“May 21, 1987, will long remain a day of ignominy in the history of modern Singapore.” These were the words Mr Francis Seow, former solicitor-general of Singapore, chose to mark the 22nd anniversary of the arrests of a group of 22 young professionals under notorious Internal Security Act.
Today’s event, organised by a group of human rights defenders, attracted more than 80 people to the Speakers Corner at Hong Lim Park, including some of the detainees themselves – Mr Vincent Cheng, Ms Teo Soh Lung, Ms Wong Souk Yee and others.
Promisingly, several of the participants were students. A few had made their way to Hong Lim Park still in their school uniform. They were obviously enthused by the significance of the occasion.
Mr Seow found himself detained when he had tried to represent the detainees. His message today was read out by one of the organisers, Mr Seelan Palay:
May 21, 1987, will long remain a day of ignominy in the history of modern Singapore.
It is the day when Lee Kuan Yew, then Senior Minister, in an arrogant but foolish display before his young cabinet colleagues that he was omniscient in national politics, instructed the supine new head of the Internal Security Department to commence Operation Spectrum leading to the arrest and detention of 22 young innocent Singapore men and women professionals and social workers on the pretext that they were dangerous Marxists, who had planned to overthrow his PAP government through violence and replace it with a Marxist government.
They were, in truth, no more Marxists than the average Singaporean. How those 22 young men and women without military training and/or hardware were going to accomplish this monumental task was not spelt out – to this very day! It was all a figment of Lee’s overwrought imagination! They were in fact caring men and women with a keen sense of social justice.
Lee Kuan Yew has often used the pretext of Communism to move against perceived political opponents so as to neutralize them. As Communism began to wane world-wide, Lee Kuan Yew switched to labelling his political opponents as Euro-communists in the arrest and detention of several other professionals some years earlier. Communism is now passé. So his agile mind began to conceive possible opponents as Marxists in its place.
On May 21, 1987, twenty-two young men and women were arrested on the allegation that they were trying to overthrow the PAP government through violence and replace it with a Marxist government. These were, and are, serious charges. No guns, no ammunition, no armaments of any kind whatsoever were ever seized or produced to substantiate this fetid allegation. One can rightfully conclude that Lee Kuan Yew is a sick person with over-wrought imagination.
Not a single Marxist was ever tried in a court of law. Why? Because there was never any evidence. No evidence was ever produced to substantiate Lee’s grievous allegations, except for the statements of the detainees obtained under duress from the detainees. And those, as we know, are not worth the paper on which they were recorded.In a separate statement, the group expressed their outrage of the use of ISA against innocent Singaporeans and called for the setting up of a commission to investigate any wrongdoings in the detention in 1987.
Ms Noora Zul then read out a poem written by one of the ex-detainees in the recently published book entitled That We May Dream Again.
The crowd then responded to a call from the organisers by raising their fists and shouting “Abolish ISA! Abolish ISA! Abolish ISA!” The Internet community had responded to calls by the organisers to help promote the event. Several Facebook users did so by replacing their photographs with the event logo.
The group ended the half-hour event by singing Blowing in the Wind, a Bob Dylan song often sung at human rights events.
Earlier, a statement was read out by the organisers namely Mr Seelan Palay, Mr Chong Kai Xiong, Ms Rachel Zeng, Mr Muhd Khalis, and Mr Shafi’ie:
We, a group of concerned Singaporeans, have come together on this day to strongly condemn the arrest, detention and torture of 22 fellow Singaporeans under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1987.
We remain outraged over the government’s usage of the ISA to violate the fundamental human rights of the 22 Singaporean citizens, including young social workers, lawyers, businessmen, theatre practitioners and other professionals.
The ISA, which provides for indefinite detention without trial, is a draconian law that severely infringes the fundamental liberties of a citizen in a democratic country. Our government should not feel intimidated by the expressions of their citizens of their opinions and concerns. Likewise, there should be no corresponding fear of intimidation by the citizens of Singapore to articulate these expressions. Instead, the ISA threatens the primary rights of freedom of expression and freedom from fear of the people and should be abolished.
If the 22 who were detained in 1987 had committed any offence, they should have been charged and tried in an open court in accordance with the Rule of Law. Under the Rule of Law, everyone has the basic right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial court, in the determination of his/her rights and obligations and of any charges against him/her. Everyone charged with an offence also has the basic right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The ISA is an outright violation of these rights.
We ask that a truth and reconciliation commission be set up and tasked with discovering and revealing wrongdoings by the state officials in 1987, in the hope of providing proof against abuse of power by the state and human rights abuses committed against the 22 detainees.
Watch event video here.