Tuesday, 31 July 2012

A letter from a reader who lived through the 70s and 80s

Dear Leonard,

First, thank you for your very useful blog. I am not a very big fan of the draconian PAP government but neither am I in awe of Teo Soh Lung and her kakis. Let me give my side of the story because I lived through that period and I even know quite a number of them.

First, Vincent Cheng and his group were detained because they were mixing religion with politics and they were using the Catholic Church as a cover to spread liberation theology and other leftists ideas. Vincent and his supporters were doing this through church publications and in Bible study groups.

In fact, six months or so before the arrest, the church was told by ISD to rein in Vincent and his supporters because they were preaching politics from the pulpit. They stopped for awhile and resumed.

This is dangerous because if the Catholics can do it, so too can the Muslims whose radical members want an Islamic state and Syriah laws. And so too can the Protestants, Buddhists, Hindus and Taoists. The result of this zero sum game would be tensions and conflicts.

And it is my opinion that Tan Wah Piow and Vincent were the main instigators in this plot. Even Teo Soh Lung who is so active now, she was just a peripher member then. Perhaps, that's why she is so upset today to the that point it has consumed her.

Wah Piow's close comrades in the University of Singapore were leftists and communist, like Juliet Chin who joined the Communist Party Malaya radio broadcast station in Southern China and Hong Konger Tsui Hon Kwong who confessed in his article in book, Escape from the Lion's Paw, that he was Maoist. These individuals were also recounted in Malayan Communist Chin Peng's book, My Side of History.

Tsui ran a small library of progressive Chinese books in a big box fixed to the back of his bicycle which he would park near the venues of Chinese Language Society's activities. Back in the university days, 'progressive' meant more or less Red. Juliet Chin was later settled in Europe with the aid of Wah Piow.

Wah Piow was the Malayan communist contact person in UK where he helped to settle political refugees as well as communist students. Vincent visited Wah Piow in the UK and was often in contact with him.

So the bottom line is this, are they what they made out themselves to be. Purely social activists and social workers? No, clearly no. Was it a crime to have aspirations for your society? No, but it was if you were a Red in those days just as they would put you away now if you were a JI member.

The core group of Vincent Cheng, Tay Hong Seng, William Yap, Chia Boon Tai, Kenneth Tsang, Jenny Chin and Theresa Lim are hardcore Marxists. Isn't it interesting how these people aren't that active, at least publicly, in the fight for 'justice'? After all Vincent was kept in detention the longest.

Perhaps for peripheral players like Teo Soh Lung, Wong Souk Yee and Tan Tee Seng, it was quite unfair for them to be held under ISA. They were merely part of the support group and perhaps that is why they are so angry. Perhaps that is why they are so active now in trying to gain public's attention to their case.

However, it doesn't mean one cannot be contribute back to society after being arrested under the ISA. I know one of the detainees, Ng Bee Leng, graduated from NUS in the 90s after her release from ISA. She went on to become a very active social and charity worker and was even appointed by MCYS for her volunteer work. Now, did the other "social activists" who were arrested under the ISA contribute back to society after there were released? 

Thank you for reading my long letter.


Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Earlier this week, former ISA detainee Teo Soh Lung called ISA detentions grievously wrong as the government can detain them for long periods without charging them in open court. Soh Lung called upon the Government to either release all 18 prisoners immediately or charge them in open court.She felt that it was unfair that detainees are not allowed to explain his case in front of a minister. 

As a matter of fact, the law minister or the judge would not even see someone going to the gallows.

Currently, there are about 20 detainees imprisoned under the ISA all for terrorism. There is another law called the Criminal Law (Temporary Provision) that allows the government to detain hardcore criminals, druglords and gangsters for long periods without open trials. In 2010, there were close to 200 persons incarcerated under CLTP and that figure has not significantly decreased. Indeed, it's a pity that no one is campaigning for their rights.

If we all agree that nobody is guilty unless proven to be so in open court, a basic right that so many hold so dear, why are so many fine with locking people and "throwing away the key" and in agreement that such individuals should be kept away from mainstream society? Just look at average Singaporeans like singaporegirl and uncledicko.

One of the possible reasons behind detention without trial is the compromise of our safe streets and stability of society should there be an absence of such deterrence. Recently, Malaysia repealed their version of CLTP called the Emergency Ordinance much to the delight of many. But others are lamenting that street crimes are getting more violent and vicious and some of these could have been caused by the released detainees.

Why are ISA detainees not charged in open court? MHA provides the following reasons:

• The identity of witnesses may be exposed and they may be put in danger.
• Secret sources of intelligence or undercover investigations may be exposed.
• Relationships with other countries may be affected (in spy cases).
• Racial and religious feelings may be provoked in a prolonged trial.

The reasons behind detentions under the CLTP are similar. In addition, there is likely to be difficulties in gathering sufficient evidence for a conviction as intelligent criminals hide their tracks well and are capable of getting good lawyers. Yet still another reason is that much of the 'evidence' are actually communications interceptions which cannot be produced in open court. Indeed, we have seen many times how some individuals are totally different in public and in private, like Ming Yi, Kong Hee etc.

Is detention at Whitley Rd same as Guantanamo Bay?

We all know about the horrors of Guantanamo where suspected terrorists are treated inhumanely, tortured and humilated. But is secret detention at Guantanamo same as Whitley Rd as the author of Beyond The Blue Gate claims? Reading her book, one could say that it was deplorable but not as intense as Guantanamo.

