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Internal Security (Act/Dept), Remembering May 21st

Call by 16 former detainees to abolish Singapore’s notorious Internal Security Act

Call to abolish Singapore’s notorious Internal Security Act. It is too long overdue. (Source: Teo Soh Lung facebook page)

Below is a statement calling for the abolition of the ISA by 16 former ISA detainees who together spent more than 100 years in prison without trial.

Abolish Singapore’s Internal Security Act

We welcome Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s announcement that his government would repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance. He said the changes are aimed at “having a modern, mature and functioning democracy which will continue to preserve public order, ensure greater civil liberties and maintain racial harmony.” We look forward to the Malaysian Prime Minister fulfilling his promise to his people.

Singapore inherited the ISA from Malaysia. This law has been in existence for more than half a century and its impact on society is both crippling and pernicious. Its life began soon after the Second World War as the Emergency Regulations in 1948 when the British used it to put down strong anti-colonial movements. In 1955, the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance incorporating the Emergency Regulations was passed. When Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963, the Federation of Malaya’s Internal Security Act 1960 became part of our law.

The Ministry of Home Affairs claims that:

“ … A person arrested under the ISA in Singapore may be held in custody for up to 30 days after which an Order of Detention or Restriction Order must be issued or else the person must be released unconditionally.

In Malaysia, the period of custody is up to 60 days…” (ST 17.9.2011).

This comparison is irrelevant because political detainees in Singapore have been imprisoned for periods which far exceed those in Malaysia. Dr Chia Thye Poh was imprisoned for 26 years. Dr Lim Hock Siew was imprisoned for 20 years. Mr Lee Tee Tong was imprisoned for 18 years and Dr Poh Soo Kai and Inche Said Zahari for 17 years.

The Ministry further claims that the Advisory Board is a safeguard against abuse under the ISA. The protection accorded by the Advisory Board is spurious, if not a farce. Several of us have appeared before such a board and can confirm that the board did not examine witnesses and evidence against the detainee. In 1987, appearances before the board lasted not more than a few minutes each. Furthermore, detainees were discouraged from appearing before the board by ISD officers. Many were advised that appearing before the board would jeopardise their chances of early release.

Singapore has many existing laws that will deal with acts of terrorism. We have the Penal Code, the Sedition Act, Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act, Vandalism Act and after 9/11, the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act and the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. These laws provide severe punishments which include death, life imprisonment and caning.

In 1991, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “Singapore will seriously consider abolishing the Internal Security Act if Malaysia were to do so”. He made this response to seven Malaysian journalists in his office when asked why the ISA was still needed in Singapore even though the Communist Party of Malaya no longer posed a threat. (ST 3.2.1991.) Now that Malaysia is repealing the ISA, we call upon PM Lee Hsien Loong to translate his 1991 statement into reality and keep in step with the aspirations of our people for a mature and functioning democracy. Indefinite detention without trial is an affront to the human rights of citizens and an assault on our justice system.

Dated this 19th day of September 2011.

Dr Lim Hock Siew

Dr Poh Soo Kai

Said Zahari

Lee Tee Tong

Loh Miaw Gong

Chng Min Oh @ Chuang Men-Hu

Tan Sin alias Tan Seng Hin

Toh Ching Kee

Koh Kay Yew

Vincent Cheng Kim Chuan

Teo Soh Lung

Yap Hon Ngian

Tan Tee Seng

Low Yit Leng

Wong Souk Yee

Tang Fong Har


Former detainees call for ISA’s abolition, Rachel Chang, Straits Times, 20 Sept 2011

Statement signed by 16 says safeguards against abuse are spurious

A GROUP of 16 former detainees has called for Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) to be abolished, arguing that the safeguards which prevent its abuse are spurious.

The 16 signatories of the statement include Barisan Sosialis members Lim Hock Siew and Poh Soo Kai, who were detained for close to 20 years each.

They called the ISA’s effect on Singapore society ‘crippling and pernicious’.

Their statement comes after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced plans last Thursday to repeal Malaysia’s ISA and replace it with terrorism-specific laws.

The former detainees called for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to ‘translate his 1991 statement into reality and keep in step with the aspirations of our people for a mature and functioning democracy’. In 1991, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee told Malaysian journalists that Singapore would ‘seriously consider’ abolishing its ISA if Malaysia were to do so.

However, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said last Friday the Republic would not scrap its ISA as it remained ‘relevant and crucial’ as a measure of last resort to keep the country safe and secure.

The MHA said while the ISA in both countries shared the same roots, the ISA in Singapore has evolved and is now different from that in Malaysia.

