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It was the first ever gathering in recent history of ex-Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees from Malaysia and Singapore. The camaraderie event in Kuala Lumpur on last Wednesday marked the anniversary of Operation Spectrum in Singapore that witnessed the arrest of 22 innocent persons for their “Marxist conspiracy” and Operation Lalang in Malaysia that rounded up 106 people considered threat to national security.
Both operations were unleashed by the governments on either side of the Causeway in 1987.
The gathering at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall in the Malaysian capital also saw the launch of two books written by victims of the oppressive, draconian ISA in 1987.
One was by Singaporean lawyer Teo Soh Lung entitled Beyond the Blue Gate: Recollections of a Political Prisoner and the other 445 Days Under the ISA by Malaysian politician and human rights activist Dr Kua Kia Soong.
More than 200 people, mainly young enthusiasts from Malaysia and Singapore filled the meeting room to capacity to listen to the authors for a glimpse of their firsthand experience under the dreaded law in the arsenal of the Malaysian and Singapore governments.
Ms Teo reminded the audience that her book had to be printed by a publisher in Malaysia speaks volumes about the level of control and also indicative of the state of human rights in Singapore.
“Unlike in Malaysia, the Law Society in Singapore remained silent although four of the 22 detainees were lawyers. Their ‘crime’ was to comment on the then proposed Newspapers and Printing Presses bill,” Ms Teo noted.
She also lamented the fact that civil society groups in Singapore too maintained “silence” even though the majority were volunteer social workers.
The Singapore Law Society in 1986 was headed by the former solicitor-general Mr Francis Seow. Soon after he became president, the government moved legislation to remove him from his post and also prevent the society from commenting on proposed legislations.
Dr Kua, whose book was into its third edition noted that the use of ISA indicates the level to which the state can sink to in suppressing dissent.
He said: “The ISA has to be removed and thrown back into the dustbin.”
The event that lasted for more than two hours also attracted some veterans of the University Socialist Club (USC) in Singapore in the 1950s. One of them was 78-year old Jayaraj C Rajarao, a Malaysian, who was a prominent leader of USC from 1957 to 1959.
Also at the launch of the two books were a few “Marxist conspirators”, including their purported leader Vincent Cheng. SDP was represented by its chairman Gandhi Ambalam.