Currently, detainees who are tortured can raise this matter during routine visits by their family members and lawyers just as they would in a normal prison. In addition, there are medical checkups and unannounced visits by Justices of Peace at the detention centre.

Indeed, Soh Lung is right to say that family members of the detainees are suffering as their loved ones are being locked away. With the internet these days, it's easy for aggreived family members to reach out to the public. Perhaps, the Malay community and relgiious teachers are doing a good job supporting them financially and emotionally during this period. We wait to hear their side of the story.

Most of those detained under the ISA in 2001 and 2002 have been released from detention. We awit their stories and accounts as well. Meanwhile, I will leave you with Soh Lung's recent emotional note in her FB where I am sure the shadows of Whitley Rd still haunt her:

To be imprisoned under our Internal Security Act (ISA) is often to be forgotten. Unlike a prison sentence ordered by a judge in open court, an order for detention signed by the Minister for Home Affairs means indefinite detention. When a judge orders a convicted person to two years’ imprisonment, that person knows that he will be released at the end of the two years. If he behaves well in prison, his sentence will be reduced by one third. A person ordered to be imprisoned under the ISA for two years can be imprisoned for decades. Cabinet ministers seal his fate in secret. No reason or evidence needs to be disclosed. He is never given a chance to appear before any minister to explain his case. At the expiry of his detention order, he can be served with another order. 
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, President Bush addressing a joint session of Congress on 20 September 2001 said: “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbour or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sfNROmn7bc) 
Arrests of alleged terrorists commenced soon after and many were thrown into Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba where the US government could ignore the rules governing prisoners of war and ill treat them as it wished. Today, we read of unlawful arrests, torture and deaths in Guantanamo detention camp. In April 2011, WikiLeaks began publishing 779 secret files relating to prisoners detained in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. 168 of these prisoners remain in prison as at July 2012.  
Singapore is a friend of America and paid great attention to the warning of Bush. In December 2001, she too started to arrest alleged terrorists. Fourteen with alleged links to Jemaah Islamiyah, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other alleged terrorist organisations were arrested under our ISA. In subsequent years, more were arrested. By June 2011, the ISD had arrested and imprisoned at least 80 people under the ISA. 
It is easy to forget the people arrested because we do not know them personally. We do not have human rights organisations which constantly monitor and remind us of their detention. From my record (I stand to be corrected as I do not have the privilege of examining ISD files) 18 people are still in prison. Below are the names and date of arrests. (Again I stand to be corrected). 
1 Haji Ibrahim bin Haji Maidin Dec 2001
2 Mohamad Anuar bin Margono Dec 2001
3 Alahuddeen bin Abdullah Jan 2002
4 Mohd Aslam bin Yar Ali Khan Dec 2002
5 Mohd Jauhari bin Abdullah 16 Aug 2002
6 Nahurudin bin Sabtu 16 Aug 2002
7 Nordin bin Parman 16 Aug 2002
8 Syed Ibrahim 16 Aug 2002
9 Jahpar bin Osman Dec 200310 Mohamed Rashid bin Zainal Abidin Dec 200311 Marksham bin Mohd Shah Dec 200612 Rijal Yadri bin Jumari Feb 200813 Mohd Azmi bin Ali Nov 200914 Mas Selamat bin Kastari 1 Apr 2009 (Arrested in Dec 2003 and reported to have escaped on 27 Feb 2008).
15 Muhammad Fadil bin Abdul Hamid Apr 2010
16 Jumari bin Kamdi Dec 2010
17 Abdul Majid s/o Kunji Mohammad May 2011
18 Samad bin Subari June 2011 
In a month’s time, 8 of the 18 prisoners would have served more than ten years in prison without trial. I am reminded of ISA prisoners arrested in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them were imprisoned for decades. They were forgotten by Singaporeans. The ministers renewed their detention orders again and again. I doubt their conscience was ever pricked. 
Today, the United Nations, International Red Cross, newspapers like The New York Times and The Guardian have interviewed released prisoners and informed the world of the torture and injustice they have suffered. Human rights lawyers have challenged the US government in court with regard to many of the Guantanamo prisoners. Conditions in the camp have been subjected to international scrutiny. Guantanamo has become an embarrassment and President Obama had promised to close it down. He has not been successful yet. In Singapore, however, our government has not been subjected to any form of scrutiny. Our Law Society of Singapore have not called for the release of the prisoners.  
Like ISA prisoners in past decades, it is easy to forget these 18 prisoners for we do not know them. It is however grievously wrong for our government to detain them for so long without charging them in court. As a concerned citizen, I call upon the Government to either release all 18 prisoners immediately or charge them in open court. For every one of these 18 prisoners, there are many family members suffering with them. They may be sole breadwinners and it is wrong to deprive their families of their support.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Marxist detainee linked to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation

A released photo of Chung Lai Mei, one of those arrested during the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy, showed her in a militant training camp in India in July 1986. The camp belonged to the Tamil Eelam Liberation Organisation (TELO), an armed insurgency group that was fighting was an independent Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka before it was decimated by its more famous cousin LTTE or Tamil Tigers. TELO still functions as a political party today.

