2 February 1963 in Operation Cold Store.  Almost the entire central committee of the Barisan Sosialis including Dr Lim Hock Siew and Dr Poh Soo Kai were detained.  Inche Said Zahari and trade unionists, the Late Mr Ho Piao and Mr Jamit Singh were also not spared.

In October that year Operation Pecah followed and elected opposition members of parliament,  Ms Loh Meow Gong and Messrs Lee Tee Tong and S T Bani were detained.  In 1963 alone, the number imprisoned must have exceeded 200.  It would  not be wrong to say that the arrests of the leaders of the opposition and trade unions in 1963 ensured monopoly of power for the PAP till today. Almost every year after 1963, there were arrests.  Arrests continues to this day.  No evidence of weapons or bombs was ever been produced by the government.  All we are told is that we have to trust the judgement of the government.

In arguing for the retention of the ISA, the minister reiterated the “nipped in the bud” theory expounded by his predecessors.  He said: “…The ISA thus allows the government to act quickly to prevent a threat from developing into something very serious such as a bombing; or to stem an organised pattern of subversion which promotes civil disturbances and disorder…”

Every citizen who is arrested is deprived of his constitutional right to life or personal liberty, freedom of speech and expression, peaceful assembly and association  which are guaranteed by Articles 9 and 14 of our Constitution.  Families are often deprived of  sole breadwinners.  But perhaps the PAP have  reasons for doing what they did. They know that periodic arrests instil fear amongst citizens. Fear ensures the survival of the  PAP.

It is time  we question the retention of the  ISA, a law that permits the ministers or prime minister to imprison citizens for as long as they wish. We are told that ministers rely on the Internal Security Department which have made thorough investigation before ordering the detention of citizens or renewing their detention orders.  Is this true?  Dr Lim Hock Siew’s public statement issued through his legal adviser, the Late Mr T T Rajah and released by his wife, Dr Beatrice Chen  on 18 March 1972  exposed this lie. I reproduce part of the statement [1] below:

“… 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. Nine 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 nine 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 PAP regime’s allegation that I am a security risk is a sham cover and a façade to detain me unjustifiably for over nine years. “

Dr Lim  was 31 years old when he was arrested on 2 February 1963.  His son was then 5 months’ old. He and Dr Poh Soo Kai had two years earlier, set up a medical clinic, Rakyat Clinic along Balestier Road which provided and still provides medical care for the poor.  Both were also founder members of Barisan Sosialis.

The PAP kept Dr Lim in jail for 20 years.  They freed him unconditionally at the age of  51.  He had missed the prime of his life and the growing up years of his son. The PAP had ensured for themselves that Dr Lim no longer posed a political threat to them.  Only a person of courage and determination can survive such a long period of imprisonment. And only people who have lost their conscience can imprison Dr Lim for 2 decades without trial.

Mr Chng Min Oh @ Chuang Men-Hu

While many of the people detained in the 1960s were imprisoned for decades, I did not expect the PAP government to continue that practice in the 1970s. I was therefore shocked to meet Mr Chng Min Oh @ Chuang Men-Hu recently.

Mr Chng was a humble construction worker and painter when he was arrested on 3 August 1970.  Leaving his wife who was then three months’ pregnant and two young children aged 4 and 6 that dawn must have been painful for him.  He was offered freedom by banishment i.e. if he agreed to being banished to China. He refused the offer.

Mr Chng remained in prison while his wife took on several jobs to raise the young family.  She became a construction worker and a hawker whenever she had time.  While she worked, her parents helped in looking after the children. Life was terribly hard for the family. They did not even have money for medical treatment.  But the ministers did not care and renewed his detention order 7 times.  He was finally released after 13 years, on 7 August 1983. He had served a life sentence though he was never judged guilty of any crime in a court of law.

The hardship of separation in indefinite detention is captured vividly in the poem Tears by Said Zahari.  Zahari  was  imprisoned for 17 years.


I saw tears down your cheeks
sparkling like diamonds,
beautiful like shining stars
in a clear night sky.
I saw sorrow
dancing in tune with your sobs.
My heart beats faster, my lips tremble.

Then I saw courage,
confidence and determination,
peering from behind the sorrow.
How cruel, how inhumane!
So high, so huge
This partition between us.
For so long!

