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ISA is a law that “instills great fear in citizens” – Former ISA detainees

The following is an excerpt from the blog Function 8

This law (Internal Security Act) has been in existence for more than half a century and its impact on society is horrendous. Its life began as the Emergency Regulations in 1948 . It was passed into law in 1955 as the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO). When Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963, the Federation of Malaya’s Internal Security Act 1960 became part of our law.

The PAP came into power in 1959 on the election promise to release all political prisoners. It reneged on that promise. Many who were detained by the British in the 1950s were not released. When their detention orders came up for review, they were renewed.

The first major arrests carried out by the PAP with the support of the Internal Security Council was in 1963. At least 151 people were arrested and imprisoned without trial. Among those arrested were prominent members of the opposition like Dr Lim Hock Siew, Dr Poh Soo Kai, Lim Chin Siong, Said Zahari, trade unionists like Sydney Woodhull, S T Bani, Jamit Singh, A Mahadeva, Fong Swee Suan and University undergraduates and graduates. Those arrested were the cream of our society. Many were imprisoned not for one or two months but for years and decades. Dr Lim was imprisoned for 19 years, Dr Poh and Said Zahari for 17 years.

Arrests under the ISA did not stop in 1963. Hundreds were arrested throughout the 1960s and 1970s. A former ISA detainee estimates the number to be in the thousands. In 1966, Barisan MP, Chia Thye Poh together with more than 30 others were arrested. Chia was later to become the world’s longest serving political prisoner. He was imprisoned for 32 years. In the 1970s, Kuo Pao Kun and Goh Lay Kuan, two cultural icons were arrested. Prominent lawyers like Tan Jing Quee, R Joethy, G Raman and Ong Bock Chuan were also arrested in the name of national security.

After the waves of arrests in the 1960s and 1970s, there was no one left who could pose as a political challenge to the PAP. There was no opposition in parliament after the Barisan Sosialis staged a walkout in 1966. There was also no effective civil society championing human rights. Everything was quiet. In 1987, 22 alleged Marxists were arrested. That effectively wiped out the weak civil society existing at that time.

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Function 8 is an initiative by a group of citizens who strongly believe that there is a need to facilitate the sharing of social, political and economic experiences of those who had, or are eager to contribute to society through reflection and civic discussion.