In desperation and fear, they censor

Singapore Democrats

The Government has barred Mr Vincent Cheng from speaking about his detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA). Mr Cheng was arrested in May 1987 together with more than 20 Singaporeans and detained for up to two years.


They were accused of conspiring to violently overthrow the Government through a network that advocated Marxist principles. Mr Cheng, a Catholic church worker, was accused of being the ringleader. He was detained without trial and beaten and tortured into confessing what Mr Lee Kuan Yew accused him of.

Twenty-three years later, the ex-detainee wants to reveal all at a talk at the National Library. He was scheduled to speak at a forum on 4 Jun 10 organised by the National University of Singapore (NUS) History Society. But the Government won’t allow him. (See also Martyn See’s blog)

Why is the PAP so afraid of what the ex-detainee has to say?

A church worker, Mr Cheng was studying and working with the poor in Singapore to help alleviate their crushing burden. The PAP felt threatened perhaps because there was indeed a growing layer of underclass in Singapore even at that time. It accused him willy-nilly of heading a Marxist conspiracy.

On 21 May 1987, the ISD rounded up 22 citizens, including Mr Vincent Cheng. Among them were social workers, lawyers, and artists. Save for Mr Cheng, the prisoners were released in late 1987. The Government declared that the detainees had been treated well and were not tortured in any way, and that the confessions were all voluntary.

Unable to contain their anguish at the injustice and the taunting that the PAP was dishing out, several of the detainees issued a statement refuting the Government’s claim that they were not tortured:

During our detention, we were subjected to treatment which should never be meted out to any person under investigation. 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 insides 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 interrogation, some of us for over 20 hours and under the 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.

We were threatened with arrests, assault and battery of our spouses, loved ones and friends. We were threatened with INDEFINITE detention without trial. (emphasis original) Chia Thye Poh, who is still in detention after twenty years, was cited as an example. We were told that no one could help us unless we “cooperated” with the ISD.

They were re-arrested the following day.

Then deputy prime minister Mr Goh Chok Tong promised that there would be a commission of inquiry to look into the allegations.

In the meantime, ISD officers worked the detainees over and again threatened them with indefinite detention unless they recanted their statement. Under the circumstances, the prisoners relented and did as ordered. Triumphant, the Government pronounced that the detainees were indeed not tortured and there was, therefore, no longer any need for the commission of inquiry.

Save for a few publications that have told the detainees’ side of the story such as To Be Free by Dr Chee Soon Juan and That We May Dream Again edited by Fong Hoe Fang, things have been kept under wraps all these years. In That we May Dream Again, Mr Cheng, who was finally released in 1990, wrote:

I still feel angry at the injustice of the whole incident, and that the perpetrators have not been brought to account. ‘Operation Spectrum’ was political rape. I cannot forget nor forgive, the harsh treatment meted out to me in prison to extract information – the freezing room, the slapping and the beatings, including the blow to my abdomen.

With the barring of Mr Cheng speaking at the National Library it looks like the PAP is desperate to continue to keep its shameful record from Singaporeans.

But right-thinking citizens should not allow this to happen. With the Internet, this seamy side of Singapore’s politics must be exposed. More important, it must not be allowed to happen again.

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