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Former ISA detainee Michael Fernandez rebuts MHA

by Joshua Chiang

"Can they say they didn't torture me?"

“I never advocated nor used violent means, and there were never any deaths during our strikes,” former ISA detainee Michael J Fernandez said at a press conference held at his lawyer’s office this morning.

He was responding to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ letter to the Straits Times, claiming that he was part of the Communist United Front (CUF), an appendage of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and a “violent underground organisation that waged a protracted insurgency for several decades to overthrow the constitutionally elected governments of Singapore and Malaysia.”

The MHA’s response followed Fernandez’s announcement on 23 December that he planned to sue the Singapore government “for battery and negligence arising from the torture committed upon him, resulting in a breach of fundamental human rights”.

Fernandez was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on 11 September 1964 and detained without trial until April 1973. At the time of his arrest, he was the General Secretary of the Naval Base Labour Union and had been organising workers’ strikes around Singapore.

At the press conference, Fernandez also denied that he was a member of the Communist United Front. Calling the government’s accusation a ‘smokescreen’, he said that the fact that the government didn’t prosecute him in open court showed that it knew he was not a member of the CUF.

“We [he and his colleagues who were arrested] never convened for the overthrow of the governments in either territories [Singapore and Malaysia],” Fernandez added. “The strikes were about better working conditions and better pay for the workers in the naval base.”

Responding to MHA’s statement that he was detained by an order issued by the then-Malaysian Minister of Interior Security and Minister of Home Affairs Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman [Singapore still part of the Federation of Malaysia in 1964], Fernandez pointed out that Singapore became independent in 1965.

“Why did they continue to detain me for another seven years?” He asked.

Fernandez also said that the fact that the MHA statement didn’t address his main complaint of torture and inhumane treatment during his detention shows that the government apparently condoned the act.

“Can they say they didn’t torture me?” he asked.

“Lee Kuan Yew instigated Operation Coldstore.”

During the press conference, Fernandez also referred to Operation Coldstore. He said it was Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew who instigated the arrests of February 1963, although it is widely believed that Lee was at most a reluctant player.

Fernandez referred to an excerpt of the recently declassified Colonial Office papers published in “The Fajar Generation”, in which Baron Philip Moore, who was Deputy High Commissioner of Britain in Singapore from 1963 to 1965, was quoted as saying:

He (Lee) went on to suggest that in order to avoid the Communists taking over, he would create a situation in which the UK Commissioner would be force to suspend the Constitution. This might be done either by the Singapore Government inviting a Russian trade mission to Singapore thus forcing a constitutional crisis, or by instigating riots and disorder, requiring the intervention of British troops. I did however, form the impression that he was quite certain he would lose a general election and was seriously toying with the thought of forcing British intervention in order to prevent his political enemies from forming a government. (CO 1030/1149 p.95, para 3)

Speaking to The Online Citizen after the press conference, Fernandez said that his arrest was also politically motivated.

“I don’t know how the government can claim I was a threat to the security of Singapore,” Fernandez said. "In fact I fought for the workers of Singapore, the people of Singapore.”

Legal action to be taken against Malaysian Government as well

Notes from within: Michael Fernandez wrote his thoughts on the books he read while in detention on toilet paper which he later glued onto the pages of this notebook

During the press conference, Fernandez’s lawyer M. Ravi also announced that a writ of summons will be issued to the Malaysian Government, through his associate firm in Malaysia later this week.

He was responding to MHA’s statement that Singapore was part of Malaysia at the time of Fernandez's arrest in September 1964.

Ravi maintained that his client would also continue to pursue legal action against the Singapore Government.

Ravi also said that there were forty other detainees who went on a hunger strike alongside Fernandez. Like him, they were force fed and tortured. Many of them are still alive and living in Malaysia.

“Once we file the writ in Malaysia, We will get all of them to testify in the Malaysian court,” he said.

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