This is an exchange of letters between Vincent Cheng and the National Library Board (NLB). See also my posts here and here. Read also Martyn See’s post 23 years after Operation Spectrum: Ex-detainees recall mental and physical abuses.
29th May 2010 – Vincent Cheng to NLB
I am the person who has been barred from speaking at and attending the 4 June 2010 forum organised by the NUS History Society. Many people have asked me for the reasons of this ban. I do not know because the most truthful and intelligent answer can only come from you, the august member of the National Library Board whose aim I have been told is to preserve and make accessible the nation’s literary and publishing heritage and intellectual memory.
I have only two concerns:
- Were you instructed by a higher authority, and which one, to impose the ban? What are the reasons?
- Were you practising self-censorship? What are your reasons?
In case you still do not know who I am, let me kindly remind you that I was an ISA detainee in 1987, arbitrarily arrested and detained, never charged, never brought to trial and never convicted, only hideously and ceremoniously insulted and condemned. It is now 23 years. I still bear the scars.
I wish to know whether the National Library Board is part of this ugly scheme of history.
For truth and justice,
1st June 2010 – NLB to Vincent Cheng
Dear Mr Vincent Cheng,
Thank you for your email to the Chairman and members of the NLB Board. We would like to take this opportunity to personally explain the context and background of this seminar to you.
The National Library is the venue sponsor for the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Singapore History seminar organised by the NUS History Society. NLB had supported this seminar due to its focus on the personalities, events and agenda that shaped the history of Singapore. This was in line with NLB’s focus for its heritage programmes and exhibitions which explored the role of key movers in Singapore’s growth from a fishing village into a modern nation.
NUS History Society (NUSHS) had indicated that Junior College and Upper Secondary students were the target audience and that academics would form the line-up of speakers. The initial line-up provided by the NUSHS for NLB’s support were academics from the local tertiary institutions researching on these areas. The academic exploration that the seminar would pursue was also in line with NLB’s programming objectives to seek insights into Singapore’s history through research and study. The late inclusion of yourself, by the society was not consistent with the direction of the initial proposed line-up, of academics, by NUSHS.
As part of our partnership and sponsorship conditions with all our programme partners, the content and details of the programme such as the panel of speakers need to be in line with the intent of the event and jointly agreed upon. For this particular seminar, the programme details did not follow the intent of the seminar based on our initial discussions with NUSHS. The final line-up of speakers provided by NUSHS include Assoc Prof Yong Mun Cheong, Head of the History Department of NUS, Assoc Prof (Adjunct) Loh Kah Seng of NTU, Assoc Prof Huang Jianli with the History Department of NUS and Assoc Prof (Adjunct) Kwa Chong Guan with the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at NTU and the History Department of NUS. Based on this line-up, the National Library is still working with the NUSHS to hold this public seminar this Friday and we welcome you to attend the seminar.
3rd June 2010 – Vincent Cheng to NLB
Dear Ms Amy Gay,
Thank you for your reply.
You are trying to pin the blame for the fiasco on the organiser of the event, that is, the NUS History Society (NUSHS). For me, that is only a technical problem. What worries me is a deeper issue when NLB thinks that academics and researchers make history. What about the actual actors of history? I may not be a professional academic, but armed with a Masters in Theology, I do know something about academic research. The topic under discussion, Singapore History: Who Writes The Script?, is definitely relevant to the topic proposed for my speech, 21 May 1987: What Really Happened? Furthermore, I was an actor in that history of 1987. To say that I was axed because I was a “late inclusion” is an excuse, if not a lie, (as the other writers have pointed out). I would rather give credit to NUSHS for their intellectual sense of the topic and their concern for inclusivity of various perceptions of history.
I am still not convinced that NLB is an august institution of independence and integrity. If your role is to be a mouthpiece of the government, no matter in how subtle a way, then let it be publicly known so that people will know how to deal with you. If not, then “walk the talk”.
A man in the street inquired about the ban imposed on me by NLB.
He asked: “Are they banning you or the topic?”
I said: “I don’t know”
He said: “What are you going to speak about anyway?”
I said: “The truth.”
He said: “Is that so frightening?
I said: “Yes, it is …….and THE TRUTH WILL SET US FREE.”
A great Man said this two thousand years ago.
For Truth and Justice,
4th June 2010 – Vincent Cheng to NLB
Dear Ms Amy Gay,
I refer to your “approval” of my basic right to attend the NUS History Society’s seminar at the Pod, NLB today.
I will be staying away from this event as a protest to the arbitrary suppression of my right of free expression as a panel speaker in the spirit of the Consitution of Singapore.
For Truth and Justice.