The selling of the ISA Part II

In Part I of this article, the Singapore Democrats documented evidence of how the ISA was used by the PAP against its political opponents, particularly the Barisan Sosialis leaders. In Part II, we provide yet more evidence of how the ISD used torture on the detainees during the arrests in 1987 where 22 professionals and activists were accused of being Marxist conspirators and imprisoned under the ISA.

The following truly boggles the mind: Page 26 of the colourful brochure, produced by the PAP Government to defend the security law, states:

– Although a person detained under the ISA loses his freedom, he still keeps very important rights.

– Detainees must be informed in writing, within 14 days of being given the Order of Detention, the grounds why they are detained and their right to argue against the Order of Detention to the ISA Advisory Board.

– Detainees have the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice, or by any other person they may choose.

– Detainees are not held in secret detention. Family members are informed and are assisted by a family support and liaison officer.

– Visits may be denied during investigations, but after 30 days, the detainee has the right to see family visitors regularly and also lawyers to prepare his case before the Advisory Board.

– A Board of Inspection, made up of over 50 Justices of Peace and community leaders, also make unannounced visits to the detention center. They make sure the detainee is well and they have to report any ill-treatment of the detainee. The report is sent to the Minister for Home Affairs.

– A doctor examines detainees regularly. They are also examined before and after each time they are interviewed by the investigators in order to ensure their well-being. A detainee may also ask for a doctor at any time. The doctor must report any injuries to the Permanent Secretary (Home Affairs).

The evidence against the Government propaganda is overwhelming. The Singapore Democrats offer below a point-by-point refutation of the claims made above by the PAP.

A detainee still keeps very important rights

Under the Internal Security Act, Chia Thye Poh wrote in a statement after he was released, the government is given the power to detain a person for as long as it pleases. There is no real safeguard against abuse of power.

One of the detainees in the 1987 arrests, Ms Tang Fong Har, related events that happened on the night of her arrest. She was with her husband, Peter, when four ISD officers entered their house on the pretext of searching for illegal immigrants: The man who had spoken to us stood near us all the while. Peter asked him, Doesn’t she have any rights? He looked at Peter in a funny way and the rest laughed cynically.

Francis Seow recalled in his book what ISD officers had told him during his interrogation: Look, cut out all your court English. This is not a court of law. The rules of evidence do not apply here. We make the rules here. This is a kangaroo court. No one can help you. All the human rights organisations can do is to make noise but how long can they do so? After a while, you will be forgotten.

We were threatened with INDEFINITE detention without trial, the 1987 detainees wrote in their press statement, Chia Thye Poh, who is still in detention after twenty-two years, was cited as an example. We were told that no one could help us unless we co-operated with the ISD.

The detainee has the right to see family visitors regularly

Family visitors? Prisoners were even threatened that if they did not confess, their families would come into harms way. The 1987 detainees revealed that, We were threatened with the arrests, assault and battery of our spouses, loved ones and friends.

Chia Thye Poh also indicated that They (ISD officers) pressurized my family.

A Board of Inspection makes sure the detainees not ill-treated

Either the Board was blind or sleep-walking.

The 1987 detainees emphatically pointed out: During our detention, we were subjected to treatment which should never be meted out to any person under interrogation. Following our sudden arrests, we were subjected to harsh and intensive interrogation, deprived of sleep and rest, some of us for as long as 70 hours inside freezing cold rooms. All of us were stripped of our personal clothing, including spectacles, footwear and underwear and made to change into prisoners uniforms. Most of us were made to stand continually during the interrogation, some of us for over 20 hours and under full blast of air conditioning turned to a very low temperature. Under these conditions, one of us was repeatedly doused with cold water during interrogation. Most of us were hit hard in the face, some of us for not less than 50 times, while others were assaulted on other parts of the body during the first three days of interrogation. We were threatened with more physical abuse during interrogation.

In 1966, Chia Thye Poh recounted, they put me in a dark cell and said some people had gone insane under such circumstances. Sometimes you could hear people kicking the doors as if they had gone insane. I had gone from one prison to another and was in solitary confinement several times. Sometimes I was deprived of reading material for months at a stretchThere were day-long interrogations in a freezing cold room.

Chia also said: First they try all means to exact confessions mental and physical torture. After that, they will keep you in jail, solitarily, to brainwash you. During these years you will be subjected to all sorts of pressures. They call it psychological fatigue, to grind you down and to reduce you to vegetables or irrelevant non-persons.