But in spirit we are one,
as always,
bound by unbreakable bonds
of love and longing for justice.
Neither this prison wall
nor a hundred years of incarceration
shall diminish my love.

Hari Raya card to Sal
20th November 1969

How can we believe Minister Teo Chee Hean when he said “The Government has used the ISA as a last resort when there is a significant threat, and other laws are not adequate to deal with the situation...”  when so many citizens were imprisoned for decades without trial. How can the PAP ministers take away the fundamental liberties of its citizens in the name of national security so freely and so frequently when Singapore was and is not at war?  Have they all lost their conscience?

[1]  Poh Soo Kai, Tan Jing Quee and Koh Kay Yew Eds. The Fajar Generation  The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore  Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Malaysia pp 150 – 151.

 [2] Tan Jing Quee  Teo Soh Lung  Koh Kay Yew  Eds Our Thoughts Are Free  Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile  Ethos Books  2009  Singapore  p 47


20 Oct 2011

The Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Teo Chee Hean said in parliament yesterday:

“…  So while ordinary Singaporeans remember the 1970s as a peaceful time and largely went about their lives, intense security operations were continually being undertaken to preserve that peace.   More than 800 people were arrested under the ISA in the 1970s of whom 235 were issued with Orders of Detention.  Most were detained because they were more than just sympathisers and had provided financial, logistical and manpower support to the CPM insurgents…”

Indeed, the 1970s was a peaceful period like any other periods of Singapore’s history.  I was a young working  adult  then and can confirm that that period was peaceful save for the reports of periodic arrests under the ISA.  The arrests did not alarm me until 1977 when several of my friends in the legal profession were detained.  I was devastated.  The Law Society was silent. It did not protest on behalf of the detainees even though one of those arrested was a member of its council. One would have thought that since lawyers are professionals, there would at least be some discussion or questions asked of the government. But that was not the case.  Lawyers went about their business as if nothing had happened.  To add insult to injury, I remember the then  Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew called lawyers nincompoops when he was a dinner guest of the Society.  The Society did not rebut. Whoever in the council at that time must have felt they deserved that name.

Three decades have passed and I ponder over those years of silence.  Mr Teo Chee Hean tells us that more than 800 people were arrested in the 1970s. I never expected the arrests to run into hundreds. We should all be disturbed by the number.  Imagine more than 800 lives were disrupted.  Imagine how those detained were mistreated by the ISD. Imagine the lives of more than 800 families turned upside down.  Imagine husbands and wives being separated and young children being deprived of their parents.  How did they live without breadwinners? Imagine parents being deprived of their children who may be supporting them? Who took care of all of them while they were in prison?

Those arrested in the 1970s included Cultural Medallion recipients, Yeng Pway Ngon, Kuo Pao Kun and his wife Goh Lay Kuan, lawyers T T Rajah, G Raman, R Joethy, Tan Jing Quee and Ong Bock Chuan,  Hussein Jahidin (Editor of Berita Harian), Shamsuddin Tung (Editor in Chief of Nanyang Siang Pau), Lee Eu Seng (Managing Director of Nanyang Siang Pau), Ngoh Teck Nam (Translator of Sin Chew Jit Poh),  Chua Chap Jee (Lecturer), Pan Nan Hung (Naval Engineer), Ho Kwon Ping, Wong Chee San (Polytechnic Student),  Drs Ang See Chai and Poh Soo Kai. I know many of them and I can confirm that they are all law abiding citizens.

Having been a victim of the ISA myself, I cannot and will not believe that any one of the names I mentioned above is a subversive intent on destroying Singapore by violent and unconstitutional means. Mr Teo Chee Hean can continue  to kill his conscience by repeating the lies of his predecessors.  But he should bear in mind that there is a possibility that those whose lives his government have destroyed may one day write their stories. They may be afraid to tell the truth now.

I end with a poem by Said Zahari (Editor of Utusan Melayu) who was imprisoned for 17 years without trial.  Imagine his wife giving birth to their daughter not knowing when he would be released. May Mr Teo and the PAP reflect on all the children deprived of their fathers or mothers from 1959 till today.