Chung, who dropped out of Singapore Polytechnic, was active in the Singapore Polytechnic Students' Union (SPSU) during 1981-1985. SPSU was charged by the government to be infiltrated by Marxists led by Vincent Cheng. Chung later became the deputy secretary-general of the Asian Students' Association (ASA), a Hong Kong-based alliance of militant students in the region.

In 1985, Chung supposedly led polytechnic students to demonstrate outside the Sri Lanka High Commission in Singapore demanding for the release of political prisoners in Sri Lanka, a country plagued by sectarian violence along ethnic lines.

Singapore Polytechnic Students' Union (SPSU)

SPSU was allegedly radicalised under the leadership of Vincent Cheng who build his contacts with the SPSU leadership through Geylang Catholic Welfare Centre (GCWC). As a full time helper in GCWC in the early 1980s, he got to know SPSU leaders such as Tan Tee Seng, Low Yit Leng, Ng Bee Leng and Mah Lee Lin (all detained under the 1987 Marxists arrests). Cheng exerted influence over SPSU through Ng and Mah and managed to control the executive committee and freshmen orientation committee.

SPSU activities included leadership training camps and closed-door gatherings where participants were told to fight for their rights and emulate Tan Wah Piow who was a martyr forced to flee Singapore. There was also a secret session where SPSU activists were urged to rally the students and working classes to exploit the on-going economic recession.

However, one can argue that these were merely more radical students and that these were gatherings in their capacity as private individuals and like-minded friends. On the other hand, others could also argue that these are akin to pre-nascent Islamic Jihadist terrorists and radicals gathering to indoctrinate fellow aficionados or recruiting new converts. A matter of perception that both sides, government and detainees, are more than willing to wring to their advantage. 

An interesting observation was that former SPSU activists started an underground newsletter called Commscord which took a leftist interpretation of army life. It used Marxist thought to allege that national service breeds 'consumerism' and that the rank system of the SAF promotes the emergence of a class system.

It is essential that the PAP government seriously consider releasing more information and materials to let Singaporeans judge for themselves the events and circumstances of 1987. Until now, what is presented of the Marxist arrests is a stark dichotomy between government allegations and detainees' pronouncements of innocent. While such a release may jeopardise operation techniques and betray ISD sources, government may consider a partial release or obfuscating details so as to protect those individuals.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Filipino Connection

Liberation theology was a radical movement that grew up in South America as a response to the poverty and the ill-treatment of ordinary people. The movement was caricatured in the phrase If Jesus Christ were on Earth today, he would be a Marxist revolutionary. The views of the eloquent former Foreign Minister, the late S Rajaratnam is also worth a read here and here. He argues a case of old Communism and new Marxism.

The movement comprised a wide spectrum from those who (mis)used liberation theology for their Marxist goals as well as those that who advocated it from a correct theological point of view where the church has a duty to help the poor but not to the point of politicisation.

Well-known radical Catholic priests were known to get involved in politics and trade unions; others even aligned themselves with violent revolutionary movements. The most salient example of this was in the Philippines where the Communist Party and their armed faction, the New People's Army is still waging a war against the Philippines government.

 In the case of Vincent Cheng (VC) in 1987, the government claimed that they have found similar evidence with regards to VC's trips to the Philippines in the 70s and 80s where he met Catholic priests that were involved in communist cause under the cloak of a clergyman.

 VC also met Al Santos, a member of the New People's Army and a staff of Philippines Educational Theatre Association (PETA). On the invitation of VC, Al Santos visited Singapore many times to provide guidance to the drama group Third Stage. In April 1982, VC arranged for Wong Souk Yee to attend a six-week drama workshop conducted by PETA in Manila.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Wah Piow Letters

According to the letters intercepted and released by the Internal Security Department, Tan Wah Piow (TWP), in his letters to one of the detainees, Chia Boon Tai, discussed about ways to "solicit the goodwill and support of the church." The letters were not sent directly to Chia in Singapore but to his brother in Johor Baru.

A Speakers' Corner event on the 25th Anniversary of the Marxist Conspiracy

The below is an event organised by the former detainees of the Marxist Conspiracy. This is a positive move towards educating our young about our own history. A pity that the speakers won't be the detainees themselves but more opposition and opposition-linked personalities. This would have its dangers of running into a discourse drawn along political lines rather than one that seeks to inform the public of the historical significance and debate surrounding the use of a law that allows detention without trial, whether it is the form of the Internal Security Act (ISA) or otherwise.

Note: This event has been postponed to 2nd June. Please see here


Come join us at an open air exhibition from 4pm to 7pm on Saturday 19 May 2012 at Speakers’ Corner, Hong Lim Park to remember the 25th anniversary of the 1987 “Marxist conspiracy”.

Ruminate with social activists Alfian Saat, Braema Mathi, Jeannette Chong Aruldoss, Jolovan Wham, Martyn See, Siew Kum Hong, Vincent Wijeysingha and William Yap as they share personal thoughts on the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy” and its effect on civil society.

Participate in guided tours through a unique open-air exhibition detailing the lives of the 1987 survivors before and after their ISA detentions.

Walk through mockups of Whitley Road Detention Centre and go back in time with original artifacts and memorabilia from those ISA arrests a quarter century ago.

“Lim-kopi” with survivors of the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy”, ask questions and get answers directly from activists who had been silenced 25 years ago.

Buy a host of newly published books by social activists who has never-before-told public stories of how they slipped the ISD dragnet, left the country, and are now in exile.


