The voice of victims:
Abolish ISA now
Abolish ISA now
Author : Chng Min Oh @ Zhuang Ming Hu (Singapore)
Translated by Secretariat of Sahabat Rakyat Johore Working Committee
|The Author delivered his speech at Hong Lim Park Speaker’s Corner on 2 February.|
[Editor’s note: This short article that goes straight to the point was emailed to us by Chng Min Oh @ Zhuang Ming Hu after we had received his long and informative article on the left-wing movement in Singapore during the 1960s. His email indicated that the short article was a speech to be delivered by him at the Hong Lim Park Speaker’s Corner on 2 February, between 4pm to 7pm, assuming that the programme was to proceed as planned. He will provide more in-depth discourse on the issue of Singapore’s left-wing labour movement if he has the chance to do so.
The writer indicated to our editorial board that the left-wing labour movement, or generally the left-wing political movement in Singapore, declined and eventually was decimated. This was not solely due to the suppressive actions (like the Operation Cold Store) by the ruling power, but also due to the sabotage and internal split within the leftist circle caused by the enemy, as well as the serious slip up of the leadership of the left-wing movement. The decline and ultimate decimation of the left-wing movement have given rise to exasperation and lament.
That was his personal experience and in-depth perception acquired through involvement in the struggle. As a trade unionist involved in the movement at the material time, he feels obliged and that it is within his right to express his independent views on the historical events he participated half a century ago. His views are worthy of reference for future generations.
The following are the article and photos provided by the author. The photos’ captions are added by the editor relying on information furnished by the writer and others.
Appended below is an email sent by the author to his comrade-in-arms Chen Xin (a committee member of Sahabat Rakyat Johore Working Committee). It has been forwarded by Chen Xin to the editor. The editor is of the view that the contents of this email are noteworthy.]
In conjunction with the 50th anniversary commemoration of the “February 2 Mass Arrests”, I feel obliged as one of the victims of the Internal Security Act 1960 (“ISA”) to narrate my personal experience and express my resentment against the crimes perpetrated by the PAP government in the Operation Cold Store and the subsequent crackdowns during the 1960s. As one of the ISA victims in the 1970s, I was detained under ISA for a long period of 13 years and 4 days.
It is common knowledge that the ISA in Singapore, just like the ISA in Malaysia, has its roots in the Emergency Regulations 1948, implemented during the British colonial rule. Historically, the purpose of implementing such law is to counter the armed struggle of the Malayan Communist Party or other organised violence. It is not meant for any other purpose.
Ironically, history bears testimony to the fact that ISA has been resorted to by the PAP government as its best instrument to suppress its political opponents and dissidents. The ISA allows the ruling power to arbitrarily detain anyone for a long period of time without open trial. The powers that be can detain anyone for an indefinite period under ISA by way of alleging that he is a “threat to national security” or that he is “involved in subversive activities” and so on.
The torture under ISA begins with 60 days of detention for “assisting in investigations”, followed by two-year detention under the order of the home minister, but the 2-year detention can be extended indefinitely. Such draconian law is against the spirit of the rule of law, and is extremely inhumane.
The Operation Cold Store launched on 2 February 1963 in Singapore is a case in point. The PAP government headed by Lee Kuan Yew corroborated with the Alliance government in Malaya headed by the Tengku, arrested and detained more than 100 anti-colonial patriots under the ISA.
This has left an indelible and deep impression on the people of Malaya and Singapore. The PAP ruling clique and the British colonialists as well as the Alliance (comprising UMNO, MCA, and MIC) ruling clique, working hand in glove, colluded with each other to push through the anti-people and anti-democratic Malaysia Plan. The Plan had met with vehement opposition of the populace.
The left-wing political party Barisan Sosialis, which championed the cause of the people, resolutely opposed the Malaysia Plan as a form of neo-colonialism. The anti-Malaysia campaign gained popular support. At that time, Lee Kuan Yew was facing the upcoming “Singapore legislative assembly election”. He envisaged the inevitable defeat of PAP by Barisan Sosialis, and that might end the political life of Lee Kuan Yew and his cohorts.
On 2 February 1963, with a view to hanging on to the political power, Lee Kuan Yew’s ruling clique resorted to the ISA to arrest and detain most of the leaders of Barisan Sosialis and left-wing organisations. In the month of September, the “legislative assembly election” was held to form a new government. Such action and maneuver on the part of PAP to “make arrests first and then hold election” obviously was the strategy of the PAP ruling regime to ensure victory in the election.
