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Books, Remembering May 21st

Paranoid, vindictive bastards.

What else can you call buggers who hide behind and use State powers to bring misery and pain to others for the sole reason of maintaining a stranglehold on power. Equally bad are those bastards who say they were just doing their jobs. Its no different from prostitution.

My political awakening came about sometime between 1997-1999. Nothing in particular triggered this awakening except a very uncomfortable feeling, deep inside, that the system in Singapore was seriously diseased. I got involved in political and human rights activism after reading this book.

Last Saturday, 26th June, I attended a book launch for Teo Soh Lung’s Beyond the Blue Gate: Recollections of a Political Prisoner.

Soh Lung was one of the individuals detained without trial in 1987 under the Internal Security Act. [Read reports on the launch here, here and here. See also my posts here, here and here]

I was 18 years old in 1987 and was oblivious of the arrests, arbitrary detentions, physical and mental tortures of alleged “Marxist conspirators”.

During, and since, my awakening, through people I’ve met, activities & issues i’ve been involved with and reading, I’ve learned quite alot about the arrests of ’87, other past, current and ongoing injustices and human rights abuses perpetrated by the PAP government.

Seeing and listening to Soh Lung and her fellow ex-ISA detainees from the 1987 arrests at the launch felt something like coming full circle.

Teo Soh Lung speaking at the launch of her book. Photo credit: Click on photo to go to Function 8's gallery

Q & A session with audience. Teo Soh Lung with 3 other ex-ISA detainees from the 1987 arrests. Left to right: Wong Souk Yee, Soh Lung, Alfian Sa'at (playwright and moderator), Vincent Cheng and William Yap. Photo credit: Click on the photo to go to Function 8's gallery

Me with Soh Lung during the book signing. My thanks to Kai Xiong for the photo

Vincent Cheng with Dr Lim Hock Siew. Photo credit: Click on photo to go to Function 8's gallery

Dr Lim Hock Siew was detained without trial from 1963 – 1982 under the Internal Security Act. See my posts here and here.

Here are reviews of the book. See here for information on where you can purchase a copy.

Lawyer Teo Soh Lung’s memoir of her 21 May 1987 arrest and framing by the Singapore authorities as part of the so-called ‘Marxist Conspiracy’ is a remarkable document. Not only does it show how a person of courage and integrity can speak truth to power, but it also illustrates how that power corrupts and destroys the souls of those who wield it unscrupulously. One day a Singaporean Truth and Reconciliation Commission will determine the truth of the PAP years. Until this happens, this memoir will serve as an essential benchmark. – Peter Carey, Fellow Emeritus, Trinity College, Oxford

Teo Soh Lung’s book should be read by all people who are interested in democracy and the rule of law. Not only is it a poignant personal account of official ill treatment, but it is a brilliant testimony to the cruelty of authoritarianism, even, indeed especially — when it comes in the guise of legal due process. This is perhaps the most shocking aspect of her story: the abuse of the law in a republic which is democratic in theory, but sacrifices its most democratic citizens to the whims of the rulers. – Ian Buruma, Henry R Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights and Journalism, Bard College

Beyond the Blue Gate documents vividly Soh Lung’s intellectual and emotional awareness and reflections of a person in captivity. How power blinds justice is nothing new in the world of politics. But Soh Lung’s account impressively details and transmits viscerally her physical and psychological journey whilst in detention. This book is a must-read. It not only gives the reader insights to the human condition, but it also enables one to reflect on one’s moral capacity when facing the hurdles and challenges in standing up for one’s beliefs.

It’s so very important to have this literature. Thanks, Soh Lung, for taking the trouble to write it all down. Reading the accounts amazes me how sharp your memory was. It is testimony of how human cruelty can be etched so deeply in the human psyche. – Alvin Tan, Founder and Artistic Director, The Necessary Stage

Messages. Source: Function 8

Francis Seow

May 21, 1987, will forever remain Singapore’s own day of infamy, the day when Lee Kuan Yew, then Prime Minister, using the guise of internal security, abused its executive powers by ordering the arrest and detention of twenty-two innocent young men and women, who were associated with the Roman Catholic Church and allied social activities. Amongst them was Miss Teo Soh Lung, a young lawyer with a keen sense of social justice, who, Lee claims, was a dangerous Marxist. Given Lee Kuan Yew’s style of governance, the Internal Security Department (the ISD) – the so-called guardian of the security of the nation — was virtually overruled by him, as the PAP cabinet of ministers was similarly ignored and left in a similar state of ignorance and shock, as it did the nation.

