Foreword to The Long Nightmare

Lily Zubaidah Rahim
University of Sydney
28 Jul 07

Dr Lily Zubaidah RahimThis volume of Said’s memoirs, which centre on his 17 year incarceration in Singapore’s prisons, serve as a poignant reminder to Singaporeans and Malaysians of the political abuse of detention-without-trial laws such as the ISA.

The PAP government repeated abuse of the ISA is highlighted by the 1987 detention of Singaporean church and political activists accused of engaging in a Marxist conspiracy. Recalling his shock at the crude and fanciful web of fabrication spun the PAP leadership, Said wrote, “I guffawed at such foolish lies… How could LKY pull the wool over Singaporeans’ eyes with such blatant lies… This so-called Marxist conspiracy was created by LKY when he realised the existence of a new breed of political antagonists”.

Said observes that the detention and public ‘confessions’ of the so-called ‘Marxist conspirators’ was expected to reinforce “the culture of fear among the people of Singapore”, thereby ‘nipping in the bud’ this new breed of antagonists.

Corroborating Francis Seow’s experience of torture in Singaporean jails, Said’s second memoir is strongly focused on exposing the mental and physical torture of political dissidents deprived of their civil liberties under the ISA. During their initial period of incarceration, detainees are often subjected to severe mental and physical torture. Said recalled the torment of a young detainee who was severely beaten for 22 days when he refused to betray his friends. He also denied being involved in an underground movement, carrying firearms and planning to overthrow the government.

To shatter the spirit of detainees, prolonged periods of solitary confinement were enforced when they refused to ‘confess’ to crimes alleged by the government. Worn down by mental and physical stress, some agreed to public ‘confessions’ to secure their release. Confessions were also ‘negotiated’ by promises of attractive jobs upon release. Said has suggested that psychotropic drugs may have been prescribed to Operation Cold Store detainees, rendering them emotionally erratic and suicidal. The strain of detention was compounded further by the emotional and financial toll incurred by the families of detainees.
In the 17 years of Said’s incarceration, his late wife Salamah Abdul Wahab and their children suffered immense hardships. She struggled to make ends meet by running a food stall while the children often went to school without a cent in their pockets. Said’s memoirs includes heartfelt snippets of the camaraderie, courage and dedication of many other political detainees who have become lifelong friends.

What will the political future hold for a post-Lee Kuan Yew Singapore? Will a post-PAP government unleash the ISA on former PAP government leaders known to have used the ISA against dissenting voices? Or will detention-without-trial laws be pronounced unconstitutional by a newly formed Constitution Court and Human Rights Commission? Will a post-authoritarian Singapore see the formation of a Truth Commission, set up to fully investigate the persecution of Singaporeans detained without trial, legally harassed and persecuted for their political convictions? Will a national apology be issued to political detainees incarcerated under the ISA? Will a post-authoritarian Singapore adopt foreign and security policies that are independent from the dictates of Washington, and acknowledge that the PAP government’s support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake? Will relations with neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand improve in a post-authoritarian Singapore not plagued by a kiasu mindset? The possibilities are endless.

I am deeply honoured to have been invited by Said to write a Foreword for the English edition of his second memoir. Said’s moral courage, intellectual integrity, irrepressible spirit and multiracial ethos provide us with the inspiration to work towards a truly democratic Singaporean society. In this era of the so-called ‘war on terror’, which has enabled governments to resuscitate the existence of, and draw up even more, draconian laws, Said’s plea that “these outdated, restricted laws such as the ISA are abolished” is particularly salient. Terima kasih Pak Said for showing us the way!

The book is now available in Malaysia at RM25. Select Books in Singapore may be be arranging to stock it but there is no confirmation as yet.

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