3pm to 4pm: Arrival and informal chit-chats.

4pm to 5pm: Sharing and reflections by speakers from various sections of Singapore

society. All speakers do so in their individual capacities.

5pm to 6pm: Guided tour of open-air exhibition and exhibits

6pm to 7pm: “Lim-kopi” with survivors of the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy”

Come and help raise awareness on the potential abuse of the ISA.

Your presence will help reconcile past hurts and unify Singapore again.

Desired outcomes

We hope these activities would:

a. Raise awareness on the misuse of the ISA in the past;

b. Raise awareness of the danger on the continued existence of the ISA which may lead to complacency of the authorities in dealing with real security threats to our country;

c. Work towards the abolition of the ISA; and

d. Press the government to welcome the return of those who have been forced into exile because of the ISA, such a move being the first step towards national reconciliation and healing for all parties.

Friday, 4 May 2012

The Leading Men: Tan Wah Piow and Vincent Chen

The relationship between Tan Wah Piow (TWP) and Vincent Cheng (VC) was kindled in 1972 when the younger TWP, then a University of Singapore student joined the Jurong Industrial Mission (JIM). VC had been a salaried staff of JIM since 1971. In fact, TWP's involvement in JIM changed his life for it was also where he met his current wife Chew Beng Lan (CBL). CBL, a salaried staff of JIM since 1969, later left for London to be with TWP when he decided to exile himself after being drafted for NS.

TWP and CBL now reside in London with a son and although they have not set foot in Singapore since 1974, their son has been to Singapore according to this report.

JIM was a Catholic body formed to promote workers’ welfare but was allegedly used by leftists and Marxists to stir up industrial unrests in the Jurong factories. During the same period, the trio of TWP, VC and CBL were also active in Student Christian Movement of Singapore (SCMS) which was actively propagating Marxism among university students and organising protests actions.

JIM was closed in December 1972 after it had been involved in the agitation of industrial disputes where they ordered workers to ignore the directives of union leaders.

Despite being closed down, VC continued his work as a 'social worker' with the backing of radical SCMS members. In May 1973, a labour dispute at the Singapore Gulf Plastics culminated in a demonstration outside the American Embassy.

Besides labour issues, both TWP and VC were involved in agitations over the censure of the newspaper Singapore Herald in 1971 and a protest in December 1972 outside the US Embassy against the Vietnam War.

The close cooperation of TWP and VC subsequently led to the successful infiltration of the University of Singapore Students’ Union (USSU) where SCMS student activists, including Juliet Chin, were elected to the USSU Council in January 1974.

However, this was short-lived when TWP was imprisoned in Novemeber 1974 for the PIEU case while many key USSU activists were expelled. VC, however, remained in the SCMS as a staff worker and chairman (1974-1978).

As SCMS chairman in the mid-1970s, he had organised a discussion group to deepen members’ understanding of Marxism. Topics discussed include Communist Manifesto, the class struggle, Marxian economic theories and Lenin’s works. The publication called the New Q propagated the idea that communism is compatible with Christianity, and that the capital system is exploitative and unjust.

Despite being separated by the oceans, TWP and VC remained in contact with each other and it was charged that in May 1981 when VC visited TWP in London that VC was asked to penetrate a political party and other organisations to mobilise the workers. Earlier in Mar 1981, VC informed that his attempts to infiltrate the trade unions failed because of “tight government control”.

Although older in age, VC apparently looked up to TWP as the latter displayed the ability of mass mobilisation and a keen understanding of Communist doctrine. VC was also increasingly attracted to the strategy of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) as a result of his visits to the Philippines in 1977, 1982 and 1983 for conferences and workshops.

He was impressed by the CPP strategy of capturing control of certain Catholic social action agencies to advance the communist cause.

Influenced by CPP and TWP, VC and his group of activists supposedly began to penetrate local student and religious organisations by seeking employment as paid staff or by volunteering their services as advisers or helpers.

Their objectives were to talent spot and recruit supporters as well as to use these lawfully-established organisations as vehicles to advance their cause.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Voice of the Malayan Revolution: An academic piece

I was google-ing around and found an academic piece written by Ong Wei Chong from RSIS/NTU in October 2006. It is titled "Voice of the Malayan Revolution: The Communist Party of Malaya's Struggle for Hearts and Minds in the Second Malayan Emergency".


...the objective of this study is to examine, interpret and analyze the CPM's most sophisticated attempt at mass ideological conversion and relate it to the revolutionary struggle of the Malayan Communists. As a corollary, this study will establish that the methods and nature of Revolutionary Psywar are very different from those practiced by Western democracies. This dissertation will further prove that the Western 'words and deeds' model is highly inadequate for the purpose of explaining Revolutionary Psywar; which adopts the 'thought determines action' approach...

Work done on the Second Malayan Emergency (1968-1989) is indeed rare as many of the records are still embargoed by the government and much of what is available are mainly newspapers and oral accounts. 1968 was the year the Malayan Communists officially announced their intention to revive armed struggle in Malaya after a wave of revolutionary fever had swept in Indochina and other parts of Southeast Asia. It did not end until 2 December 1989 in the Thai town of Hatyai when the Communists finally agreed to surrender and settle in southern Thailand.

