Silenced No Longer

October 6, 2011
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

For decades they have been silenced. No longer. This Saturday the SDP will be inviting former ISA detainees Mr Francis Seow and Ms Tang Fong Har to speak ‘live’ at a forum titled Silenced No Longer.

For the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, Singaporeans will get to hear and talk with two of their fellow citizens who have been unjustly accused and treated by the Government. For more than two decades they lived in exile, kept away from public attention.

Mr Seow, who was the country’s solicitor-general from 1969-1971, will speak from Boston where he now lives. In 1986, Mr Seow was elected president of the Singapore Law Society. At the opening of the 1986 Legal Year, Mr Seow served notice that as president that he wanted to see “a more assertive and caring bar, that the Law Society should be consulted on the selection and appointments, promotions, and transfers of subordinate judicial and legal officers by the Legal Service Commission.”.

When the PAP introduced amendments to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA) to restrict the circulation of foreign newspapers in Singapore, Mr Seow (with the help of the Law Society council which included Ms Teo Soh Lung and Ms Tang Fong Har) spoke up on the danger of giving the Government such excessive powers.

Incensed at the audacity, then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew introduced amendements to the Legal Profession Act to bar the Law Society from commenting on legislation and their passage. He convened a parliamentary select committee to “solicit” feedback on the proposed legislation.

Thinking that he could discredit Mr Seow at the hearing, Mr Lee invited the Law Society to appear before it. The tactic backfired as Mr Seow bested the prime minister in the televised debate. 

In 1987 the Government ordered the arrest of Ms Teo, Ms Tang and 20 others under the ISA. While under detention, Ms Teo engaged Mr Seow as her counsel. When Mr Seow showed up at the Whitley Road Detention Centre, he was ushered into the courtyard and told that he was under arrest.

For the next 72 days, the former top law enforcer found himself interrogated by his former subordinates and forced to confess to crimes and wrongdoings he never committed. He recounted his ordeal in his book To Catch A Tartar: A Dissident In Lee Kuan Yew’s Prison. The book is not available in Singapore but can be purchased in Malaysia.

After his release, Mr Seow left for the United States to seek treatment for his heart condition. In the meantime he was charged with tax evasion and was convicted in absentia. Mr Seow has since been living in Boston from where he will speak during the forum.

This Saturday will be the first time that Singaporeans can see and talk with their former solicitor-general who stood up to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and who fought for a democratic Singapore.

Ms Tang Fong Har will also be speaking at the forum. Ms Tang was detained in 1987 and after her release left for Hong Kong where she now resides. She has asked to return to Singapore to see her elderly mother but has been denied entry to Singapore safely and without harrassment.

So come to the Quality Hotel on Balestier Road on Saturday from 2pm-5pm and meet Mr Seow and Ms Tang for the first time in more than 20 years. Be a part of history.