On this infamous day, twenty-two young Roman Catholic Church and social activists were accused of plotting the violent overthrow of Lee and his PAP government through force of arms and replacing it with a Marxist state, which only their timely arrests under the notorious Internal Security Act had thwarted. Given that Communism world-wide was passé, a cruel new twist was given to these arrests in that they were accused of being Marxists or Marxist-inclined. In brief, they were accused of trying to subvert Lee and his PAP government through violence and replacing it with a Marxist government. Not a single round of ammunition nor any weapon was ever produced to substantiate this allegation. A more ludicrous allegation is hard to come by!

Even so, I acted as legal counsel to Miss Teo Soh Lung, a lawyer and keen social activist, who was arrested and detained with several others on those preposterous grounds. In the course of my professional visit to her at the infamous Whitley Road Centre, I suddenly found myself arrested and detained under the same Internal Security Act. No reasons were given for my arrest and detention. In the result, I could not see my client, Miss Teo Soh Lung, that day. This was Lee Kuan Yew’s tortured thinking, and he, of course, is never wrong! It also marks the overriding powers of one man over his cabinet colleagues, all of whom are in mortal dread of him, It was, however, later alleged that I was an agent of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency from which I allegedly received payments of vast sums of money.

After my release from detention, I was in the United States of America as a visiting fellow at Yale University, New Haven, and, later, at Harvard University, Cambridge, from where I gave numerous presentations and at other U.S. institutions of learning, at all of which I tried to pass word that, contrary to Lee Kuan Yew’s wild and morbid accusations, I have yet to receive payment from the C.I.A. in the hope that it would reach the right ears of the fate that had befallen me so that I can at least receive from the C.I.A belated payments To this day, I have not heard from the C.I.A.

And so, Miss Teo Soh Lung was not a Marxist nor I, a paid CIA agent.

Kevin de Souza

Here in cold wintery Perth, I am looking forward to reading Teo Soh Lung’s recollections, “Beyond the Blue Gate”.

Knowing the dynamic and spirited character of Soh Lung, I am certain it would make honest and compelling reading of her time in detention.

But more than that, Soh Lung’s book has significant importance in the political context of Singapore where for too long, sensitive matters such as ISA arrests and detentions were only discussed behind closed doors.

I congratulate Soh Lung in taking the bold and courageous step of exposing the truth of her arrest and detention while continuing to remain in Singapore under the surveillance of the PAP security apparatus.

Soh Lung’s book follows a trend of recent publications by former political prisoners in Singapore in exploding the lies and myths behind their detention propagated by the PAP Government and the local press. It will add to the ongoing debate on the legitimacy of the ISA and its place in a democracy. It will challenge each and every Singaporean to reflect whether the absolute powers of the ISA have been previously used to safeguard the security of Singapore or only to maintain PAP’s stranglehold on political power.

During the detentions, I admired Soh Lung for her determination to pursue justice through the Singapore courts. Whilst the PAP government had no compunction in using the ISA and destroying the rule of law, Soh Lung was the very opposite. By pursing justice through the Singapore courts, she affirmed her commitment to protect the rule of law in Singapore and never ceased in having faith that one day justice would prevail.

Soh Lung by her actions is indeed a true Singaporean committed to building a democratic society based on justice and equality.

Kevin de Souza
Perth, Australia
26 June 2010

Koh Kay Yew

By electing to share her experience of her two and a half years as a political prisoner with a wider audience, Teo Soh Lung has spoken out on behalf of many of her compatriots who suffered a similar trauma but chose to remain silent witnesses for a variety of reasons. Though armed conflict never engulfed post war Singapore, it is estimated that a few thousand men and women of various backgrounds were incarcerated without due process by the State from the early fifties to the late eighties as part of its pacification program to keep its residents and citizens at bay. Many personal lives were destroyed besides the anguish, mental and physical, suffered by their loved ones. This human tragedy represents the lesser known social costs of Singapore’s ‘modernisation’ and is only now beginning to be told. As we approach the second half century of Statehood, it is timely to call for the abolition of the ISA and its consignment to the rubbish heap of History.

