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Chia Thye Poh.
Mr Chia Thye Poh was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1966 and imprisoned for the next 23 years without given a trial. Mr Chia was an MP with (now defunct) opposition Barisan Sosialis. It was only into his 19th year of imprisonment that the PAP Government accused him of being a communist and advocating the use of violence. In order for him to be released, Mr Chia had to confess to the accusations that his political opponents had made against him. He steadfastly refused to kowtow to the PAP, however.
Below is a how Mr Chia described his treatment in prison:
They tried very hard to break prisoners, to extract confessions from them, to have them confess on television. They made me pay a very high price for not kowtowing to them.
In 1966, they put me in a dark cell and said some people had gone insane under such circumstances. Sometimes you could hear people kicking the doors as if they had gone insane. I went from one prison cell to another and was in solitary confinement several times. Sometimes I was deprived of reading material for months at a stretch. They said that there’s no end to this, that it will go on year after year if I don’t confess, that even if I am made of steel, they have the means to break me.
I told them that I had nothing to confess, and that if the government had the evidence it should try me in an open court, where I could see the evidence against me and defend myself.
There were day-long interrogations in a freezing cold room. They pressurized my family. But I always thought, no matter how long they keep me in this way, some day they will have to release me, because I am innocent, and I have support. It’s part of the broad struggle for democracy all over the world.
When you are in solitary, there is nothing in the cell. But you can explore, and see faint scribblings from previous prisoners. I still remember one of them. It was a poem in Chinese:
Ten years behind bars
Never too late
Thousands of ordeals
My spirit steeled
When you are alone and helpless, and you saw things like that, you were encouraged.
In 1989, the PAP gave up trying to extract a confession out of Mr Chia and released onto Sentosa and kept him there for several more years. Still unable to break his resilience, the Government finally gave up and lifted all restrictions on Mr Chia in 1998.
On 2 February 1963, more than one hundred opposition leaders were detained by the ISD during Operation Cold Store. This decimated the ranks of the opposition. Many of the detained were held for more than 15 years without trial.
Mr Seow was the former Solicitor-General of Singapore. He left the legal service in 1984 and was elected President of the Law Society during which he confronted the Government on several policy issues such as the introduction of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act. He was subsequently arrested by the ISD when he tried to act as counsel for some ISD detainees arrested in 1987 during Operation Spectrum. He joined the Workers’ Party and contested in the 1988 elections where his GRC team polled 49% of the votes. After the elections, Mr Seow left for the US for heart treatment during which he was charged for tax evasion. He now lives in the US. He has written extensively including two books: To Catch A Tartar and The Media Enthralled.
Tang Fong Har
Ms Tang was arrested in 1987 together with 22 other professionals during Operation Spectrum. When the detainees were released in 1988, some of them, including Ms Tang, signed a statement accusing the ISD of abusing them during their imprisonment. They were quickly re-arrested by the ISD. Meanwhile, however, Ms Tang had left Singapore and was thus not among the few who were arrested the second time. She has not returned to Singapore since.
Tan Wah Piow
Mr Tan was a student leader at the then University of Singapore in the 1970s. During those days, he challenged the Government on labour issues such as the welfare of retrenched workers. The Government then charged Mr Tan for instigating a riot during a meeting that was to take place between students and the labour union. Mr Tan denied the charges. He was convicted of the charges and served a one-year jail sentence. Upon his release, he was immediately called up for National Service. Mr Tan promptly left Singapore for the United Kingdom where he now resides and practices law.
Mr D’Souza was a former Catholic Priest. He was actively involved in helping the poor and frequently spoke up on social issues. In 1987 he left Singapore soon after the ISD launched Operation Spectrum. He has not returned since.
Tang Liang Hong
Mr Tang, a Workers’ Party candidate in the 1997 General Elections, was accused of being a Chinese chauvinist. He was later sued by 11 leaders of the PAP when he refuted the accusations. Mr Tang was earlier sued by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong during the case involving the Lees about their purchases of the HPL condominiums at Scotts 28 and Nassim Jade. Immediately after the elections, Mr Tang left Singapore and now resides in Australia. He was also charged for tax evasion and was made a bankrupt following his law suit by the PAP leaders. Mr Tang’s wife was named a co-defendant and was subsequently also bankrupted along with Mr Tang.
Ho Juan Thai
Mr Ho was an unsuccessful Workers’ Party candidate in the 1976 general elections. He was sought by the police and accused of playing up “gut issues” to incite “violent chauvinistic reactions among the Chinese-speaking population” in Singapore. Soon after the elections, Mr Ho fled to England where he remains in exile.