Born Unfree*

 not that i was not hungry
I refused the food;
nor that I was not sleepy
I kept awake.

my ears keep hearing
the cry of an infant.

for months in solitary,
it was a source of anxiety;
for hours to this moment,
it is endless excitement.

then came the news of
the arrival of my little one.

I am the father
robbed of my freedom
whose world has shrunk
into a dark little dungeon.

my child, just born
into a world yet unfree.

22 May 1963

* Tan Jing Quee,  Teo Soh Lung and  Koh Kay Yew (eds)  Our Thoughts Are Free -  Poems and Prose on Imprisonment and Exile    Ethos Books   Singapore  p. 39

Saturday, October 08, 2011

The life and times of Ho Piao : The torture of a political prisoner

Ho Piao was 26 when he was detained during Operation Cold Store (2 Feb 1963). He held the dubious distinction of being the third longest held political detainee under the ISA. He was severely tortured by the ISD and released after 18 years, on 1 June 1981.

Educated in Serangoon English School and Raffles Institution, Ho Piao was a Queen's Scout and rowed round Singapore island alone. He entered University of Malaya in 1957 and was an active member of the University Socialist Club. He left the university partly due to his growing commitment to trade union work. After his release, Ho Piao married and left for London. He died in 2007. Below is the eulogy delivered by his good friend, Francis Khoo.

- Teo Soh Lung


HO PIAO - His life and times (1937-2007 )
By Francis Khoo

Shortly after the ANC won, I took Ho Piao to a victory reception at the South African High Commission at Trafalgar Square. There were ex-political prisoners who had fought against apartheid. When introduced to Dennis Goldberg, Ho proudly revealed he had been in prison for 18 1/2 years. When pressed, Goldberg replied he was himself in for "24 years". Sensing he had embarrassed and upstaged Ho, he then said: "I was at a gathering of ex-Spanish Civil War veterans and thought I was the longest in, until I met an old lady who had spent nearly 40 years under Franco. I then had to shut up." I think Ahmad Kathrada, 27 years, and contemporary of Nelson Mandela, was there as were other younger ex-inmates of Robben Island.

The instant bonding and comaradie was quite inspiring: separated by different struggles, different continents, these elderly gentlemen seemed to giggle a lot and were self-effacing. Still retaining youthfulness and child-like curiosity about the world around them, they were generous in spirit and showed no bitterness. For Ho, his world was no longer just Singapore and Malaya. He was now also a South African. And a Palestinian and an Iraqi.

On 17 January, 1961, Patrice Lumumba, Congo's first prime minister, was assassinated by the Belgian and CIA surrogates. The whole non-alignment movement erupted in anger. Ho proudly remembered his part in a mass protest rally. All 7,000 of them were chanting: Lumumba! Lumumba! in the Singapore Badminton Hall. Singaporeans then had a keen sense of history and geography. He was an internationalist who loved his country. He believed you cannot be a patriot unless you supported every people's struggle for justice and equality. At the same time, he had no time for the vague 'citizen of the world' grounded in no concrete place. You ended up 'neither here nor there' rather than being 'both here and there'. That would be the height of irresponsibility.

On 2 February 1963, Said Zahari, Dr Lim Hock Siew, Dr Poh Soo Kai, Ho Piao and over a 100 patriots were rounded up. In a later wave, opposition MP Chia Thye Poh was arrested. Amnesty International adopted them Prisoners of Conscience. Like Mandela and his comrades, they remained steadfast; unlike Mandela, they were never tried in court.

The British and their approved successors in Singapore and neighbouring Malaysia needed a pretext to wipe out all progressive dissent - writers, journalists, liberals, socialists, trade unionists, members of parliament. When the legal Communist Party of Malaya was banned, an 'emergency' was declared and draconian laws were passed in 1948. Thousands were imprisoned or deported, many more perished as they retreated into the jungle. By tarnishing anyone with the label 'communist' and hence a security threat, the secret police could hold that person indefinitely without trial. If you wished to get out early, denounce your beliefs, endorse the government, confess over TV and grass on your friends. By 1987, reports spoke of 5,000 detention having been made.

Intense coffee-shop debates were once typical and widespread in Singapore and everyone was engaged. That is gone today, snuffed out by a dominant one-party state that controls every aspect of your life - from the bedroom, literally, to the boardroom. They want a nation which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Nothing is taboo and the market is all.