The former detainees took issue with two points the MHA made. The MHA said that a person arrested under the ISA in Singapore may be held in custody for up to 30 days after which an Order of Detention or Restriction Order must be issued, or else the person must be released unconditionally. In Malaysia, the period of custody is up to 60 days.

The former detainees called this comparison ‘irrelevant’, because political detainees in Singapore have been imprisoned for periods ‘which far exceed those in Malaysia’.

They pointed to leftist leaders detained under Operation Cold Store in 1963: Dr Chia Thye Poh was detained for 26 years, Dr Lim Hock Siew for 20 years, Mr Lee Tee Tong for 18 years, and Dr Poh Soo Kai and Mr Said Zahari for 17 years.

Apart from Dr Chia, who resides in Europe, the rest signed the statement.

The MHA also noted Singapore’s ‘additional safeguard’ to prevent misuse of the ISA. The President has, since 1991, the power to veto the Government’s decision to detain someone if the ISA Advisory Board, chaired by a Supreme Court judge, recommends his release.

‘The protection accorded by the Advisory Board is spurious, if not a farce,’ countered the former detainees.

Seven of the signatories were detained in 1987 for an alleged Marxist conspiracy – Ms Teo Soh Lung, Mr Vincent Cheng, Ms Low Yit Leng, Mr Yap Hon Ngian, Mr Tan Tee Seng, Ms Wong Souk Yee and Ms Tang Fong Har. The remaining five signatories are Madam Loh Miaw Gong, Mr Chng Min Oh, Mr Tan Sin, Mr Toh Ching Kee and Mr Koh Kay Yew.

Those among them who appeared before the Advisory Board in 1987 said that the board did not examine witnesses or evidence against the detainee.

‘In 1987, appearances before the board lasted not more than a few minutes each,’ said the statement. ‘Furthermore, detainees were discouraged from appearing before the board by Internal Security Department officers. Many were advised that appearing before the board would jeopardise their chances of early release.’

The statement also argued that Singapore has other laws that deal with acts of terrorism, such as the Sedition Act, the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act, and the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. ‘Indefinite detention without trial is an affront to the human rights of citizens and an assault on our justice system,’ the detainees said.

Separately, former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say yesterday called for the ISA’s abolishment and the formation of an independent Commission of Inquiry to look into past detentions, which some believe were politically motivated.


ISA: Judicial review should replace advisory board, Peter Cuthbert Low, Straits Times Forum, 23 Sept 2011

I REFER to Wednesday’s editorial (‘Laws that evolve with the times’) concerning the ongoing public debate on the Internal Security Act (ISA) and, in particular, about a role for judicial scrutiny.

Under current legislation, scrutiny of ISA detentions and releases is undertaken by an advisory board headed by a Supreme Court judge who is assisted by two members appointed by the President after consultation with the Chief Justice.

The Government claims that the advisory board is a safeguard to prevent misuse of the ISA. Having appeared in the late 1980s before an advisory board, chaired by a now retired Supreme Court judge, as a lawyer for ISA detainees Vincent Cheng and Chng Suan Tze, and having recently reviewed the existing rules concerning the advisory board, I have my reservations as to whether the board is an effective safeguard against misuse of the ISA.

In the absence of a criminal trial, a more sufficient safeguard is a judicial review of government detentions.

Indeed, that was precisely the view the Court of Appeal pronounced when

it ordered the release of my client Ms Chng, and three other detainees, one of whom was Ms Teo Soh Lung.

The four had challenged their detentions by way of judicial review.

Alas, the Government overruled the highest judicial tribunal of the land, did away with judicial review and, for good measure, got rid of Privy Council appeals.

The Government allowed judicial review only for cases where it had made procedural mistakes in detaining a person.

However, a forensic victory grounded on procedural mistakes can only be Pyrrhic; such a win in the courts would only result in re-arrest, as was the case of my client Ms Teo and the other two who challenged their detentions.

And, as was the case in earlier years, of Dr Lim Hock Siew and four other detainees.

The bottom line must be that if the Government believes there is a need for safeguards against misuse of the ISA, judicial review should be reinstated.

As the Court of Appeal said in its landmark decision: ‘…All power has legal limits and the rule of law demands that the courts should be able to examine the exercise of discretionary power’.


Govt rebuts ex-ISA detainees’ statement, Straits Times, 24 Sept 2011

THE Government yesterday rebutted a joint statement by 16 former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees who took issue with the length of detention under the ISA and the process of the ISA Advisory Board.

The group had, on Monday, issued the statement in which they welcomed Malaysia’s decision to repeal its ISA and called on Singapore to do the same.

They had referred to ISA detainees as ‘political detainees’.

