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.