Selling the ISA Part III

February 15, 2003
Singapore Democrats

This post is at least a year old. Some of the links in this post may no longer work correctly.

In Parts I and II, we provided irrefutable evidence to counter the PAP propaganda about the ISA. In this concluding section, we provide yet more evidence of how the ISA has been used as a terror tool to suppress dissent and beat Singaporeans into submission.

A question boldly highlighted in the Ministry of Home Affairs ISA brochure asks: What safeguards are there to prevent abuse? The question is followed by nine points which spell out the various checks on the Governments application of the ISA. Perhaps the most outrageous claim is that, The Government will be held responsible by all Singaporeans if it abuses the powers of the ISA.

This defies common sense. The Government has, in the first place, ensured that the leaders of society have all been arrested under the ISA and broken down under torture, leaving no one to question it. Now it tells the world that Singaporeans can hold the Government responsible. This is vintage autocracy!

Safeguards in an autocratic system

Safeguards to prevent abuse? Lets take a look at some of the things that have gone on behind closed ISA doors. Researching recently declassified British intelligence reports, historian T. N. Harper writes:

As interrogations of detainees slowly progressed, the methods came under scrutiny. Behind the medical and sanitary metaphors in which the arrests were cloaked, a harsher picture began to emerge. One lawyer representing Nanyang University students, reported that he was unable to see his clients until March 5, during which time they were in solitary confinement. It seems that the whole purpose is to destroy the mental balance of these young university students. He found one of the women detainees on the verge of mental breakdown, suffering from acute insomnia, serious lack of appetite and living on sleeping tablets supplied by the prison medical officer since the day of her detention. He claimed that force and threats of force are applied on students who are to them non-co-operative.

Harper also recorded that High Commissioner Lord Selkirk had reported that prison conditions were quite intolerable and that months after the Operation Cold Store arrests on 2 February 1963, there were still 5 detainees in solitary, as well as 10-12 people under interrogation. Harper added: In June there was an attempted suicide. In the United Kingdom, Fenner Brockway MP took up the cause, along with British trades unions and also the fledgling international campaign, Amnesty International.

Singapores first Chief (Prime) Minister, David Marshall, said that under the PAP Government, conditions at Outram prison were radically worse than conditions imposed in the past either by the Imperial Government or by any previous Singapore Government.

Marshall said that the PAP even tried to paint him as a communist: It is easy to call people subversives, to damn them as communists. I know myself that I am as communist as the Pope, but that has not prevented the Government and its stooges from seeking to paint me red. He also charged that the order for the 1963 Operation Cold Store arrests came from the (PAP) Government and that it was cowardly to seek to hide behind the skirts of the British.

The PAP Government is a master at propaganda. Who can better testify to this that its chief propagandist, Devan Nair. In 1976, the PAP sent its stalwart Devan Nair to London to answer its critics about its treatment of ISA detainees. Then, Nair blasted the absurd allegations of ill treatment, and inhuman conditions in our prisons and detention centres. In 1994, after his acrimonious fallout with his erstwhile comrade Lee Kuan Yew, Nair admitted: I am obliged to eat a good number of my words I uttered in London in 1976. He acknowledged that he had been all too gullible when he accepted that prison conditions of the PAPs captives were humane and civilized purely on the words of the Government.

Ho Piao, secretary of the now banned National Seamens Union, who was arrested in Operation Cold Store, told Amnesty International that his torturers had tied him to a wooden chair the whole day, and forced water through his nose and mouth. The ISD officers repeatedly punched and kicked him, including his head. This is how we treat animals, they told him.

According to Amnesty International another detainee, Chua Hock Hua, was beaten so badly that his health deteriorated rapidly. His fellow inmates repeatedly asked the guards to release him for medical treatment. Chua was finally released after four years in prison. He died a few days after his release of carcinoma hepatitis, according to the hospital.

His family was convinced, however, that his death came not from cancer but from a lacerated liver caused by beatings. His death was so politically sensitive that Amnesty International reported that no newspaper in the Republic was willing to carry an obituary notice from his family.

Amnesty International also documented the torture of other ISA prisoners. Chee Soon Juan condensed this in his book To Be Free:

Prisoners had their jaws broken and teeth knocked out during the torture sessions. Their hearing was often damaged as a result of blows to the ears. Their genitalia would often be attacked as well. The more sadistic officers would hook up the detainees to electrodes and pass electrical currents through their bodies. They poured urine on the prisoners heads and dragged them straight to their cells without a chance to wash away the stench. Prisoners had filthy rags jammed into their mouths and red ants liberally sprinkled on their mattresses. Often they were interrogated naked, and made to walk to and from their cells without a stitch of clothing on them. Wong Kui Inn, a detainee herself, was brought in to watch as the interrogators bashed her husband until they broke his jaw. Later he tried committing suicide by banging his head against the wall.

For those who remain unpersuaded, despite all the evidence, that the ISA is not used by the PAP to suppress legitimate opposition, read what former solicitor-general Francis Seow had to say in his book To Catch A Tartar:

Someone behind me bawled into my left ear: So you think you can take on and bully the second-generation leaders? Well, our job is to make sure that you do not succeed. We are here to neutralise. You know, to neutralise you! For your information, Lee Kuan Yew is running for another term. And you will be locked up here for at least two years, if not more. So, where will you be? You can give up all your ideas of going into politics.I suddenly began to comprehend that they were not really interested in hearing any answersIt was intended to frighten and neutralize me from entering opposition politics. And to serve no doubt as a warning to all professionals whom I had tried to cultivate for the general election.

Getting fooled

For those who are tempted to buy into the PAPs rhetoric and propaganda, it would be wise to take into consideration the above revelations. Let there be no confusion: The evidence of abuse of the ISA by the PAP is unmistakable.

The important question is what do we do about it? Should we assume that it will not be abused and misused again in the future? Or should we say that because it is used against terrorists this time round, it is okay?

Without acknowledging the past and all its problems, we cannot begin to rectify the present to ensure a safe future. We, especially those in the opposition, must not timidly accept that just because the ISA has been used against terrorists this time round, that we should not continue to struggle for a system that will hold the PAP to account for its actions, including arrests made under the ISA.

There is no guarantee that the ISA will not be used against legitimate opposition in the future, especially when the PAP finds itself in a desperate political situation.

Simply asking the Government, especially such an autocratic one, for assurances, or accepting on blind faith, that it will not abuse the ISA is to shirk from the onerous responsibility of fight for freedom and democracy for our country. Such cowardice will lead Singapore nowhere.