Yesterday, the Home Affairs Ministry said the 16 had been detained for their involvement in ‘subversive activities which posed a threat to national security’.

They ‘were not detained for their political beliefs’, the ministry said in a three-page statement.

The 16 were detained between the 1960s and the 1980s.

They include leftist leaders held under Operation Cold Store in 1963, such as Dr Lim Hock Siew, Dr Poh Soo Kai and Mr Said Zahari, as well as those detained in 1987 for an alleged Marxist conspiracy.

The ministry said nine of them were ‘actively involved in Communist United Front activities in support of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), which was committed to the violent overthrow of the constitutionally-elected governments in Singapore and Malaysia’.

It added: ‘They infiltrated legally-established organisations like trade unions and student associations and instigated illegal strikes and demonstrations to cause mayhem and civil strife, to complement the CPM’s armed revolution.’

The statement said one of the nine gave medical aid to a ‘CPM saboteur’ in 1974.

Back in 1975, the Government had identified him as Barisan Sosialis member Poh Soo Kai who was a medical doctor.

The saboteur, said the statement, was hiding in Malaysia after a bomb he was carrying for an attack in Singapore exploded prematurely when he was travelling along Still Road, injuring him and killing two others.

The security situation at the time was ‘volatile and dangerous’. New CPM organisations were formed in the 1970s to ‘carry out sabotage, assassinations and other acts of violence’, following the party’s call in 1968 for a return to armed struggle, the ministry added.

Turning to the other seven former detainees, it said they were, in the 1980s, ‘involved in a Marxist plot to subvert and destabilise Singapore’.

‘The plot was part of the CPM’s renewed efforts to rebuild the united front by penetrating and manipulating legally-established organisations.

‘Three of them infiltrated and manipulated several religious organisations and, exploiting the religious cover, pursued activities towards subversive ends.

‘They worked with others, including leftist elements from the CPM era, to build a covert network to promote a Marxist agenda, using united front activities to control and influence organisations engaged in religious and social activism.’

The statement noted that five of these former detainees swore statutory declarations concerning their past activities.

Some of the 1987 detainees, however, claimed later they made the declarations after being threatened.

The ministry’s statement went on to address specific points made by the group.

The former detainees had pointed out that the length of ISA detentions in Singapore ‘far exceed those in Malaysia’.

The ministry said that ‘whether a person’s detention is extended depends on whether he still poses a security threat’. Those who refused to renounce violence were detained longer, it added.

The statement also rejected as ‘baseless and unwarranted’ the former detainees’ allegation that ‘the protection accorded by the ISA Advisory Board is spurious, if not a farce’.

The ministry said the Board is chaired by a Supreme Court judge and scrutinises every detention case to satisfy itself that there are valid security grounds for detention. Its members are appointed by the President and the Board ‘enjoys the immunities and powers of a court of law’.

‘It examines representations from detainees and their legal counsel, studies the evidence including classified intelligence, and examines witnesses including senior Internal Security Department (ISD) officers when it deems necessary.’

The ministry added that these safeguards against the abuse of the ISA were ‘further enhanced’ in 1991, when the law was changed to allow the President to veto any government decision to detain a person against the recommendation of the Advisory Board.

‘Indeed, the Board has on several occasions made independent recommendations for the early release of detainees, including three of the 16 ex-detainees,’ the ministry disclosed, without naming the trio.

The statement, however, did not respond to the allegation made by the 16 that ‘detainees were discouraged from appearing before the Board by ISD officers’ and that many were told it would ‘jeopardise their chances of early release’.

The ministry concluded its statement by reiterating that the ISA remains relevant and necessary today in Singapore, a small country ‘open to external influences and located in a turbulent region’.

It said the threats to Singapore’s national security have evolved over the years, but have not gone away.

‘In the CPM era, armed communist insurgencies, transnationally motivated and supported, infected countries throughout the region.

‘The communist threat was not just violent insurgency but also the systematic subversion of the political arena to foment civil strife and de-stabilise the country,’ it said.

Singapore, it added, had also faced non-Communist threats, such as cases of espionage, subversive attempts by foreign powers or agencies, as well as racial and religious extremism.

‘Today, we face the threat of jihadist terrorism, not only from Al-Qaeda-linked clandestine groups like the Jemaah Islamiah but also from self-radicalised individuals,’ it said.

The use of the ISA has evolved with changing circumstances, vulnerability and risk tolerance, it said.

In a reference to the impending repeal of the ISA in Malaysia, the ministry said that it ‘monitors developments in the laws and systems of other countries’.

But it added that the Government ultimately has to decide ‘based on what is prudent and necessary in Singapore’s context and is in Singapore’s best interests’.