Margaret John

Dear Soh Lung,

The arrests of 1987 marked a distinct heightening in international awareness and concern about the state of human rights in Singapore. I well remember the many inquiries I, as an Amnesty International member in Canada, received, and the immediate increase in campaigning on Singapore. It was a bleak time indeed for human rights. But in the following years, after their release, there was widespread sympathy for the former prisoners of conscience, who mostly remained silent, apart from those who were able to go into exile. Now in recent years, we have welcomed the forceful accounts of a number of those former prisoners who still live in Singapore. Those accounts are vital to the true record of Singapore’s history. Soh Lung, you were at the very centre of that group of young professionals who were arrested following their involvement in social justice issues. Your book will be essential to the telling of that shameful era – an era that is not yet fully past.

Margaret John
Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia
Amnesty International Canada

Paul Lim

This is Teo Soh Lung’s story of her experience in prison. It reminds me of how human beings can disrespect other human beings just because they are perceived as opponents. This is contrary to the high ideals of Asian philosophy – Confucianism, a philosophy that has been promoted in Singapore. One wonders whether her interrogators have a moral conscience over what they did to her. Whether they have a sense of morality. Whether, while dehumanising Soh Lung and her friends, they dehumanise themselves too. If they do not regret what they do, one can ask if they are human beings at all.

Tang Fong Har

Dear Soh Lung,

I regret that I cannot be here with you today, but I am so proud that you have written about your experience behind the Blue Gate. This book will show Singaporeans how an authoritarian government made use of the Internal Security Act to suppress and oppress dissenting voices. The draconian and archaic ISA was put into place by our colonial masters, the British to oppress the natives, and it has no place in modern Singapore society.

If your book acts as a catalyst towards the abolition of the ISA, then you have contributed to a more democratic and humane Singapore.

Francis Khoo

Teo Soh Lung belongs to that increasingly rare breed of lawyers who believe in social justice and human rights. For that, she paid the price of her commitment by being imprisoned without trial under the Internal Security Act. The ISA is a most pernicious piece of legislation which has no place in modern Singapore. Her book will give us a glimpse of her campaign against the Act and her fight for freedom. I do hope a new generation of Singaporeans will read and be inspired by her courage and take up the challenge to see the eventual abolition of the Act.

I would have loved to be present at the book launch but, given my state of exile from the country of my birth, must send my sincere apologies. My deepest congratulations to a heroine of Singapore.



8 thoughts on “Paranoid, vindictive bastards.

  1. The most funny thing is that how come the person at the centre of all these controversies or accusations have chosen to remain exceptionally quiet or is he trying to act blur ? Or silence breeds consent ?

    Incidentally if the accusations are true and correct, shouldn’t this dangerous person be put to jail for his evil acts towards humanity ?

    Posted by Alan Wong | June 30, 2010, 18:17
  2. I’m looking forward to reading this book. Since moving overseas, I have been able to catch up on events I was too young to truely understand. I have read “that we may dream again”, various articles, Chris Lingle’s and Francis Seow’s books. I read about Martyn See’s situation and young Singaporean’s remembering at Speaker’s corner the 1987 events, the refusal of National Lib to let Vincent Cheng speak at an important seminar about the 1987 event, etc.

    It’s really sad. I thought that in future, when seeking the truth, Singaporeans will be short changed. Now, thanks to these brave heroes of our country, more of the truth is being documented and published.

    My thoughts go to all of you who sufferred unjustifiably and your torturers have still not yet faced justice! Rest assured that we who were young at the time now know the truth and are still learning and following what happens. In time – no matter how long it takes – the truth will all be revealed.

    Congratulations to Suh Lung for her brave move and efforts to document her experience and the truth. I am not brave like many of you. I hope one day I will be.

    Posted by From off shore | July 17, 2010, 23:40
  3. Dear Soh Lung,
    I too salute you for revealing your innermost feeling through the pages of Beyond the Blue Gates. I havent got the book yet but I can uderstand and share your anguish as I too gone through these inhuman treatment. Keep it up!

    Posted by Michael Fernandez | August 16, 2010, 06:19
  4. It may appear strange that some people love to serve society without any ulterior motives except that serving the less fortunate by giving them free legal advice brings them joy and spiritually enriches their lives. It is less strange that people in power, with their twisted minds, tend to think that there must be ulterior motives behind any altruistic act by an individual or organization. If only the people in power could appreciate the good intention behind Teo Soh Lung’s selfless action to help the less fortunate in our society, then they might think twice about hatching a plot to accuse her of being a conspiring marxist. I salute you, Teo Soh Lung. May you have a long and peaceful life and outlive those who caused you unimaginable misery in that solitary cell beyond the blue gate. Like your mum, I will speak to the gods when I have the good fortune to meet them.

    Posted by Hans | January 24, 2011, 20:01


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