The thesis can be downloaded at the links below:



Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Tan Wah Piow in the UK: Exiled

Tan Wah Piow (TWP) made good use of his time in the UK. After securing a place in Bradford University through Malcolm Cladwell, TWP went on to attain his law degree in Oxford University. According to those who have met him, he runs a successful law practice. TWP married Chew Beng Lan, who went into exile with him after he was released from prison in 1975. They have a son.

Published April 1988

But according to reports released in April 1988, besides engaging in normal everyday activties, TWP was crucial in securing political asylum for 5 members of Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) in Europe. This was made known shortly after the re-arrests of 8 persons who had released a statement to deny charges of the Marxist plot. Disclosed by a 1987 detainee Teresa Lim Li Kok, government stated "operational reasons" for not releasing this information earlier in 1987.

Teresa Lim Li Kok

All 5 members joined the Voice of Malayan Revolution (VMR), a CPM radio service that was broadcasting from South China. All 5 of them were also closely involved with TWP in the University Singapore Student Union and three of them, Juliet Chin, Chia Yong Tai and Choo Foo Yong, were expelled from the university in December 1974 for radical activities. Chia's brother, Chia Boon Tai, and Chin's sister, Jenny Chin, were among those arrested in the 1987 Marxist plot.

When the VMR closed down in 1981, the option was given to the 5 to join their CPM comrades in Southern Thailand (where many still reside today) or seek asylum in Europe. All 5 choose to go to Europe. After they arrived in Metz, France, TWP helped obtain political asylum for Juliet Chin, Phung Mei Yin and Chia Yong Tai in France, Irene Koh in Holland and Choo Foo Yong in Luxemburg. Teresa Lim said that the role of asylum seekers in Europe was to work with human rights organisations and mount media campaigns against the governments of Singapore and Malaysia.

Published in April 1988

Mohamed Yunus bin Lebai

A Malaysian ISA detainee, Mohamed Yunus bin Lebai also met up with TWP in the UK where the latter supposedly urged him to contest for the presidency of Majiis Perwakilan Pelajar-United Kingdom, a Malaysian student group in London. Yunus and TWP had known each other since the early 1970s. Earlier, Yunus was invited to Beijing and was there to meet CPM Secretary-General Chin Peng in January 1980. CPM suggested that he furthered his studies in London and that they would fund him. Through the help of Tsui Hon Kwong who was in Hong Kong, Yunus opened a London bank account and received more than $10,000.

Tsui was expelled from University Singapore together with Juliet Chin et al in December 1974 for student militancy. Tsui and Chin were a couple. He returned to Hong Kong after his explusion although they were known to have met up in Hong Kong when Chin was based in China with the VMR. Read more here.

Tan Chay Wa

Tan Chay Wa, a senior official of the Malayan National Liberation Front (MNLF) was sentenced to death in Malaysia for possession of a pistol and 7 bullets. He was to be hang in January 1983. A resident of Singapore, he had absconded a 1976 dragnet on MNLF where documents, arms and explosives were sized. During 1968-1974, MNLF had planted booby trap bombs in public areas and secured logistical supplies for Malayan National Liberation Army which was fighting in northern Malaysia and southern Thailand.  

TWP had known Tan Chay Wa since the early 1970s although it was unconfirmed if TWP was a member of MNLF. Year 1982, in the UK, TWP and the Federation of United Kingdom Eire/Malaysia/Singapore Students Organisations (Fuemsso) launched a campaign to save Tan Chay Wa from the gallows. In his early years in the UK, TWP established himself as the leader of Fuemsso, an organisation that had many Singaporean activists such that he could recruit supporters for his cause.
Among those that were said to be recruited by him and later arrested for their Marxist activities were Kenneth Tsang, William Yap, Tay Hong Seng and Chia Boon Tai.

During the late 70s and early 80s, Fuemsso campaigned through publications, forums and demonstrations for the release of CPM members detained under the ISA and the abolishment of the ISA. These Fuemsso activists returned between 1981 and 1982 to join a group of local activists headed by Vincent Cheng.

Published in may 1987

The case of Tan Chay Wa

From wikipedia:The Malayan National Liberation Front (MNLF), an organisation of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was formed in 1968 for its armed struggle to overthrow the government of Singapore and Malaysia, which the communists considered as inseparable. From 1968 to 1974, it perpetuated acts of violence that included planting booby trap bombs in public places. The MNLF was also involved in collecting supplies such as medicine, explosives and assorted equipment for the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), which was the military arm of the CPM operating in the border area of northern Malaysia and southern Thailand.

In 1976, after a prolonged investigation, the Internal Security Department, formerly the Special Branch formed by the British in 1948, arrested hundreds of MNLF members together with massive haul of documents, arms and explosives in a stint operation in Singapore. Twenty-three members were released after interrogation, seventeen were detained without trial under the Internal Security Act (Singapore) and ten turned over to the Malaysian police for suspected involvement in terrorist activities in Malaysia. 

Tan Chay Wa

Tan Chay Wa (1948–1983), a political dissident and a senior official of the MNLF, managed to make a timely escape to Malaysia when the ISD officers closed in on him. Chay Wa was a bus driver and a married man living in Singapore. On 2 June 1979, Chay Wa was arrested at a vegetable farm in Johor together with a .32 Llama semi-automatic pistol and seven bullets in his possession. He was duly convicted under Malaysia's ''Essential Security Cases (Amendment) Regulations'' (ESCAR) by Johor Bahru's High Court, which provides for a mandatory death penalty. During his detention, there was an offer by the Government of Belgium to grant him political asylum should he be allowed to leave Malaysia. Despite the discrepancy between the gun he was alleged to have possessed at the time of his arrest and the number presented as evidence at his trial, he was hanged on 18 January 1983 in Kuala Lumpur's Pudu Prison.