‘As an instrument of last resort, the ISA has enabled us to counter serious security threats, protect our people, and preserve our racial harmony and social cohesion.

It remains relevant and necessary in today’s evolving security environment, for keeping Singapore safe and secure,’ the statement concluded.


Singapore ‘faces pressure to repeal ISA’, Andrea Ong, Sunday Times, 25 Sept 2011

Malaysian opposition MP Tian Chua believes the Singapore Government is under ‘tremendous pressure’ to follow in Malaysia’s footsteps in repealing the Internal Security Act (ISA), he said at a forum here yesterday.

He cited two key factors: a less fearful electorate arising from the evolution of the democratic process, and historical links between both countries’ uses of the ISA.

Mr Chua, who was detained for two years from 2001 under Malaysia’s ISA, was speaking at a forum organised by the Singaporeans for Democracy (SFD) political association.

‘The ISA experience through these 40 years in Malaysia and Singapore is a process of the nation overcoming our own fears and phobias,’ said Mr Chua, 47, a Parti Keadilan Rakyat MP.

On democracy in the region, he said Singapore and Malaysia used to practise ‘Asian-style democracy’ where the state provided economic success and citizens allowed it to have near-total control.

That was the environment which produced the ISA, he said.

Now, however, ruling parties have to reform and fulfil the people’s demands if they want to stay in power, he said. In Malaysia, the awakened electorate has become less fearful as more dare to speak up. He said: ‘The discourse has changed. I’m not surprised that finally (Malaysian Prime Minister) Najib (Razak) had to stand up.’

Singapore and Malaysia’s uses of the ISA have also been ‘interlinked’, he said. The ISA in both countries has roots in the 1948 Emergency Regulations passed by the colonial government to fight communists.

Said Mr Chua: ‘When the Malaysian regime acknowledged the ISA is anti-democratic… Singapore cannot resist. It will have to react, maybe faster than we can imagine.’

The Singapore Government has said it will not repeal the ISA as it ‘continues to be relevant and crucial as a measure of last resort’ to keep the country safe and secure, it said in a statement last week.

It also said Singapore’s ISA has evolved and is now different from Malaysia’s in having additional safeguards to prevent its misuse.

Another speaker was Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) vice-chairman Vincent Cheng, a former ISA detainee and one of 16 signatories of a recent statement calling for the ISA to be abolished.

He spoke of his detention in 1987 as part of an alleged Marxist conspiracy and said he had been beaten, placed in a cold room, and forced into a false confession.

The two other speakers at the forum, attended by about 50 people, were Cambodian MP and activist Mu Sochua and blogger Alex Au.

Mr Au said human rights and the rule of law must be in place before democracy can take root.

SFD executive director James Gomez yesterday announced that the association wants to explore the possibility of forming a coalition of political parties, non-governmental organisations and individuals to champion the abolishment of the ISA here.

The forum, which was meant to be held at a Singapore Human Resources Institute (SHRI) training room at The Verge shopping mall, had to be moved to Public House in Circular Road at the last minute.

Organiser and SFD executive secretary Martyn See said that was because SHRI e-mailed him on Friday to cancel his booking of the training room. He wants a refund of the $600 booking fee he paid.

SHRI executive director David Ang, 64, said Mr See did not provide his organisation’s name or the forum’s subject matter when he booked the room. SHRI’s Constitution states that it is not allowed to hold events of a political nature, Mr Ang added. – ST

Absurd inconsistencies in SHRI’s administerial processes


Singaporean NGOs demand repeal of ISA, Comment, Dr James Gomez, Malaysiakini

In an ever-increasing sign that political events either side of the causeway are impacting both its neighbours, Malaysia’s recent announcement that it will soon repeal the notorious ISA has renewed calls for its abolition in Singapore.

Soon after news of the historic announcement in Malaysia on Sept 15 became public, the online world in Singapore ignited with chatter about doing away with the ISA.

Independent news websites, blogs and Facebook users almost immediately began circulating a Straits Times report from Feb 3, 1991 where then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left), during a visit by Malaysian journalists, was reported to have said “Singapore will seriously consider abolishing the Internal Security Act if Malaysia were to do so”.

Opposition parties and civil society groups joined the early online chatter with a chorus of statements.

The Singapore Democratic Party highlighted the need to do away with the ISA in Singapore. The Reform Party and Workers’ Party, while identifying their opposition to the ISA, added they will be agreeable for suitable laws to deal with terrorism acts.

Human rights groups MARUAH and Think Centre, which are gazetted as political associations in Singapore, each also detailed its opposition to the ISA.

