~ By Ng Yi Shu ~
21st May 2012 marked the 25th anniversary of Operation Spectrum, where an alleged Marxist plot sent waves of shock and awe through the Singaporean socio-political scene. This scene has developed and gone a long way since then, but we are still trapped within the dictated OB markers set up by the government through various litigation threats and ISA arrests. Being born after 1987, I did not experience as much fear as the older generations did at that time. Still, I was given the ‘say anything wrong, police catch you’ mentality – which stuck even as I became an intern at TOC. I remember my parents reiterating that I should not say or write any allegation without absolute proof that it was true. Sure, there was definitely wisdom in that belief, but it was rather clear that it stemmed from a simple fear – that of arrest and the ISA.
Even then, it has been 25 years since Operation Spectrum.
It has been 25 years.
We all know it – that things have changed since. Your ability to read this article today on this socio-political blog – which survived a gazette to become a political organization and litigation threats (remember Vikram Nair?) – is proof that change has occurred. We do not deny it too – headlines often talk about a new political climate; a new future. Opposition parties talk about hope of diversity in representation. Changes in legislation increased freedom of media – freedom in political film and in social media campaigning catalysed the General Elections of 2011 and continues today with the Hougang by-election. We have witnessed the change hailed as a new political era.
We have come to a point where oppression will only result in revolution; where citizens have become more critical; where censorship and cover-ups will only lead to the ugly revelation of the truth. We desire dignity, opportunity and justice and there is nothing the ISA can do to stop us.
So what is?
I’d suggest that there is nothing to stop us to act – and we are already acting. The sheer number of voices we hear on the Internet is proof that we enjoy a larger degree of freedom of speech than before. Interest groups are springing up to protect people’s rights and the rights of the voiceless. Civil society is growing, however small it may seem.
Thus today, people have begun to act.
Yes, the ISA has been a constant bind on our freedom of speech. Yes, the ISA has provided grounds for political activists to be arrested. Yes, the ISA must be removed. Even then, people have begun to set themselves free from the out-of-bounds markers that caged our political conversation. Alternative media and social media have allowed for increased political awareness and activism and this in turn has allowed Singaporeans to begin to grow civil and civic society.
Therefore, are we truly free? I genuinely believe so.
With this freedom, however, comes responsibility. Not that we should not bar ourselves from saying some things (especially some things about the ruling government), but that we must be responsible as Singaporeans in working for our vision for our nation – to bring hope, dignity, justice and equality for future generations.