The 1963 Operation Coldstore: Commemorating 50 years ed.

Book Launch Event on 16 Nov 2013

The 1963 Operation Coldstore: Commemorating 50 years ed. Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa

Survivors of Political Detention: Stepping out of the Shadows

It was not long ago that former political prisoners were neither seen nor heard in Singapore. Not that they did not exist. In fact, When he was asked in parliament in 2011 Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean who is also the  Minister for Home Affairs,  Co-ordinating Minister for National Security and Minister-in-charge of the Civil Service revealed that a total of 2,460 were arrested under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance and later the Internal Security Act between 1959 and 1990. He refused to disclose the names of those detained.

Dr Lim Hock Siew’s account for the Oral History Centre, taped between 1982 to 1986 was probably only known to a handful of academics who made it their business to know. Similarly, Said Zahari’s Dark Clouds at Dawn: A Political Memoir and Comet in Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History were far from being best sellers when they were published. However, in the last couple of years, Comet in Our Sky has been out-of-print, as is the second volume of its Chinese-language version, mostly Lim’s speeches reported in the newspapers and labour union publications.

In 2005 you-tube made its appearance. The intrepid Martyn See uploaded documentaries — Dr Chee Soon Juan (2005) and Said Zahari in 2006. The film on Dr Chee was imposed with a M 18 rating, while the latter was banned. The official reason given was that it posed a security threat as it sought to undermine public confidence in the government. The film was accused of giving “a distorted and misleading portrayal of Zahari’s arrest and detention”, and an attempt by Zahari to “exculpate himself from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore.”

Zahari’s comment said it all: “the government is afraid that more and more people will know about the nation’s history.”

Since then, speeches by former political prisoners Dr Lim Hock Siew and Dr Poh Soo Kai can be found on youtube. In this book, Dr Poh tells us in his chapter ‘Living in a Time of Deception’ that he glossed over key matters when he was working with his fellow editors on The Fajar Generation: The University Socialist Club and the Politics of Postwar Malaya and Singapore (2010) as he was not sure if there would be adverse state reaction.

In the last few years, there has been a growing sense of urgency among a considerable number of former political prisoners that they should no longer suppress their past. They form a significant turnout at book launches and memorial gatherings. But the clearest indication of their having sloughed off their reservations about who they are, and what they had done was at the ‘We Remember’ gathering on 2 February 2013 at Hong Lim Park. They turned up in force. Huge notice boards with the names of detainees, and icons representing those whose names have not been retrieved were met with interest, as they looked for their names and those of their friends. A couple of new names have appeared as contributors in the We Remember publication, and on stage. Every single one who has made this move has not only broken a personal barrier, but a historical one.

No longer is the official response that their narratives are distortions of history adequate. With each such repetition, they sound more hollow. The narratives demand a fuller answer.

Book Launch Event

The 1963 Operation Coldstore: Commemorating 50 years ed. Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa

Date: 16 November 2013

Time: 2.30 pm (to be seated by 2.15 pm)

Venue: Harvest Care Centre, 165 Sims Avenue 04-01 (Between Lorong 19 and 21 Geylang)

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments