A renewed call from the past to abolish ISA.

By Terry Xu


How would you feel if Workers’ Party Candidate Lee Li Lian was arrested shortly after her victory in the Punggol East By-Election?

This was a question posed to the people who attended the 50th anniversary of Operation Coldstore event on Saturday afternoon.

Ms Chan Wai Han, the emcee of the event, asked the crowd this question before calling upon Mr Lee Tee tong, one of the 13 Barisan Sosialis MPs elected in the 1963 General Election. He was arrested shortly after the election, together with the other 2 MPs.

More than 650 people turned up in the 50th anniversary of the operation Cold Store at Hong Lim Park on the 2nd February 2013. Six speakers gave their speeches on their personal account as ex-detainees and repeated the call for the abolition of the ISA.

This anniversary marks exactly 50 years from the day Singaporeans saw more than 100 politicians and unionists being caught and detained without trial under the Internal Security Act on the 2nd February 1963. Many of whom turned up were people who were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and those whom have lived through that era of post-independence.

A recorded interview with Mr Said Zahari was broadcasted to the audience at the anniversary to show his solitary with the ex-detainees and other Singaporeans. He was a one time editor-in-chief of the Malay-language newspaper Utusan Melayu who was detained for 17 years under ISA and now residing in Malaysia.

The event organizer and former detainee, Mr Tan Kok Fang, 72, spoke about the South Korea’s first lady president, Park Geun-Hye and how she apologized to victims of her father, Park Chung-hee’s security services under his autocratic rule . He then pointed out that the suffering that the detainees of ISA is no lesser from what those victims went through but the people who detained them has not apologize for the deed.

Mr Chuang Minh Oh, an ex-detainee who had been detained for 13 years and 4 days, speaks on the original purpose for the ISA was to combat the rising communist threat and other violent organizations but history has proven other wise. He reiterated that the police could arrest anyone under the ISA act for 60 days to assist in investigations without trial, and following that, 2 years renewal with permission from the Minister of Home Affairs.

He recounts his personal experience when he was caught and only put on interrogation after 49 days in custody, the threats that was issued to him to write a statement of declaration of guilt when civil means was exhausted.

Mr Lee Tee Tong, an ex-detainee who was detained for 18 years, talks about his happiness seeing the young generations taking up what the older generations has dropped many years back.  He explains that 2nd Feburary 1963 was emphasized because it was the operation that caught most politicians and unionists by the ISA, and therefore, it has significance in Singapore’s history.

Dr Poh Soo Kai, who was detained for 17 years, spoke about his personal ordeal and read from the book published by him, “We remember,” which documents the ISA arrests and personal accounts. An extract from the book, “50 years later, there are signs that we are in a new world where progressive forces are stirring and on the rise. Are we on the edge of a new epoch – the fajar of a new world order?”

Ms Teo Soh Lung went on stage as the last speaker and made three requests that are ;

  1. To put all the ISA detainees who are still detained in trial to judge if they are truly guilty of what they are said to be. To charge them in open court or to release the detainees immediately.
  2. The abolishment of the draconian law, the Internal Security Act in Singapore.
  3. To allow the unconditional return of all Singaporeans who are exiled due to the ISA.

Many of whom TOC spoke with did not wish to identify themselves. Mr Chen, 69 years old, who was at the anniversary, said that the police cannot be given such absolute power as in the ISA and questioned who can look over their shoulders and keep them in check. He, too, called for the ISA to be abolition.

Speaking to two ex-detainee, Mr Ong and Mr Zhen who were detained for four years and two years, respectively while they were trade unionists then in 1963. They recollect the memories back when they were working as unionists to fight for the rights of the workers, one worked for the rights of general workers like factory operators while the other for street hawkers.

When asked about the organizing of this anniversary, they said that its a must that the younger generations be reminded of this part of Singapore’s history and not be forgotten.

Asking what could be the detainees’ greatest comfort after all these years to two, they unanimously replied in Mandarin to see the abolition of ISA in their lifetime.

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