Tharman cannot remain silent

Singapore Democrats

In her speech at the SDP’s Silenced No Longer forum on Saturday, Ms Tang Fong Har revealed a little-known fact: Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, now the Deputy Prime Minister, is “almost a victim of the ISA himself”. Tharman was questioned in 1987 by the Internal Security Department (ISD) although he was not detained.

The Singapore Democrats understand that Mr Tharman had visited Mr Tan Wah Piow in the UK in the mid-1980s. When he returned to Singapore, he was picked up by the ISD for questioning.

Mr Tharman’s role in the saga is crucial because Operation Spectrum, as the detentions were codenamed, centred on the fact that Mr Tan Wah Piow had masterminded a conspiracy involving 22 activists in Singapore to overthrow the PAP Government through the use of force.

Mr Tan was convicted of inciting a riot in 1974, a case which itself attracted many questions and much controversy. He served an eight-month jail-term. Fearing for his own safety, he left for the UK after his release and sought asylum there.

Given that Mr Tharman had met with Mr Tan, it is clear that the DPM would know whether Mr Tan was trying to hatch a violent Marxist plot. If there was such a plan, the DPM should come right out and tell Singaporeans what that plan was.

If there wasn’t any such discussion, then Mr Tharman owes it to the people to clear the air once and for all, that the Government was wrong and Operation Spectrum should not have been ordered.

As it stands, a grave injustice has been done to the many who were detained. Not only have their lives and careers been shattered, they have been ripped from their families and, in Ms Tang’s case, still barred from being re-united with her loved ones. Their names have been dragged through the mud and their honour brutalised. Worse, ISA detainees have repeatedly said that they were beaten and tortured by ISD officers. Such allegations have yet to be investigated.

Now all the detainees want is a commission of inquiry to get at the truth. If there is evidence, they should be presented before such a commission or in a court of law. Mr Tharman, having had first-hand dealings with Mr Tan Wah Piow, would be well-positioned to lend weight to the Government’s case. Unless, of course, the DPM himself thinks that Operation Spectrum was unjustified.  

The Government’s refusal to convene such a commission speaks volumes. But whether it does or not Mr Tharman cannot keep quiet any longer – not when so much injustice has been been done to persons whom he had known.

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