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Back at Whitley 26 years ago on 19 April 1988

An personal account by Ms Teo Soh Lung of her experience in Operation Spectrum.

“They are at my door”, the voice on the line was Souk Yee’s. “What should I do?” she asked. Well, what can one do when “they are at the door?”

It was funny. Didn’t we discuss the possibility that we would be rearrested after issuing the joint statement? May be not. Or was it amnesia? I don’t know. What can one do when “they” are at the door? If you refuse to open it, they break down the door. It is that simple. If you open it, then well, you sit and stare in despair while they go through all your documents and things, seize whatever they fancy and then you are led to their waiting cars which will take you to the blue gate.

Shortly after that phone call, “they” were at my office gate. And of course, it was pointless not to let them in. They came in a horde. They cannot handle civil people single-handedly. And they were rude because they had been instructed that they were dealing with terrorists.

As usual, they rummaged through my files, books and documents and dumped them in black rubbish bags. They even checked my waste paper basket.

Today, 26 years ago, they took me away to Whitley Road Centre for a second time. They were kinder this time. They didn’t take me in the early hours of the morning. They trailed me from home to office and there they arrested me. Then they took me from office to home in order to conduct another search. What a waste of time.

At the detention centre, I went through the usual routine. Finger printed and photographed, I was made to strip and change into prison clothes. Then I was sent to the cold interrogation room sans shoes and underwear. I was a “die hard” and deserved to be punished more than before because I didn’t learn my lesson. Spending 20 hours or more in the cold room and then thrown into a dirty, dusty cob-webbed tiny cell for three or four hours became the routine.

What was there to extract from me? The statement had said it all.

I was wrong. They wanted to know who instigated the drafting and issue of the statement. They wanted to know why we issued it – as if they didn’t know that the ministers were the ones who compelled us to react and they not us should have been arrested! They wanted the details of how the statement came about, who said what and who wrote what. They were in earnest anger because they felt that all the “good treatment” they gave us when we were first arrested had not been reciprocated. They were rewarded with awards after our first arrests and now we were back again. The culprits must be punished for bringing them indescribable embarrassment. They must know who caused the mess. Who was the leader!

Well, we were smart enough to anticipate that last question. It was all agreed that “All of us were leaders!” Hilarious on hindsight but naive and sincere at the time of deliberations. The ministers provoked us by their repeated groundless allegations that we were conspiring to destabilise Singapore using communist united front tactics and we reacted with a written statement. Wasn’t that reasonable? In law, we would have a complete defence if we reacted to provocation in a reasonable manner. But in fact, it was naïve to expect civilised reaction from red face ministers.

Under pressure and cold room treatment, I heard that there was much recriminations and regrets among those arrested. I too regretted for landing up in prison again, not just me alone but so many others! I was told by my interrogators that some of my friends were cooperating fully. “They all said the idea of issuing the statement came from me.” And so I was the one who was responsible for their rearrests. It was a monstrous conclusion which nearly drove me into a state of depression. But I survived.

Reflecting on what happened 26 years ago, I can say that I am proud to be one of the nine signatories of the joint statement. Life is a journey of experiences. Life is a daring adventure or nothing. That episode has certainly been one of the most exciting and daring adventure in my life. I thank my family, my lawyers, my friends and supporters for believing in me and supporting me through those tumultuous days.

Below is a photograph taken on 8 December 1988 showing my lawyer, Roslina Baba with the Order of the court of appeal which ordered the release of some of us on a technical point. We were immediately rearrested outside the detention centre on the opposite side of the gate. They have cleared that side of the road so that no one could witness the rearrests.

detention centre