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Remembering May 21st

22 years after May 21st and June 20th 1987

Read also TOC’s report and Yawning Bread’s article about the forum.

Operation Spectrum open forum: a good start
Singapore Democrats
Sunday, 28 June 2009

After 22 years, we are beginning to see more public events that address the Internal Security Act (ISA) detentions in 1987.

In May a group of five activists came together to mark the 22nd anniversary of the Marxist arrests. Led by Seelan Palay, the group got together at Hong Lim Park and called for the for the abolishment of ISA. (See here and here) [Jacob 69er: Photos of Remember 21st May event at Hong Lim Park]

On Sunday afternoon, Martyn See organised discussion forum about the 22 arrests. The indoor event was supposed to have taken place last Saturday. However, about before that, the owner of the venue called Martyn to inform him that he had to cancel the booking due to an ongoing CID investigation (see here) [Jacob 69er: June 20th ‘Ops Spectrum’ forum cancelled; venue owners under investigation]

Undeterred and despite further police harassment, Martyn sought out another venue and held the forum yesterday. Activists, bloggers, politicians, civil society actors and reporters turned up for the event.

Ex-detainee Michael Fernandez spoke about why he was detained by the Internal Security Department (ISD) in 1964 for nine years for his role in championing for workers rights back then. [Jacob 69er: Nine years in Changi and after]

Alex Au pointed out whilst Singaporeans were bombarded with the Marxist plot propaganda, that the other side of the story, has never quite been told. He urged the ex-detainees to write about their arrests and their experiences thereafter.

Former ISEAS senior fellow, Russell Heng wondered why the government had arrested these 22 young men and women when it flew against the face of logic. He was also unsure if civil society has evolved to become less afraid of the threat of the ISA being used on them.

SDP’s Chee Siok Chin then spoke about the lack of public outrage when it was clear that the arrests were farcical. She spoke about the current JI detainees and how similar it is to the 1987 arrests in that there have been no questions asked about these non-transparent detentions. Ms Chee also spoke about the PAP’s strategy of making sure that the people do not come together to challenge oppressive policies. She urged those in the audience to contact groups who are advocating for transparency and to work with them, including the Singapore Democrats.

John Tan encouraged the audience not to turn a blind eye to injustice and violations of human rights. Civil participation is badly needed in our society if we want to be a vibrant democracy. He honed in the point that Singaporeans must look out for each other and even those beyond our shores. In the final analysis, Mr Tan argued, the ISA must be abolished in order to prevent another Operation Spectrum in the future, and to remove the fear that grips Singaporeans when it comes to citizen participation.

The forum discussion was peppered with Martyn reading excerpts of torture from So That We May Dream Again, a compilation of brief essays of the 1987 arrests, To Catch a Tartar by Francis Seow and also an extract about Chia Thye Poh from Chee Soon Juan’s book To Be Free. [Jacob 69er: ‘Operation Spectrum’ was political rape]

Martyn ended the forum with the assurance that this will not be the last forum he will hold about the ISD’s unlawful arrests of the 22 young people some 22 years ago.

‘If only detainees were there’
Film-maker holds forum to raise awareness on 1987 Marxist conspiracy
By Tay Shi’an, The New Paper, 29 June 2009

HE CAME hoping to hear first-hand accounts of one of the biggest political shockers in Singapore history.

Operation Spectrum by the Internal Security Department (ISD) had led to the detention of 22 people accused of being part of a Marxist conspiracy in 1987.

But Mr Terence Teo, 26, was left disappointed when none of the 22 attended an open forum at the Quality Hotel at Balestier yesterday to discuss the topic.

The forum, organised by film-maker Martyn See, was aimed at keeping the issue in the public consciousness, and having an open discussion on it.

It worked to some extent. Mr Teo, who works for a GPS company, read about the event on blogs, got curious, and decided to attend.

He said wryly: ‘My friends will laugh at me for attending, how come I’m bothered about something that happened more than 20 years ago.

‘(The event) would have been better if there were some detainees there to shed light on the whole issue. Or else it’s just speculation.’

Mr See said he had invited several of the Operation Spectrum detainees to attend. But he was forced to change the date of the event from 20 Jun to yesterday, as the previous venue’s management cancelled the booking at the last minute. [Jacob 69er: Operation Spectrum forum cancelled]

Two of the former detainees then e-mailed him, saying they couldn’t make it on the new date.

So for stretches during yesterday’s forum, Mr See took to reading from books on the incident.

40 people attend

The forum was attended by about 40 people, including Ms Chee Siok Chin, the sister of Singapore Democratic Party’s (SDP) secretary-general Chee Soon Juan, SDP lawyer M Ravi, activist and blogger Alex Au, and Mr Leong Sze Hian, president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals.

With no designated speakers, the attendees took the floor. One spoke about how the interest level on the Internal Security Act was low. When she told a taxi driver about the event, the driver mistakenly replied that he was also in the security business.

Mr Au felt the key was more information from the detainees. While they have given accounts in books on what they went through when they were arrested and detained, he felt more information needed to be given about what they had done before being arrested, so that people can judge for themselves if they had really deserved to be detained.

He felt such stories needed to be told from a human interest level as well, rather than the human rights language most activists are used to. ‘We’re too comfortable preaching to the converted,’ he said.

He said he has given one of the key detainees a standing invitation to be interviewed for his blog, Yawning Bread, but has not received a yes.

The attendees did get to hear of one detainee’s story, though it was not related to Operation Spectrum.

That was Mr Michael Fernandez, 75, who was arrested in 1964 and detained for nine years.

Mr See paid $450 out of his own pocket for the venue. Some who attended the event dropped money into a box at the end of the event, covering more than half the cost.

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