His body was brought back to Singapore by his older brother, Tan Chu Boon, a tropical fish breeder. Chu Boon arranged for his brother's body to be buried in Choa Chu Kang Cemetery on 20 January 1983. However, Chu Boon was arrested by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Secret Society Investigation Branch at his flat on 28 May 1983 on suspicion that he designed an elaborate but subversive tombstone, which had engraved on it words glorifying the communist cause.

Tan Chay Wa had known Tan Wah Piow since the early 1970s although it was unsure if Tan Wah Piow was also a member of MNLF. In 1982, TWP and the Federation of United Kingdom Eire/Malaysia/Singapore Students Organisations (Fuemsso) launched a campaign to save Tan Chay Wa from the gallows. 
Published July 1987

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Tan Wah Piow and his contemporaries: The Young Ones

Unlike gentrified university students today, many students in the 1970s were very much concerned about socio-political issues. As the country was young, there were many opinions as to how to run it, what shape it should take, and what ideology it should adopt. Aspirations were plenty, and they clashed as they should, as enthusiasm was never lacking. Tan Wah Piow's (TWP) involvement in the industrial disputes as a student was just one of the examples. Unfortunately, that involvement turned violent.

Juliet Chin, a 22 year old Malaysian architecture student, became the first woman to be elected as President of the University of Singapore Students' Union (USSU) in early 1974. However, by December 1974, Chin would be expelled from University Singapore along with 5 other foreign students for what the university authorities called "western student militancy". Her younger sister, Jenny Chin Lai Ching, a Malaysian journalist, was one of those arrested in Singapore in 1987 during Operation Spectrum aka Marxist arrests.

The USSU led by Chin and TWP opposed the university authorities and the government of the day on various issues. They boycotted a visit by a foreign dignitary to the university, protested against bus fare and tuition fee increases. They protested against the intended clearance of 68 squatter families in Johor Bahru's Tasek Utara. Chin and 70 students even staged a demonstration outside the Malaysian High Commission in September 1974. This perhaps sparked off a raw nerve in the young independent Singapore government which was sensitive to those calling for a re-merger of Malaysia and Singapore while the communist threat was still active.

Published in May 1987

After Chin was expelled, she was put in preventive detention under the Malaysian authorities for about a year before she joined the Malayan National Liberation Front (MNLF) and then finally the armed Communist Malayan People's Army 10th Regiment marking her transition from student activist to a full fledged communist insurgent.

In June 1974, TWP also led an agitation against the arrests of 30 members of a Communist Party Malaya proxy organisation, the MNLF. He rallied students in the Singapore Polytechnic Students Union to hold a join inquiry with USSU into the arrests.

According to the Home Affairs Minister, TWP came from a left-inclined family where his eldest brother was involved in the Anti-British League, an underground CPM organisation while his two brothers were also involved in pro-communists activities in the 1960s. But family background by itself was not enough.

According to the Minister, TWP's communists credentials were most evident in his direct contacts with known communists. One of the Marxist detainee, William Yap said that Tan had visited PRC in 1978 where he met party's leaders. Juliet Chin who joined the communist underground also named TWP as the contact she used to reach her sister, Jenny Chin indicating that TWP was a trusted person.

Jul 1987: Q&A with Jayakumar

TWP himself denies charges that he is a communist in his book "Let the People Judge" released shortly after the 1987 Marxists arrests. He said, "As to how we bring about the implementation of the political programmes in Singapore, I stated in no uncertain terms in my writings, letters to friends and public speeches in the United Kingdom, that I sought to bring about political change in Singapore solely through the ballot box...How could there ever be such a plot to establish a communist state when the so-called "mastermind", that is, my humble self, confessed in no uncertain terms that I oppose the very idea of turning Singapore into a communist state? Why does the Singapore goverment insist on calling me a communist when I am not one?"

However, it should be noted that many patriotic nationalists were mixed in with the communists during the post-war period and into the 60s as the communists were the only form of viable opposition to colonial rule. Without the organisation might of the communists, parties such as the English-educated PAP would never have so successfully captured the imagination of the masses. In a way, the PAP made good use of the communist network; the communists must have felt cheated and used. Such is the game of politics.

TWP today

Looking back, it was indeed a lost generation where young and brilliant men and women convicted in their beliefs, followed their aspirations and tried to change the world in their own way. But as cruel as war and politics are, it was hard to accept defeat as defeat came with a heavy price and unaccounted sacrifices that wail like screeching whispers along the corridors of Singapore's history.

Endnote: In December 1974, those who were expelled along with Juliet Chin were Malaysians, Bong Hong Min, Chia Yong Tai, Choo Foo Yong, Chuah Chong Lai and Hongkonger Tsui Hon Kwong. All the Malaysians were picked up by the Malaysian Special Branch except Bong. Those arrested were all released except Juliet, who served a year in Kamunting. Juliet, Chia and Choo will later join the Voice of the Malayan Revolution, a Communist Party of Malaya radio service that broadcasted from South China between 1978 and 1981. When the radio closed down, they were said to have resettled in Europe under amnesty with the help of TWP.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Who is Tan Wah Piow? "I will not go around shopping for justice in Singapore."

