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It is hard for someone from among my peers to appreciate the history of Singapore’s anti-colonial struggle in the 1950s and 60s which saw the random arrests of leftist politicians, students and trade unionists culminating in the Operation Cold Store in 1963.
Yet it is even harder to phantom the extraordinary life of Dr Lim Hock Siew – a part of our political history that the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) would rather we forget.
A couple of years back, before my journey with the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), I read about both the Operation Cold Store and Operation Spectrum. The Internal Security Act (ISA) was deployed in its full measure to detain suspected communists. Dr Lim Hock Siew was one of them.
However, my sympathy for the detainees was questioned in the wake of the arrest of the 30 plus Jemaah Islamiah (JI) members, suspected of modern-day terrorism. As a result, I wasn’t ready to make a decision or take a stand on the issue of ISA yet. In fact the threat of terrorism after 9/11 was used as propaganda to argue for the retention of the ISA.
Fast forward to a year back, 2011. That was when I had a chance to meet Dr Lim. I met him at a Singapore Day dinner organized by the SDP. He was presented with a token of appreciation for his years of (humility?) and service. I found out later that he was no ordinary doctor – he gave free medical care to the needy. His passing is a great loss to not just the the lower-income group but also the medical community . Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has also described him as “a good and honourable man”.
The book “Remembering Dr Lim Hock Siew, Our Freedom Fighter”, edited by Dr Poh Soo Kai, contains tributes and testimonials from friends, fellow social activists as well as his patients, attesting to Dr Lim’s strength of character. I now know that although he, like dozens of others who were likewise detained on questionable grounds, favored socialist policies, he wasn’t a communist or promoting communism at all.
Seeing a humble man keeping his composure in face of adversity as he spent 20 of his prime years behind bars, leaving his wife and kid to grow up without a dad, has really moved me as a young person struggling for the freedom and future of our younger generation.
My stance on the ISA has, although gradual, never shifted so much and I now feel that such a legislation, which has brought about untold pain and suffering to the innocent, is totally unjustified and must be overhauled.
Dr Lim’s determination and tenacity continues to give us, not just a ray of hope, but further encouragement to stand up for one’s principles.
Brendan Chong is a member of The Young Democrats.