Operation Spectrum open forum: a good start

Singapore Democrats

After 22 years, we are beginning to see more public events that address the Internal Security Act (ISA) detentions in 1987.


In May a group of five activists came together to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Marxist arrests. Led by Seelan Palay, the group got together at Hong Lim Park and called for the for the abolishment of ISA. (See here and here.)

On Sunday afternoon, Martyn See organised discussion forum about the 22 arrests. The indoor event was supposed to have taken place last Saturday. However, about before that, the owner of the venue called Martyn to inform him that he had to cancel the booking to to an ongoing CID investigation (see here.)

Undeterred and despite further police harassment, Martyn sought out another venue and held the forum yesterday. Activists, bloggers, politicians, civil society actors and reporters turned up for the event.

Ex-detainee Michael Fernandez spoke about why he was detained by the Internal Security Department (ISD) in 1964 for nine years for his role in championing for workers rights back then.

Alex Au pointed out whilst Singaporeans were bombarded with the Marxist plot propaganda, that the other side of the story, has never quite been told. He urged the ex-detainees to write about their arrests and their experiences thereafter.

Former ISEAS senior fellow, Russell Heng wondered why the government had arrested these 22 young men and women when it flew against the face of logic. He was also unsure if civil society has evolved to become less afraid of the threat of the ISA being used on them.

SDP’s Chee Siok Chin then spoke about the lack of public outrage when it was clear that the arrests were farcical. She spoke about the current JI detainees and how similar it is to the 1987 arrests in that there have been no questions asked about these non-transparent detentions. Ms Chee also spoke about the PAP’s strategy of making sure that the people do not come together to challenge oppressive policies. She urged those in the audience to contact groups who are advocating for transparency and to work with them, including the Singapore Democrats.

John Tan encouraged the audience not to turn a blind eye to injustice and violations of human rights. Civil participation is badly needed in our society if we want to be a vibrant democracy. He honed in the point that Singaporeans must look out for each other and even those beyond our shores. In the final analysis, Mr Tan argued, the ISA must be abolished in order to prevent another Operation Spectrum in the future, and to remove the fear that grips Singaporeans when it comes to citizen participation.

The forum discussion was peppered with Martyn reading excerpts of torture from So That We May Dream Again, a compilation of brief essays of the 1987 arrests, To Catch a Tartar by Francis Seow and also an extract about Chia Thye Poh from Chee Soon Juan’s book To Be Free.

Martyn ended the forum with the assurance that this will not be the last forum he will hold about the ISD’s unlawful arrests of the 22 young people some 22 years ago.

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