26 Feb 2007

The ISA as a Political Tool

From Martyn See's Singapore Rebel

The second instalment of a five part excerpt from an Amnesty International report, first published in 1980.

(ll) A political background to the use of the ISA

Since 1959 Singapore has been governed by the People's Action Party (PAP) led by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The People's Action Party, founded in 1954, was a broad-based political party espousing a socialist program with backing from the mass of largely Chinese-speaking unionized labour in Singapore, but also from the English-educated Singapore Chinese intelligentsia. This coalition was however always fragile and tensions occurred between the two wings of the party, particularly as the British, who were responsible for internal security until 1963, did not hesitate to detain without trial the more militant and left-wing nationalists within the PAP. In 1959 the PAP won the general elections and Lee Kuan Yew became Prime Minister.

Two years later, in 1961, the left-wing of the People's Action Party, led by Lim Chin Siong, broke away, and established its own party, the Barisan Sosialis (Socialist Front). The Singapore government has repeatedly alleged that those who broke away were pro-communist but it is of interest to note that 80% of the PAP membership are estimated to have left the party at this time.* Soon after the split an agreement was announced, in August 1961, for the future merger of Singapore and Malaya. The Barisan Sosialis opposed merger and sought to test its strength in elections to be held in 1963.

( * ref. Pang Cheng Lian, Singapore's People's Action Party, Oxford University Press, Singapore 1971, pp 14-15; T J S George, Lee Kuan Yew's Singapore, Andre Deutsch, 1973, London, pp 62-63)

On the morning of 2 February 1963, however, the Singapore security authorities arrested 113 persons who were active in the anti-government opposition and who opposed merger with Malaya. Among those arrested were leaders of the Barisan Sosialis including Lim Chin Siong and Dr Lim Hock Siew as well as newspaper editors, trade unionists and university students. Despite this the Barisan was still able to obtain 33.5% of the votes in the 1963 elections, against the PAP's 46.9%.

Singapore's participation in the Federation of Malaysia was shortlived, as indeed the Barisan Sosialis leaders predicted, and in August 1965 Singapore left the Federation to become an independent republic. The Barisan leaders and other opposition figures arrested in 'Operation Coldstore' were however to remain in detention without trial under the Internal Security Act for many years to come. The Barisan leader, Lim Chin Siong, was released in 1969, after spending many years in solitary confinement. Reportedly administered drugs which intensified depression, Lim Chin Siong left prison and went into exile in England.

Whilst the bulk of the 'Coldstore' detainees were released in the late 60s and early 1970s, five men remained in prison in 1978 who had been arrested in 1963. The five were Dr Lim Hock Siew, Dr Poh Soo Kai, Lee Tse Tong, Ho Piao and Said Zahari. All five have consistently refused to make the ritual 'confession' that the Singapore government insists upon as a precondition of their release. One of the five, Dr Poh Soo Kai, was released in November 1973 only to be rearrested in June 1976. Two others however, Dr Lim Hock Siew and Said Zahari, former editor of the Malay-language newspaper, Utusan Melayu, were unexpectedly conditionally released on 18 November 1978 and exiled respectively to the offshore islands of Pulau Tekong Besar and Pulau Ubin. In August 1979 Said Zahari was released unconditionally and allowed to return to his home in Singapore. Meanwhile, Dr Poh Soo Kai, Ho Piao and Lee Tse Tong remain incarcerated in Moon Crescent Detention Centre.

to continue reading and comment...- Amnesty International (1980)

Related Article

Political Detention in Singapore