Administering Fairness

~ By Wong Wee Nam ~

Recently 44 (and more) people were charged in court with having sex with an under-aged girl. One was allowed to go overseas to do his business and another was allowed to leave the country to get married. Indeed this show of sympathy by our judiciary is something to be applauded.

Yet I cannot understand why our country cannot be equally generous with their sympathy for people who are deemed to be “political”.

Dr Ang Swee Chai is an orthopaedic surgeon who was arrested under the ISA on 15th of March 1977. She was not charged for anything and was later released to join her husband of two weeks, Francis Khoo, a lawyer who had escaped to and exiled in London.

During the years in London, Dr Ang became internationally well-known for her humanitarian work in Palestinian refugee camps. She also founded “Medical Aid for Palestinians”, a charity established in the wake of the 1982 Sabra Shatila massacre in Lebanon. This is a Singapore lady who has done Singapore proud. Not many Singaporeans have achieved such honour. If she had been a British citizen, she would probably have received an award on Her Majesty’s birthday.

She has spoken extensively in the UK, including the British Parliament, and in Europe, and yet she was not allowed to come back to her country, not even for her parent’s funeral some years back. It was only in February this year that she was finally given permission to bring the ashes of her late husband back home.

Dr Ang has given countless of interviews overseas, including the British Broadcasting Corporation, and yet when she was here in Singapore none of the local media was interested in her.

When I had the privilege of meeting her, I tried to ascertain her feelings for her country and the home she had yearned for 35 years to return to. I asked her if Singapore should ever fall into a situation like Palestine, would she come back with the same fervour to do the same humanitarian work. She replied in no uncertain terms that she would. In fact, she and her husband had often discussed fondly the Singapore that had been left behind. She recalled once when she took a beautiful picture of a Lebanon beach and showed it to Francis, her husband replied that our Changi Beach was more beautiful than that.

Yet in spite of being honoured for her humanitarian work and as an orthopaedic surgeon who could contribute a lot to Singapore, she is still not free to come in as and when she likes. In February this year, she was only given a single-entry permit to bring her husband’s ashes back. This means that she still needs to apply for a permit when she next wants to come back to Singapore. Why, I wonder, cannot Dr Ang be given a passport like all our other citizens?

A person who is sentenced to a 30-year imprisonment often gets his sentence shortened for good behaviour. Why is a person, who has not been charged for anything and who has been punished for 35 years in exile, not treated with the same magnanimity? To Dr Ang, who loves Singapore, being in exile is very painful. As she said, “You do not know what it is like to be homeless until you do not have one.”

By joining the Facebook community, Mr Lee may be progressive, but he still needs to overhaul some of the outdated mindsets in the government machinery in order for it to move in tandem with him.