Tan Wah Piow, the man charged by the government to be behind the 1987 Marxist plot is rather distant from our everyday memories. Who or what do we know him as? A violent communist? A freedom fighter? An exiled activist? A draft dodger? It is no miracle that our impression of him is blurry. History taught at the O and A levels stopped in the immediate post-independence period. Very kosher indeed. Even the history of the tumultuous 70s and 80s are taught in shallow breath rather than in depth at local universities. Each day, as we procrastinate the exploration of our past, we are doing injustice to the deeds and decisions we come to today.

The prominence of Tan Wah Piow or TWP came to light in the heady 70s when he was an active student activist in National University of Singapore. Influenced by leftist and neo-colonialists movements, TWP's involvement in the student union and various other socio-political causes earned him an eager following and like-minded friends. They saw the inequalities that descended on Singapore as economic booms and dooms set itself upon the global trade economy that Singapore was plugging into. Conditions were definitely not as comfortable as today and there were many grievances as well as improvements to be made. However, not so much as the causes he advocated, his methods of confrontation and disruption perhaps meant that he was on a collision path with the government.

In Febuary 1975, TWP was sentenced to one year imprisonment for rioting in the Pioneer Industries Employee Union (PIEU) incident where an industrial dispute led to the PIEU office being smashed up. On 30 October 1974, a planned meeting between PIEU and TWP, workers from the American Marine company and students erupted into a riot. TWP countered that the Sec-Gen of PIEU was nowhere to be found at the stipulated meeting and that PIEU union officers had themselves smashed up their own premises. While TWP claimed that a Straits Times reporter saw him outside during the incident, various eye witnesses during the trial thought otherwise.

An excerpt of the ST article dated 23rd Feb 75


On his conviction, TWP daringly said to the judge in court, "I congratulate you on your future promotion to the High Court..." After the judge warned him of being contemptuous, TWP continued: "I do not have to bargain justice with you. I will not go around shopping for justice in Singapore. I want justice now. There is no rule of law in Singapore. You can imprison my body, but not my spirit."

Daring words indeed from someone who perhaps have no fear of authority.

On his release from prison, TWP was drafted to serve National Service. Perhaps he was due to serve, perhaps government was trying to keep away the troublemaker. However, TWP made the decision to dodge the draft and escape to the UK. TWP, for better or worse, decided that NS was too dangerous for him and that the government would "assassinate" him or cause an accident such that he would be silenced forever. “I too was worried for my physical well-being since ‘accidents’ can easily happen in the army,” he says. See here for a more detailed TOC article.

Published in May 1987

According to official reports, TWP sought help from pro-communists elements of the Southeast Asia Research Services (Sears) which helped him enter Malaysia illegally by sea. Sears was formed in 1973 to promote Marxism among intellectuals, students and workers. He hid in Malaysia for a month before securing his passage to the UK, via Thailand and Amsterdam, on a passport with a forged exit permit. Three members of Sears who helped TWP later sneaked out of Singapore joined the Communist Party of Malaya.

Apr 88: Q&A with Home Minister Jayakumar

“When I came to the United Kingdom to seek political asylum, I enjoyed the support of the World Council of Churches, and the British Council of Churches,” says TWP. “Many other organizations and prominent individuals from all over the world supported my case.” But most importantly, TWP got a place in Bradford University and a student visa through the contacts of Malcolm Gladwell. TWP was hence later able to legitimise his stay in UK where he resides today.

Endnote: In 1978, few years after he had helped TWP, Cladwell was mysteriously killed in Cambodia when he was there on the invitation of Communist Khmer Rouge. In 1966, he was invited to raised funds to buy funds for the Vietcong. He was a 'far-left' member of the British Labour and a sympathiser to liberation struggles in Southeast Asia. He was said to be involved in the Euro-Communist plot in the 1970s to exert pressure on Singapore government to relase communist detainees.

Monday, 27 February 2012

A judicial view of preventive detention by Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

Like the title suggests, this is probably not an article to argue for right-ness and wrong-ness of preventive detention. If one was to hold the view that preventive detention is wrong, regardless of the evidence at hand, then perhaps the judicial view wouldn't matter? Or matter less? Can preventive detention be judicially wrong or a societal necessity to be used with limits?

As the Honurable CJ puts it, "The ISA gives extensive, but not unlimited, powers to the Government to detain persons on national security, and not political, grounds." Currently, detentions under the ISA are not subjected to judicial review. Any review would in essence be held by the Advisory Board (which consists of a High Court judge) appointed by the President. Unlike open court proceedings, Advisory Board hearings are shrouded due to their sensitive nature and classified evidence tendered. Previously, the State had argued that national security was a matter privy only to the elected government and it would itself bear all consequences of its interpretation and usage.

In CJ's article, he also pointed out that Teo Soh Lung's appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed on the ground that she had failed to dispel sufficiently the charge that her re-detention was not based on national security considerations (and not because the prosecution had argued that the court was powerless in this instance.)

CJ was subtle but brilliant in pointing out that judicial review was not the only matter concerning ISA – which we might to revisit another day. What was more illuminating is: What is the nature of our Constituition and who has the (moral?) authority to amend it (since the Court of Appeal did not decide on the Kesavandana doctrine)? Unlike India, we do not have a constituent assembly and our constituition was given by the Singapore parliament (UK, New Zealand are similar in that sense). And unlike India, we have been ruled by a single majority party since independence.


