Remembering 18 April 1988, the 26th Anniversary
by Teo Soh Lung
On 18 April 1988, nine former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees who were released just a few months earlier, issued a joint statement. That morning, I remember picking up a call from a foreign journalist who wanted to confirm the authenticity of the statement. She asked if I had anything to add. I replied that a lot had already been said in the statement and I didn’t know if we would be rearrested! She said that up till then, I had not been arrested. We laughed. Yes, “not yet”, I replied, half believing that I would not be arrested.
Reading the statement today and reflecting on the political climate then, I think we must have been die hard optimists or idealists to think that we would not be rearrested. There was only one opposition member, Mr Chiam See Tong in parliament. PAP back benchers who were supposed to speak their mind freely were just a bunch of sycophants. They went all out to demonise us. Civil society which was living in fear, not knowing if they too would be in trouble after the mass arrests in May 1987, were still traumatised. With the joint statement, could we expect to be spared? It was no doubt an exercise of free speech but that meant nothing to an enraged government. We said, among a host of heart wrenching truths, these words:
“In making this statement, we do not intend to challenge the Government; we do not seek any official response; neither is there any desire to make “political capital” of this. Our sole purpose in making this statement is to clear our names.”
Towards the end of the statement, we challenged the government:
“We state once more clearly and unequivocally, we never acted in any way to subvert the security of our country; we were never a part of any Marxist conspiracy to bring about a communist state. If necessary, we would be willing to prove our innocence in an open trial.
“We consider ourselves nothing less than some of the most loyal and responsible citizens of Singapore. We greatly regret not our past actions but the fact that our Government felt it necessary to malign our good names and arrest, detain and abuse us for what we did or did not do.”
It was well said. But for a government that had never had to prove arrests under the ISA was legitimate and necessary, those statements constitute a threat to national security.
All the signatories to the statement (except one), were promptly rearrested the next morning, 19 April 1988.
One of the lawyers for the detainees, Mr Patrick Seong was also arrested.
The ISD (Internal Security Department) was incensed that he was passing information about the detainees to foreign journalists. A warrant of arrest was issued against the ninth signatory, Ms Tang Fong Har who was then in England. A few weeks later, a lawyer for the detainees, Mr Francis Seow who spoke up against our rearrests in conferences abroad, was arrested at the Whitley Road Centre where he had intended to interview Patrick Seong and me.
Finally, a former detainee, Mr Chew Kheng Chuan whose representation to the advisory board was partially used in the statement was also not spared. None of the eleven people arrested was charged or tried in open court. They were imprisoned on the orders of the ministers, pursuant to the ISA for periods ranging from one month to 26 months.
Read the full statement here: “STATEMENT OF EX-DETAINEES OF OPERATION “SPECTRUM”