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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Operation Spectrum : Bentuk Kezaliman Yang serupa

Operation Spectrum
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This article is part ofthe History of Singapore series

Operation Spectrum was launched on May 21 1987 by Singapore's Internal Security Department (ISD) using its Internal Security Act (ISA). A second wave of arrests took place on Jun 20 in the same year. The security operation saw 22 young Roman Catholic church and social activists and professionals detained, without trial, under the internal security law, accused of being members of a dangerous Marxist conspiracy bent on subverting the PAP-ruled government by force, and replacing it with a Marxist state.

As it turned out, some of them had been quietly helping the opposition Workers' Party. After they were released, several of the detainees issued a statement countering government denials that they had been tortured. They were promptly rearrested. They were later released only on condition that they sign statutory declarations denying everything they had said in their earlier press statement. An intrepid lawyer, former Solicitor General Francis Seow, stepped in to represent one of the detainees who had sought his legal assistance. When Seow arrived at the detention center, he himself was detained by the ISD and was not released for more than two months. He was later charged and convicted in absentia for tax evasion. Seow now lives in exile in the United States.

Even until recently, the case of the alleged Marxist conspirators remains a puzzle. The detainees themselves did not fit the stereotype of the "agitators" whose activities were so troublesome to the PAP in the 1950s and 1960s. Inspired by the success of communist insurrection in China and Vietnam, the old guard leftists tended to be hot-headed, populist orators. The detainees, by contrast, consisted primarily of educated professionals. Indeed, the man accused of masterminding the plot was Vincent Cheng, a 40 year-old social worker for the Roman Catholic church, who had once studied to be a priest. Another prominent target was lawyer Teo Soh Lung, a Workers' Party supporter who had tangled with prime minister Lee during parliamentary hearings on the Law Society in 1986. Other detainees included social workers, lawyers and actors.


[edit] The re-arrests of 1988
With the exception of Vincent Cheng, all the above detainees were released, on various dates, before the end of 1987.
On 18 April 1988, nine ex-detainees issued a joint public statement (see below) repudiating earlier confessions and alleging ill-treatment by ISD officers while in detention. Eight of whom - Tang Lay Lee, Kenneth Tsang, Teo Soh Lung, Ng Bee Leng, Chng Suan Tze, William Yap Hon Ngian, Wong Souk Yee and Kevin De Souza - were re-arrested the next day. The ninth member,
Tang Fong Har, escaped the re-arrest as she was overseas at the time, and has remained in exile to this day. Also arrested was lawyer Patrick Seong, whom the government accused of having been a "propagandist" in providing information to foreign correspondents during the 1987 detentions.


Ten days later, the government announced that a proposed commission of inquiry into the allegations made by the detainees was no longer necessary as the signatories have since recanted their statement while in detention.
On 6 May, Francis Seow, while waiting to meet two of the detainees, was himself arrested within the premises of the ISD. The government accused him of "colluding with U.S. diplomats to build an opposition in Singapore."
Arrested two days later was Chew Kheng Chuan, who was not among the signatories but had allegedly helped edit, printed and distributed the statement.


Most of the detainees were released in stages in late 1988 and throughout 1989, after signing statutory declarations recanting earlier allegations.
Teo Soh Lung, who had chosen to take her case to court, was held until 1990. Vincent Cheng was the last of the "Marxist conspirators" to be released, shortly after Teo.

[edit] Statement by detainees
On 18 April 1988, nine ex-detainees of Operation Spectrum released a statement saying that even though they had kept a "rueful and fearful silence" on the "unjust treatment," they decided to make the statement now because of "the constant barrage of Government taunts and its public invitation to speak the truth".
The statement alleged
torture during their detention.
Excerpt as follows -
"...we were subjected to harsh and intensive interrogation, deprived of sleep and rest, some of us for as long as 70 hours insides freezing cold rooms. All of us were stripped of our personal clothing, including spectacles, footwear and underwear and made to change into prisoners' uniforms.
Most of us were made to stand continually during interrogation, some of us for over 20 hours and under the full blast of air-conditioning turned to a very low temperature.
Under these conditions, one of us was repeatedly doused with cold water during interrogation.
Most of us were hit hard in the face, some of us for not less than 50 times, while others were assaulted on other parts of the body, during the first three days of interrogation.
We were threatened with more physical abuse during interrogation.
We were threatened with arrests, assault and battery of our spouses, loved ones and friends. We were threatened with INDEFINITE detention without trial.
Chia Thye Poh, who is still in detention after twenty years, was cited as an example. We were told that no one could help us unless we "cooperated" with the ISD.
These threats were constantly on our minds during the time we wrote our respective "statements" in detention.
We were actively discouraged from engaging legal counsel and advised to discharge our lawyers and against taking legal action (including making representations to the ISA Advisory Board) so as not to jeopardise our chances of release.
We were compelled to appear on television and warned that our release would depend on our performances on tv. We were coerced to make statements such as "I am Marxist-inclined..."; "My ideal society is a classless society..." ; " so-and-so is my mentor..."; "I was made use of by so-and-so..." in order to incriminate ourselves and other detainees."
(The full statement is published in Appendix 1 of To Catch A Tartar, Francis Seow)


[edit] References
Francis T. Seow (1994). To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison. (Monograph 42/Yale Southeast Asia Studies)
ISBN 0-938692-56-9

[edit] See also
Internal Security Department
Internal Security Act
Chng Suan Tze v. The Minister of Home Affairs

[edit] External links
Background of "Marxist conspiracy"
Tang Fong Har remembers
Transcript of Francis Seow's ST interview
'Marxist Conspiracy' anniversary remembered
15th Anniversary of May 21 ISA Arrests
Marc Rerceretnam, International response to "Marxist conspiracy" arrests(PDF)
Geoffrey Robertson, "Torture: the human-rights answer"
Retrieved from "
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Spectrum"
Categories: Politics of Singapore History of Singapore 1987 in Singapore

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