A judicial view of preventive detention
04:46 AM Feb 21, 2012
by Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong

Current legislation provides for three types of preventive detention, viz, the Internal Security Act (the ISA), the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (the CLTP) and the Misuse of Drugs Act (the MDA), all of which have been constitutionalised.

The ISA is concerned with national security, the CLTP with public order and the MDA with rehabilitation of drug addicts.

Preventive detention without trial is anathema to libertarian critics. Human rights proponents have routinely asserted that the ISA and the CLTP grant the Government: "virtually unlimited powers" to detain suspects without charge or judicial review using the Internal Security Act and the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act. These laws have been used to incarcerate outspoken activists for prolonged periods without trial, as well as criminal suspects who should be charged under the penal code. In dealing with terrorism suspects, the Government should use the criminal code to prosecute in accordance with international due process standards.

The Government has always denied that the ISA has ever been used for political purposes. A 1971 case is worth noting. In Fernandez v Government of Singapore, the Government sought to extradite Fernandez from the United Kingdom for corruption offences. Fernandez resisted on the ground that he might be detained for his political opinions which he had expressed against the Government as Secretary of Malaysia-Singapore Airlines.

The House of Lords (per Lord Diplock) rejected this defence in these words: "I do not find it necessary to set out again the relevant evidence on the political aspect of the appellant's case. It is fully dealt with in the judgment of the Divisional Court. Apart from the appellant's own oral evidence which was disbelieved by the magistrate, all that has been proved is that since 1948 there has been emergency legislation in Singapore authorising the detention without trial of persons who are regarded as security risks, and that between 60 and 100 detainees are currently subject to detention thereunder. There is no evidence that anyone has been detained under this legislation merely because he has expressed political opposition to the Singapore Government such as that which the appellant claims to have expressed. Indeed such evidence as there is is to the contrary."

The ISA gives extensive, but not unlimited, powers to the Government to detain persons on national security, and not political, grounds. In Chng Suan Tze, the Court of Appeal held a detention order under the ISA was subject to judicial review and that, in such a case, the court could decide for itself whether the detention order was in truth made in connection with national security.

In other words, the President's satisfaction was subject to judicial review. If the allegations of fact in the detention order established that fact, the court would defer to the Executive's judgment to detain him as a threat to national security.

Parliament did not agree with the law as formulated, and amended the Constitution to restore the law as decided in the case of Lee Mau Seng v Minister for Home Affairs, that the President's decision would not be justiciable. The constitutional amendments expressly truncated judicial review regarding national security cases to this extent.

However, in so doing, Parliament implicitly recognised that all other kinds of executive acts (including detention orders made under the CLTP) are subject to full judicial review. Since then, the courts have applied the legality principle to, inter alia, (a) the Minister's decision under s 16 of the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act declaring a foreign newspaper as engaging in domestic politics, (b) the exercise of the clemency power of the President under Art 23 of the Constitution, (c) the prosecutorial power under Art 35(8) of the Constitution.

The judicial power is part of the basic structure of the Constitution and its exercise through judicial review is the cornerstone of the rule of law. It is the means by which the courts check illegality, whether of legislative or executive acts.

In India, the Supreme Court held in Kesavandana Bharati v State of Kerala ("the Kesavandana doctrine") that judicial review is part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution which cannot be taken away by Parliament as it was given by a constituent assembly and not Parliament.

In Teo Soh Lung v Minister of Home Affairs, Justice F A Chua held that the Kesavandana doctrine was not applicable to the Singapore Constitution as it was given by Parliament. What Parliament gave, Parliament could take back. He also held the amendments complained of had not destroyed the basic structure of the Constitution.

Justice Chua said: "There is no abrogation of judicial power. It is erroneous to contend that the Rule of Law has been abolished by legislation and that Parliament has stated its absolute and conclusive judgment in applications for judicial review ... Parliament has done no more than enact the Rule of Law relating to the law applicable to judicial review ..."

This ruling has been criticised on the ground that it "anaemically and formalistically stated that rule of law is the rule which Parliament stipulates".

I think this comment is unfair because Parliament did not simply make a new rule. It actually amended the Constitution to make that rule and, unless the amendments were declared unconstitutional, it must be followed.

Justice Chua's rulings were followed by Lai Kew Chai J in Cheng Vincent v Minister for Home Affairs.

As a result of these two rulings, the academics have stated that (a) "the Singapore courts effectively preclude substantive of ISA cases", or (b) that "the Judiciary has abdicated its role as guardian of individual liberties and a check on state power".

But, Teo's appeal to the Court of Appeal was dismissed on the ground that she had failed to discharge the burden of proving that her re-detention was not based on national security considerations.

The Court observed that the Government had declined to argue that the court was powerless to intervene if the detention was made for reasons which had nothing to do with national security.

The Court of Appeal declined to decide whether Justice Chua was correct to hold that the Kesavandana doctrine was not applicable to any constitutional amendment of any nature.

That is the legal position today and academics may well have to revisit their analysis on this issue.

This is an excerpt from Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong's lecture, The Courts and the Rule of Law in Singapore, at the Rule of Law Symposium on Feb 15.