Besides, the PAP ruling clique used ISA as an effective means to instill fear in the masses and their leaders. When that did not work, it made use of the ISA to arrest and detain them. Throughout the history of Singapore, such cases abound.
There were numerous instances that left deep impression in me. For example, in the “Operation Black May”, Lee Yew Seng, proprietor of Nanyang Siang Pao, and Tong Dao Zhang, chief editor of Sin Chew Jit Poh and others, were arrested and detained; in 1987, the mass arrests code-named “Operation Spectrum” resulted in the arrest and detention of 22 professionals, including a lawyer Teo Soh Lung, and a church worker Vincent Chong and others.
During the 1960s, I worked as a construction worker and was the sole breadwinner of the family. My family had been living from hand to mouth. In my early years, in order to improve our livelihood, I joined The National Union of Building Construction Workers. When the union was banned, I became a member of the Singapore Commercial House and Factory Employees’ Union and Singapore Gold and Silver Smiths’ Employees Union. I was detained under ISA merely because I was involved in various struggles for the purpose of improving the living conditions of workers, and in the course of the struggles, I opposed the PAP’s regime’s retrogressive policies.
I was arrested on 3 August 1970, only to be released on 7 August 1983, after being held in detention for 13 years and 4 days. Upon my release, the government arbitrarily imposed four conditions on me, namely, approval was required for going abroad and moving house; no contact with other political detainees was allowed; and no involvement in pro-communist activities.
I was deprived of my citizenship 3 months after my arrest. It was only reinstated on 21 September 1994 after I had made two attempts to re-apply for my citizenship. The PAP regime had therefore deprived me of my rights as a citizen for 24 long years in total.
According to the law of this country, any person sentenced to life imprisonment has to serve a maximum period of 20 years in prison. But after deducting the off days, he would be released after serving only 13 years in prison. After his release, he will not be subject to any restriction on his social life or social activities, let alone the taking away of his citizenship.
I was involved in the constitutional struggle. I participated in the labour movement. But inhuman treatment was meted out to me simply because I was opposed to those in power for implementing policies to the detriment of the interests of the workers and the labour movement. The brutal treatment inflicted on me was worse than that of a person subject to life imprisonment.
During the years of my detention, the leftist movement in Singapore had already been decimated. In mid 1966, I was already sidelined and labelled as an “enemy’s agent” and “traitor” by the leadership of Barisan Sosialis then under the control of Lee Siew Choh as well as other organizations that came under his influence.
How could such a fragile person like me exert any influence on the leftist movement at that time? How could I pose a threat to the PAP regime? In reality, the main purpose of the PAP government in arresting and detaining me was none other than an attempt to exploit the extreme hardship my family was going through at the material time, in the hope of bringing me to my knees. At the same time, the PAP ruling clique was out to destroy my political life once and for all.
The photo (left)of the late Mrs Chng Min Oh (Tan Cheng Nui @ Chen Jing Lian) was taken towards the end of 1974. After Chng's detention, she alone shouldered the heavy burden of maintaining the family with 3 children for 13 long years. No regrets and no grudges. Soon after her passing on, her eldest daughter (Chng Chor Hwa @ Zhuang Chu Hua) once made a remark to her father, "These days, we can hardly find another woman like mum." A few decades later, Zhuang Ming Hu (Chng Min Oh) told his comrades: "The remark made by my eldest daughter signifies the high regards my children and myself have for Jing Lian." - see appendix below.
During my detention, I was first subject to solitary confinement in a little cell measuring 10 feet square at the central police station. I was locked up day and night in the cell, except for a brief period for shower and toilet purposes. I had no access to books or other reading materials. I was in solitary confinement for a full month.
Then one evening, I was served with a 2-year detention order. I was then transferred to a prison in Changi, still subject to solitary confinement. I slept there for only one night. The following morning, I was taken back to the central police station. It was all the same in solitary confinement.
After about 15 days, I was brought into an interrogation room for the first time. Initially some special branch officers pretended to be “good guys”, trying to induce me into “settling problems ” with them. They did not however explain to me how “the problems” were to be solved. It dawned on me that they wanted me to issue a “statement of repentence”. When I refused to do so, immediately they revealed their true colours by way of behaving like “bad guys”. They humiliated me by alleging that I had neglected my responsibility to my family.
