Straits Times,Jan 7, 2006
Ex-detainees to speak at local forum
By Ken Kwek
FORMER journalist and opposition figure Said Zahari is among a group of former political detainees who will speak at an arts forum next month.
Organised by The Necessary Stage, the forum on Feb 26 is part of the Singapore Fringe Festival.
The other speakers include two other ex-detainees, lawyer Tan Jing Quee and former trade unionist Michael Fernandez. Also on the panel is playwright Robert Yeo, who wrote Changi, a tragic drama about political detention in which the lead character was inspired by Mr Fernandez.
They will take part in a discussion entitled 'Detention - Writing - Healing'.
Mr Fernandez, 71, who was detained from 1964 to 1973 on suspicion of being a communist, said the forum was not a platform to argue his case politically or to refute the charges previously made against him.
'It is simply an occasion for healing, for sharing one's experience with a younger generation of Singaporeans who weren't around during those tumultuous years.'
Mr Said, 77, a Singapore citizen with Permanent Resident status in Malaysia, said he was 'rather surprised' to be invited to a public forum to air his views in Singapore, given his criticism of issues such as the Internal Security Act, which gives the Government powers of detention without trial.
'Such an event would not have taken place in the country even five years ago,' said Mr Said, who is now an academic in Kuala Lumpur. 'Perhaps there is a slightly more open political climate now,' he added.
The former editor of the Malay newspaper Utusan Melayu was also president of opposition party Parti Rakyat Singapura. In 1963, he was arrested in Operation Cold Store, a government security operation which saw 111 left-wing politicians and trade unionists being nabbed for suspected subversive activities.
He was released in 1979 at age 51 and became editor of the economic journal Asia Research Bulletin. He moved to Kuala Lumpur in 1992 and took up a fellowship four years later at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. The first volume of his memoirs Dark Clouds At Dawn was published in 2001. The second installment will hit Malaysian bookstores next month.
He is also the subject of a new film by local filmmaker Martyn See, titled Zahari's 17 Years.
Mr See, 36, has not decided when or where he will premiere his 50-minute film, but said he hoped it would not suffer the same fate as his last film.
Singapore Rebel, about opposition leader Chee Soon Juan's clashes with the Government, was deemed an illegal 'party political film' and banned by the Board of Film Censors last March.
Of his new film, Mr See said: 'Most Singaporeans, especially those from the younger generation, don't know who Said is. But his story is relevant, and offers an important if different view of Singapore's history.'
Wow. This is something indeed. One does wonder though, whether this will go the way of the PLU/NLB fiasco.