Read also: “Marxist plot” revisited by Singapore Window.
And: Singapore is holding 12 in “Marxist Conspiracy” by The New York Times.
In May 1987, the government of then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew accused 22 church workers and social workers of being part of a plot to topple the Singapore government. The local media called it a “Marxist Conspiracy” and named former student union leader, Tan Wah Piow, as the “mastermind”. Vincent Cheng was alledged to be the man whom Tan Wah Piow, who had left Singapore for England in 1976, tasked to build up a network of “conspirators” in Singapore.
Codenamed “Operation Spectrum”, the Internal Security Department (ISD) swooped in on the 22 (in two different operations, in May and June) and arrested and detained the accused under the Internal Security Act (ISA).
In the following months, the detainees were paraded on television interviews allegedly arranged by the government. The Catholic Church became entangled in the saga and then-Archbishop Gregory Yong had to publicly disavow its involvement. Former Solicitor-General Francis Seow, who was acting for three of the detainees, was later detained under the ISA as well.
The only time the detainees spoke up on their own , away from incarceration, which they did through a press statement claiming they were ill-treated during detention and denied being part of any “Marxist plot”, they were swiftly re-arrested by the ISD. The eight who released the press statement, on 20 April 1988, later recanted.
An earlier promise by the government to hold a Commission of Inquiry to look into the allegations of abuse was shelved. The government said it saw no need for an inquiry as the detainees had signed another statement disavowing their recantation.
The Straits Times termed the detainees’ statement as a “ploy to discredit [the] Government”.
One year after the initial arrests, the government, which earlier claimed that Tan Wah Piow was the “mastermind” behind the “plot”, later insisted that “the plot was a full-blown Communist Party of Malaya operation.”
There has been no independent inquiry or investigation into the arrests till this day.
The Online Citizen looks at the Straits Times’ coverage of the saga in 1987 next.