Who is John Tan?

Chee Siok Chin

I first met John in September of 2006 during our three-day standoff at Hong Lim Park with the police. He had heard about our rally and march on September 16 and came to lend his support.

I remember him staying on into the wee hours of the morning with us that first day. He came every day subsequently and buoyed our spirits by encouraging us. He had brought refreshments and little things like raincoats and toiletries that would make our stand-off less taxing.

He has since been one of the most active members of the party as well as a dedicated practitioner of Nonviolent Action.

That’s John Tan.

The mettle in this man is inspirational. On the morning that he found out that James Cooke University had suspended him, John broke the news to me over brunch. I was angry for him. That was evident especially in my language. It wasn’t quite French, but still…

John, on the other hand was cool, composed and very “head” about it. Getting fired from one’s job is a big enough blow for anyone who is the sole-bread winner in a family of five. Getting fired unjustly is downright infuriating.

But John never once expressed any anger or ill-will towards those who were responsible for his suspension. Instead of lamenting and complaining, our conversation was steered by him to talking about possibilities and opportunities that would arise from this situation.

It dawned on me that I was upset than he was. Instead of my helping to bring comfort to him, John’s steadiness and refusal to succumb to bitterness served to console me.

This was the same reaction when he received the 15-day imprisonment judgement. John had argued before High Court Judge Judith Prakash that his wearing of the kangaroo t-shirt was a matter of self-expression and fair criticism of the way her colleague Belinda Ang had presided over the
Lees vs Chees defamation suit.

Some of us put our arms around him and tried to offer some consolation when we met immediately afterwards, but there was no hint of anxiety or resentment in this man. Sure he thought the judge shouldn’t have found him guilty for contempt of court in the first place, but he accepted the sentence without any doom or gloom.

That’s John Tan.

About a half a dozen of us took him out for lunch the day he was to surrender himself at the High Court to serve his sentence, but it was John who paid for our lunch.

He ordered a big meal and we joked about that being his last edible meal for the next two weeks (especially difficult for him as he is a fantastic cook).

Although he wasn’t looking forward to spending the next two weeks in jail, he was upbeat, positive and confident.

John will be released on Tuesday morning, 30 December. While most of us are merry-making over the Christmas period, he is spending that time in a tiny cell. But despite this, I’m certain his conviction to his struggle against the self-serving PAP and to bring greater justice and freedom to Singaporeans will only grow from strength to strength.

That’s John Tan.

John Tan, Asst Secretary-General of the SDP, will be released from Queenstwon Prison at 9.30am on 30 Dec 08 (Tue). He was sentenced to 15 days imprisonment for wearing a t-shirt with
a kangaroo in a judge’s gown during the defamation hearing between Lee Kuan Yew and the Singapore Democrats.
wo other activists,
Shafi’ie and Isrizal
, were both sentenced for 7-days jail. They were released on 18 Dec 08.