As if to cull the momentum of these calls to abolish the ISA in Singapore, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued a statement the next day insisting that the ISA is still “crucial and relevant” for the city-state.

Citing that Malaysia and Singapore were different, the Home Affairs Ministry went on to paint a picture that the ISA in the city-state has more safeguards against abuse and used only sparingly.

A few days after the government announcement saw an op-ed by a Singapore Management University academic, Eugene Tan, appear in the Today newspaper on Sept 19. His suggestion was to introduce more judicial review mechanisms so that the PAP government can better “sell” the ISA to Singaporeans.

Fuelling momentum for its abolishing

This only has sparked more criticism of Singapore’s ISA online and has served to fuel the momentum for its abolishing.

With not even a week passing since Malaysia announcement, a group of 16 Singaporean ex-ISA detainees, including Said Zahari (right), issued a joint statement questioning the “safeguards” of the Singaporean ISA legislation.

They highlighted that while there maybe be technical differences in the ISA legislation on both sides of the causeway, in Singapore detainees have generally been held captive without trial for much longer periods of time, some of which running into the decades.

This volume of public disagreement against the PAP government on ISA matters comes on the back of a recent election where the ruling party scored a historic record low popular vote of 60.1 percent.

Singaporeans having to endure a host of ineffective policies related to immigration, housing, transport and the cost of living coupled with limited civil liberties now openly reject and speak up against unpopular PAP policies.

Hence, the crux of the matter is not so much “selling” ISA to Singaporeans, it is whether Singaporeans want to “buy” the ISA and all the other restrictions on civil liberties that is out of synch with global standards and not tolerated by an emboldened citizenry.

Although, to date these remain just calls, the Malaysian announcement can be expected to serve as a yardstick, against which activists in Singapore will increasingly place their calls for its abolishing.

But the Singaporean effort against the ISA can only keep the momentum going if the various groups that are speaking out against the ISA on a individual basis are willing to come together to form a coalition against this archaic law.

This is important in order to put pressure on the PAP government, otherwise it can simply ignore such pleas. For instance, government officials have yet to respond to a request by political NGO Singaporeans For Democracy to meet current ISA detainees to evaluate their detention conditions.

Although the request was sent in September, a week before the Malaysian announcement, there is still no news.

Whatever the outcome of the calls to abolish the ISA in Singapore, political forces on both side of the causeway are watching each other and the likely developments that will impact politics in both countries.

If the recent electoral results in Singapore are anything to go by, Umno might be concerned that it needs to shore its political credibility before the next polls. Announcing the removal of restrictions on civil liberties is just one way, but it remains to be seen if it will work.

Dr James Gomez is a Singaporean academic and manages an independent consulting initiative – The GOMEZ Centre


See here for the statement by the former detainees calling for a commission of inquiry.

ISA detentions: Govt rejects call for inquiry
Straits Times, 30 Sept 2011

THE Government yesterday rejected a call by 16 former detainees for a commission of inquiry to investigate their detentions under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The rejection, in a statement from the Home Affairs Ministry, came a day after the 16 said in a statement of their own that an independent commission should examine if allegations against them and all former ISA detainees were justified.

The 16 were detained in different waves of arrests between the 1960s and the 1980s.

In its response, the ministry said that the subversion and violence of the Communist insurgency from the 1940s to the 1970s are a historical reality.

It added that the Government’s actions against the Marxist plot in the late 1980s had been fully explained and justified at the time, and extensively debated in Parliament.

‘These actual situations and events which were real threats to Singapore’s security cannot simply be dismissed as ‘rhetoric’, as the ex-detainees now try to do,’ the statement said.

‘The detentions under the ISA were made for valid security reasons and properly dealt with according to the law. Every case was reviewed at that time by the Advisory Board chaired by a Supreme Court judge.

‘The Government sees no reason to conduct a review now, more than 20 years after the event, via a commission of inquiry.’

In their statement on Wednesday calling for a commission of inquiry, the 16 said that recent publications, memoirs and panel discussions by historians and former detainees gave accounts different from the official narrative on the events surrounding their arrests.

In an earlier statement, on Sept 23, the ministry noted that the 16 were detained for their involvement in subversive activities which posed a threat to national security and not for their political beliefs.

The nine who were detained before the 1980s were actively involved in Communist United Front activities in support of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), which sought to overthrow the governments of Singapore and Malaysia.

The seven detained in the 1980s were involved in a Marxist plot that was part of the CPM’s renewed efforts to rebuild the united front by penetrating and manipulating legally established organisations.

The Government has maintained that Singapore will not scrap the ISA as it remained ‘relevant and crucial’ as a measure of last resort to keep the country safe and secure.

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