Modern Singapore is Asia's most dynamic economy after Japan and enjoys a standard of living often higher than Britain. With industrialisation export-oriented for the multinational corporations, the global city is the world's largest oil refinery centre and port, a hi-tech manufacturing, trading and financial services centre. There is the same inequality you find in Britain without the safety net of a welfare state. You fall ill or lose your livelihood at your peril. Civil liberties are distinctly Blairite. This is a world of stark extremes, where there is no such thing as a free lunch. Of course, MPs and ministers can well pay for their lunch - in a population a 20th of Britain, they can eat more than five times more lunches. In fact, the best paid lunches in the world. This is a tale of the two farmers with two chickens. The first has two chickens while the other has none. The politicians boast therefore, that statistically, each farmer has on average one chicken each.

Mussolini tried in vain to create the Corporate State as arbiter of labour for capital, where workers are organised in the service of state capital. Singapore is an unashamedly successful one. The trade union movement is today based upon Israel's Histadrut. It mirrors yet eschews Switzerland, with its multi-ethnic character and neutrality in regional conflicts. Opting for an Israeli combat-readiness and psyche, suspicious of regional intentions, militarised, with every able-bodied man in national service, it is a strategic ally of the US in its ‘war on terror’. Totalitarian, with generals in the government, it is yet no tin-pot jackboot dictatorship. Not moustachioed Generals Galtieri or Pinochet, rather but more apartheid South Africa and Israel.

The world Ho found upon release must have been a very alien one indeed. He went inside as a youthful 25 year old and emerged, un-cowed, a middle-aged man. Those 18 1/2 years were tumultuous times in the country, the region and the world: the best of times and the worst of times. Singapore and neighbouring Malaya tried but failed at merger. In 1965, the Indonesian army massacred half a million people while the US sent in 500,000 marines into Vietnam. The PLO won the battle of Karameh, student campuses all over the world rebelled, the civil rights movement in the US and Ireland reached their peak. Mao launched his cultural revolution. The entire 1970s decade was lost to him: Chile attacked by terrorists on its own 9/11 1973 when Pinochet overthrew Allende. Portugal lost its colonies in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor. In that same 1975, the fall of the US in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and four years later the fall of the Shah of Iran and the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua.

When he went in, Harold Macmillan was British prime minister. Alec Douglas Home followed, then Ted Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and finally Margaret Thatcher. Kennedy was then in the White House, giving way to Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and then Reagan. But Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister in 1963 -indeed, since 1959 - and was still prime minister in 1981. His son is the current PM but Lee remains the guru-like Minister Mentor.

News of the world outside were smuggled in despite censorship and tight access to TV, newspapers and books. The prison wall, as they say, has two sides and so the struggle continues inside. Like the Irish, South Africans and Palestinians, prison was a place to study, discuss, develop minds and mature. It was the best university: many achieving, despite the odds, law and other degrees.

And outside the prison gates, Ho's own late mother led the detainees' families in demonstrations to highlight the conditions inside. They disrupted the January 1971 Commonwealth Conference in Singapore, prompting the internal police to complain: "Your mother is the worst mother in the world!" Ho took that as a compliment and always beamed with pride when he recalled this. She was no mere mother; she was, like Gorky's Mother, a comrade.

Ho's soft gentle demeanour belied his toughness and resilience. He endured solitary confinement for months on end and waged several hunger strikes, one of which lasted over a hundred days. His demand for political status was akin to those of the Irish; he took to heart the 1981 hunger strike and death of Bobby Sands and the nine other republican prisoners.

In one of the rare published interviews he gave, he said: "The whole day I was tied to a wooden chair. They pulled my hair, pressed my nose and poured water in my nose and mouth." According to the account, one of the interrogators then grabbed Ho by the throat and drove his fist into his stomach. With his hands tied, his torturers continued punching his stomach. As he gasped for air, another officer laid one more punch - only this time he didn't pull back, but let his fist bear into Ho's aching gut, cutting off his breathing. When the prisoner came close to passing out, the officer pulled back, only to have others come in to smash their knuckles into his rib cage. Another delivered a karate chop to his chest while a third hurled himself at Ho and threw the prisoner to the floor. Ho curled up as his torso and his chest heaved in pain. While on the icy floor, his interrogators poured cold water on him causing his body to go into a painful contraction. Before he could recover from the shock, the thugs bore down on him yet again, kicking and punching his head.

