Kill the body and crush the spirit

December 2, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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Chee Siok Chin

“Welcome to the Family.” That’s the common refrain that one often hears in a Christian church.

Today, however, more than a dozen well-wishers, including Mdm Letchmi (mother of Shanmugam who was hanged in May this year) who wanted to pay their last respects to Nguyen Van Tuong, were turned away at the gates of a Catholic chapel where a memorial service was to be conducted for Van.

Why were we prohibited from attending the mass? Because this mass is a private function, we were told. About ten “church officials” stood at the gate to serve as “bouncers”. I witnessed a car driving towards the gate and heard one “church official” say to another: “Let her in. She’s my friend.” They let in people whom they recognised as their friends, not as Nguyen’s friends.

I am not a Catholic, I am a Christian. Jesus had said: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mk 10:14). I am not criticising the Catholic faith. I am, however, disappointed with the people who proclaim the goodness and love of God but yet are cowed so easily.

One can only hazard a guess as to why the church had prohibited us from attending Van’s mass. Were they afraid that these people who have been speaking out for him were going to be trouble? Or were they afraid to be seen welcoming people who had spoken up against the mandatory death penalty?

If we had wanted to create trouble, we would have done it this morning at Changi Village. The group kept vigil for Van at a 24-hour coffee shop at Changi Village. Included in the group were Madam Letchmi and Shanmugam’s twin sons Gopalan and Krishnan. At each hour, two or three persons would bring lighted candles to the entrance of the Changi prison complex where Van was going to be hanged.

At 5.45 this morning Mdm Letchmi, Gopalan, Krishnan and M Ravi performed a brief Hindu ritual for Van. The activist grandmother made a last-minute emotional appeal for Van’s life to be spared. This elderly lady, who has two rods in her spine, stood firmly and unwaveringly with us in a bid to prevent Van from going to the grave as her own son had. She is a real hero.

The vigil was peaceful and the group caused no trouble whatsoever. If the church officials are afraid to be associated with these activists, then they have politicised the situation. Are Singaporeans so afraid of offending the authorities here that even church officials practise self-censorship in banning us from the House of God? Are Singaporeans so sanitized and frightened that they abandon God’s authority when they feel pressured to obey earthly authority?

What Nugyen Van Tuong had done may have destroyed lives, but the Government of Singapore crushes the human spirit.


Ms Chee Siok Chin is a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Singapore Democrats.