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In a precedent-setting forum, former ISA detainee Francis Seow told a packed room that he wished to return to Singapore but added that “somebody has to go first.”
Mr Seow was speaking via the Internet at the SDP’s public forum entitled Silenced No Longer held yesterday at the Quality Hotel. The forner solicitor-general was still an admired figure among the standing-room only crowd even though he has been living in exile for the last 23 years.
During his 15-minute presentation he quoted Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s initial opposition to the ISA (then the Preservation of Public Security Act) in the mid-1950s when he was in the opposition. Mr Lee had said:
But we either believe in democracy or we don’t. If we do, then, we must say categorically, without qualification, that no restraint from the any democratic processes, other than by the ordinary law of the land, should be allowed… If you believe in democracy, you must believe in it unconditionally.
If you believe that men should be free, then, they should have the right of free association, of free speech, of free publication. Then, no law should permit those democratic processes to be set at nought, and no excuse, whether of security, should allow a government to be deterred from doing what it knows to be right, and what it must know to be right…
But that all changed when he won power. Mr Lee unleashed the ISA with a vengeance against his opponents.
“You must not be fooled,” Mr Seow cautioned Singaporeans. “I know the man, I worked with him for years.” He said that there was no place for the ISA in Singapore, pointing out that there were enough laws to adequately deal with anyone out to do Singapore harm.
When asked if he would like to return to Singapore Mr Seow answered in the affirmative. “My family has been in Singapore for more generations than Lee Kuan Yew’s. Of course, I’d like to come back.”
However, he cannot do so because there is still a warrant of arrest against him. Mr Seow had approached the Singapore Embassy in the US but was told that he would be given a one-way ticket back as there was “unfinished business” that the Government had with him.
Despite getting on in age, Mr Seow still spoke with gusto and challenged the Government to produce evidence against ISA detainees instead of just insisting that there was wrong-doing.
“It’s very strange, in 1987 the Government accused the detainees of being Euro-communists, but then for me it said that I was a CIA agent,” he said to the laughter of the audience. “They will say anything but will not produce evidence.”
SDP Chairman Jufrie Mahmood urged Mr Seow to consider coming back to Singapore, a point which resonated with the audience. The former prosecutor clearly left a deep impression with his listeners who bade farewell at the close of the session with a resounding round of applause.