Tang Fong Har underscored Chias point: In the midst of the accusations being hurled at me, I retorted Now, look here… or words to that effect. I never completed my sentence: one of the interrogators slapped me across my left cheek, not with a flick of his wrist but with the full force of his body. I fell to the ground and my glasses landed on my chest. I was completely shocked by the assault and wished that I could faint as I felt that I could not take any more. I had never felt more humiliated in my lifeI can’t remember whether the interrogator who slapped me remained in the room after this. However, I remembered his face and subsequently I came to know his name: S. K. Tan.

Chee Soon Juan wrote about the ordeal of, Peng (not his real name), one of the 1987 ISA prisoners: Without warning, his open palm struck Pengs facePeng was reeling from the pain. His cheeks were stinging and his eyes were unable to focus. The interrogator repeated his pattern of blowsThe beating continued for what seemed like hours. Blood dribbled down from the side of Pengs mouthWith all his (the interrogators) strength he ploughed into Pengs chest with his fist and forearm. Peng crashed over the chair behind and landed, gasping several feet away

Tremewan cited Amnesty International and International Mission of Jurists reports that prisoners were interrogated in freezing underground rooms under jets of refrigerated air, lightly clothed in prison clothes or naked, cold water may be poured over them at frequent intervals and they may be forced to drink quantities before being beaten.

Detainees have the right to lawyers to represent them before the Advisory Board

As far as representation before the Advisory Board was concern, Chia Thye Poh had this to say, The Advisory Board under the Act has no power, and no court can question the subjective judgment of the minister. I was told that the only way out was to sign a statement prepared by the Internal Security department, otherwise I would have to remain in prison for long long years

Even then, the 1987 detainees were cautioned against making appeals: We were actively discouraged from engaging legal counsel and advised to discharge our lawyers and against taking legal action (including making representations to the ISA Advisory Board) so as not to jeopardize our chances of release.

But when a prisoner did manage to get before the Advisory Board, things were dismal. Tang Fong Har spoke of her time before one such Board: The High Court judge, Justice Sinnathuray, together with two Chinese males in their late 40s or early 50s, presided over the hearing, which was held in the judges’ chambersWhen queried on my future plans, I told him (the judge) that I would get a job and continue my flat hunting and, if I was free, interested and approached, help in the election campaign of opposition candidates. He told me that that was what had got me into trouble in the first place and that politics should be left to the politicians.(Italics added).

Author Christopher Tremewan wrote about the farcical process of prisoners trying to gain representation before the Advisory Board: Attempts at judicial review of detentions have been consistently been blocked. Defence lawyers who persisted have been imprisoned under the ISA themselves in order to intimidate the legal profession as a whole (Amnesty International, 1980, p. 43; Asia Watch, 1989, p. 51). An English barrister, Mr Anthony Lester QC, forced the government to amend the constitution in order to avoid judicial review and was subsequently barred from practicing in Singapore (Asia Watch, 1989, p. 51). In 1976 one lawyer who sought judicial review of detainees held under the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act was also detained under that act himself. Detainees who have initiated legal action have been imprisoned for longer periods as retribution.

Chee Soon Juan brought home this point in his book: Before she signed the declaration, however, Teo Soh Lung sought the legal services of Francis Seow, former solicitor-general turned critic of the Government. When Seow arrived at the Centre to meet his client, he was ushered into the interview room. After a few moments, an ISD officer motioned him into a courtyard where some 15 plainclothes officers were gathered. One of them stepped up to him: Mr Seow, I am arresting you under the ISA.


Surely with such evidence, the PAPs credibility on the ISA issue is in tatters. It is important that the Government moves to bridge the great divide between what it says in its brochure versus what detainees have revealed. Time and again, commissions of inquiry have been requested but they have all been turned down. It doesnt take a genius to figure out why.

But whether the Government does or does not try to refute these charges of torture and abuse, we should all be extremely cautious in going along with the PAP and singing the praises of the ISA.

In Part III the Singapore Democrats will provide yet more evidence to show how prisoners have been severely tortured. We will also show how the ISA has been used to oppress the people of Singapore.


1. Chee Soon Juan. To Be Free, Monash Asia Institute, 1998.
2. Chia Thye Poh, in Singaporeans for Democracy website: Link%20Folders/chiast.html
3. Press statement of 1987 detainees, cited in To Be Free.
4. Seow, Francis. To Catch A Tartar, Yale Southeast Asian Studies, 1994.
5. Tang Fong Har, in Singapore Window website:
6. Tremewan, Christopher. The Political economy of Social Control in Singapore, St Martins Press, 1994.

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