"This is how we treat animals," one of them snarled. "This is an introductory gesture." Ho later said: "Their torture made my body feel like a corpse. I could not move. They pulled me up from the floor and tied me to the chair. Another group came to torture me. I would recognise them. They used the same method. They poured water over me 64 times. This torture went on for four days. My body was drench and shivering. They shouted in my ears and prized open my eyes. I did not eat or sleep or drink for four days."

As he lay on the ground, one officer lifted Ho's chin with his shoe. "This is a strange man, when we poured water over him, he did not shiver," he said. "But when we stopped, he started to shiver." The assaults only stopped when he finally lost consciousness.

In a statement he gave to his lawyer, he reiterated: "I firmly believe in my principles. I will never be a party to wage slavery and feudal bondage of my people. I will work to shatter these … even though I am meted out a long lingering agonising road to the grave."

In 1963-65 merger failed because the political elites of Malaysia and Singapore were unable to handle the contradictions of the national question, the many centrifugal forces pulling the society apart pitted against the centripetal forces bringing the communities together. The communities had different histories and experiences. In the second world war, some anti-colonial Malays and Indians viewed Japan as tactical allies in the fight against British and Dutch colonialism in India and Indonesia, respectively. But the Chinese saw Japan as the foe because of its invasion of China. The colonialists and chauvinists sought to exploit those differences.

British divide-and-rule policies has caused untold damage. Consider India and Pakistan, Hindu and Muslim, Black and White South Africa, Arab and Jew in Palestine, Catholic and Protestant Irish. In Singapore and Malaya, immigrants from China and India and indigenous Malays.

Today, Vietnam is united, Germany is one, Taiwan will return to China, Korea will be together again and so will Ireland. Inevitably, Singapore will again reunite with the Malayan mainland.

So what does it mean to be a Singaporean and Malayan? In a multi-ethnic, multi-religious largely immigrant post-colonial society, the patriots saw Malay as the lingua franca, the national language to unite the people. Mandarin, Tamil and English would also be recognised as official languages.

Ho himself was totally English-educated. Yet he loved Chinese culture, food, literature and history and was inspired by the Chinese revolution. But he was born in Singapore and never considered China his country. He was a Chinese Singaporean, never a Singapore Chinese. He was a Singaporean who happened to be of Chinese ethnicity. He was not a Chinese who happened to be born in Singapore. That was why, in addition to being fluent in English, Mandarin and his Hainanese dialect, he assiduously studied and mastered Malay in prison. All the top leadership and cadres of the independence movement spoke at least three of the four official languages.

He had what the Germans call "weltenshaaung" - a world view. He knew why the rich grew richer and the poor poorer, who benefits under colonialism and imperialism, why there is war and how peace is achieved.
His philosophy of life: Firstly, do not merely interpret the world but help change it. Artists paint, while some choose to be gallery critics. Musicians perform but some choose to be music critics. Chefs cook while others make a living criticising their food. Actors perform the drama of life before an audience, some of whom cheer them on while others choose to pillory on the side-lines. He was no bystander but an artist, a musician, a cook and an actor.

Secondly, he was no theorist with abstract ideas. Son of a militant seaman and working-class mother, he was leader of the seamen's union. He asserted correct ideas did not drop from the skies or were innate in the mind, but must come from social practice, and from it alone. His was Praxis - reflection based upon action which then invited further reflection.

Thirdly, Ho Piao knew which side he was on. In 1931, 11,000 US miners went on strike to protest a 10-percent pay cut. The state of Kentucky charged 11 of them for first degree murder.

Incensed by the injustice, Florence Reece, wife of one of the strike leaders, wrote: Which side are you on? Which side are you on?" Her song became the rallying cry of our own miners in the 1984-85 strike. Ho understood the root causes of poverty and injustice and dedicated his whole life to combating it.

Before his execution, Joe Hill urged: "Don't mourn. Organise."

Of course, we shall mourn the untimely death of Mr Ho but he also wants us to organise.

FRANCIS KHOO 2 March 2007