After a series of interrogation and mental torture on 10 occasions, they took statements from me. They then deprived me of my citizenship. Thereafter, I underwent repeated ordeals of being subject to interrogation and mental torture.
They then offered me a so-called solution to my “problems”, that is, to “return to China on my own volition”. I rejected the offer outright. They threatened to deport me to China. I told them in no uncertain terms that “I will never land on the soil of China”. Since then, they ceased to coerce me into any “settlement”. I was again put under solitary confinement for about 5 months before I was sent to the Changi prison. That ended my “solitary confinement”. Since then, I was allowed to stay with other political detainees.
ISA not only caused me injury, but it also seriously impaired my wife’s health. After my arrest, my wife had to do manual work at a construction site in order to eke out a living for my family. Her health deteriorated due to hard labour and over-exhaustion. When I was released, she intimated to me that she surely would have collapsed as a result of over-exhaustion, had my release been delayed for another year. She had been suffering from heart problems, then high blood pressure and diabetes. She was subsequently diagnosed to have brain cancer and uterus ailment. Less than 6 years after my release, she passed away at the age of 53.
As former political detainees, all of us have had experienced different encounters under the ISA, and therefore have a clear insight into this piece of legislation. Of all the people, we are the most eligible to condemn the inhuman and reactionary nature of the ISA. Today, on this occasion of 50th anniversary commemoration of the Operation Cold Store, let us jointly express our indignation and show our abhorrence of this draconian law, and seek an indictment against it. We must impress upon the people that ISA must be abolished!
In this era where democracy and human rights are the order of the day, the PAP government, parading itself as being democratic socialist, still chooses to retain the ISA, a piece of legislation that is anti-democratic and infringing upon human rights. We, as former political detainees, must call upon the PAP government to abolish the ISA without any further delay.
4 Jan 2013
An email sent by the author to
his comrade-in-arms Chen Xin
Dear Chen Xin,
“Soon after your arrest that year, special branch officers indirectly warned me through Xiao Ming : “tell Ming Hu not to be active. If he is active again, we will arrest him.” I was thinking, if I were to quit politics now, the whole group of friends who shared common political aspirations would certainly part company. I didn’t want that to happen. After some mental agony, I decided to face it. If the worst came to the worst, I was quite ready to undergo a long period of imprisonment. My wife supported me in making the decision. She was determined to be with me in facing such eventuality.
When undergoing long term imprisonment became a fait accompli, I had no fear and I had nothing to worry about except the livelihood of my family. My wife Jing Lian was physically weak, suffering from heart problems. She was always short of breath when she walked. When going upstairs, she had to rest two or three times before she could reach upstairs. She was 3 months in pregnancy, and we had two daughters aged 4 and 6 respectively. That was too difficult for her!
Fortunately, she remained firm in her stand. When she paid me the first visit in the detention center, she assured me that the children were well taken care of, and advised me not to worry. I was very much relieved. I held her in high regard for her courage. Her courage strengthened my will, and boosted my determination not to succumb to the hegemonic PAP regime.
For pursuing the cause of democracy and human rights, she endured the hardship of bringing up 3 children for 13 years. I realised that life was very difficult for her, but she had never grumbled. On the contrary, she instilled confidence in me to persist in the struggle. Besides fending for our family, she always involved herself in the struggle of the political detainees’ family members in solidarity with those still in the prison. She participated in every rally and protest march even when she was in the family way. She was arrested on several occasions and detained for a brief period in Changi female prison.
After her delivery, she worked as a worker at various construction sites to earn a living for the family. Though she was extremely exhausted due to the hardship of raising our children, she never gave up the work of forging unity among the masses. She actively organized some young and progressive co-workers, helping them to have education and acquire knowledge, and to have a correct outlook on life. She inculcated in them the spirit of caring for each other, and happily rendering assistance to others. Every member would donate a small sum monthly for financing activities beneficial to the masses.
Not long after my wife passed away, my eldest daughter (Chor Hwa) once said: “These days, it is difficult to find a lady like mummy” (What she meant was that my wife was adamant in persevering in the cause of democracy and human rights. She was ever ready to assist others without expecting a return. She cared for others before caring for her own self.) This remark made by my daughter signified that we held my dear wife and mother Jing Lian in high regard for her admirable character.
Thanks for your concern and support.