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The truth from a Singapore exile

TSWL London premier 07 Ho Juan ThaiBy Ho Juan Thai

After “To Singapore With Love” was banned in its home country, the Minister for Information and Communications Dr Jaacob Ibrahim had projected in his parliamentary statements on 7 October a notion that the People’s Action Party government is squeaky clean and that it has done absolutely nothing wrong that would cause the exiles to leave.

Meanwhile, the film was accused of containing “one-sided portrayals” designed to “evoke feelings of sympathy and support for individuals”. All this is supposed to endanger Singapore's security and formed the basis for the film to be banned completely.

Are the above statements justified and fair?  As one of the exiles, I would like to set the record straight.

My leaving Singapore was a heart breaking decision for me. I had to leave as I believed my personal safety was at risk.

Sometime after the December 1976 Singapore General Elections, a group of Internal Security Department plain-clothes policemen came to arrest me. One of them had drawn his pistol shouting at me in Hokkien, "Don't run, if you run I will open fire".

I have never had a record of involvement in any form of violence nor advocating it at any time during or before the general election.  All these facts are known to the ISD Special Branch officers. Why did they need to come with fully armed officers ready to shoot me? These facts have never been denied by the police or the Ministry of Home Affairs.

A few days after the police failed to find me they put up a “wanted” notice on television and in the newspapers. In the news release, they said the police just wanted to question me over the election speeches I made as a Worker’s Party candidate. They did not say anything about how they have failed to arrest me and threatened to shoot me. What would they do, make me confess on national TV for things that I have never done?

If the police only wanted to question me, why didn’t they just send me a letter or inform the Workers Party that they needed to talk to me about the election speeches I made? I would have responded to a civilised request.

In the subsequent Home Office statements, the government accused me of running away from Singapore immediately after the general elections as I knew I had committed an offence during the elections. At all times they avoided mentioning the dates of the events. They did not say that when they came to arrest me, it was not immediately after the election, but more than a week later. Had I run away from my guilt immediately after the elections, how could they have the chance to arrest me more than a week later at my home?

In fact, I did not leave Singapore after the General Elections. I went back to work and conducted my day to day life as usual. Together with Mr J B Jeyaretnam, then WP’s secretary-general and Mr. Wong Hong Toy, then WP’s chairman, we held press conferences for the post-election reviews.  One of the attendees of our press conference was Mr Richardson,  a correspondent from Far Eastern Economic Review,  who witnessed I was at the press conference.  So when the government said I knew I was guilty and ran away immediately after the general election, it was totally untrue.

The government tried to further justify their action against me by accusing me of inciting racial violence in my general election speeches.  Mr Jeyaretnam challenged the government in Parliament to apply the well-defined Sedition Acts to charge me in an open court. I also repeated this request for an open trial. In The Straits Times forum section, many readers made the same request to let the courts decide what I have said. The government has ignored all these requests for an open court process to settle the matter. Why?

I wish to repeat that I do respect the law and legal process of Singapore, despite with "great reservation". Please charge me in an open court for the crime you alleged I have committed. I will obey the court order and return to Singapore with my head held high, but not with the potentially dangerous arrangements the government has offered - that one-time entry pass could, quite literally, be the one-way ticket to my indefinite incarceration.

My record speaks for itself. I served as a National Service policeman when I was in high school (pre-university). I served a further two years or more of full-time NS in the Singapore Armed Forces combat unit after high school, with pride. I attended each and every NS reservist call back without a single failure until such time I was forced to leave. The WP colleagues who know me well will tell you I have always supported an effective and strong SAF in our discussions.

The only reason I did not apply for an exit permit to leave Singapore and did not have my passport extended by the authorities was because I acted under duress as the police threatened to shoot me and the government accused me of crimes I did not commit. Would you not flee if a gun was pointed at you?

In addition, what I did is considered acceptable by international norms. Upon my arrival in the UK, I applied for political asylum. The UK government took about a year of careful investigation before granting me political protection. They also issued me a travel document under the sponsorship of the UN 1952 Geneva Convention to enable me to travel freely.  Had I been deemed to be a criminal in what I did with my passport, all this would not have happened, and I would have been rejected in the countries I visited.

I have never condoned nor incited violence, as alleged by the PAP government previously. I work to earn a living and pay taxes and have never depended on any form of hand-outs.

I was born and bred in Singapore. I exercised my democratic right based on my best social conscience and contested in the General Elections. All the speeches I made regarding languages issues were well-consulted with the WP leadership back then and in line with our party policy of not discriminating against any language stream of education. Other topics we spoke about during the 1976 elections included the plight of pig farmers in transitional Singapore at that time. All our speeches were well received and within the legal limits. I was an opposition candidate acting with his social conscience.

Hence, I am gravely disappointed that Dr Yaacob has chosen to discredit me in Parliament with such derogatory statements. It is his statements that are one-sided in its account of what happened in history.

But I am not asking for an apology. Instead, I reassert what I have been indicating to the authorities in the last few years when I requested to regain my Singapore passport: Let us learn from South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation spirit.

Let us all forgive and forget for what everyone had done, so that we can all move forward for the good of Singapore’s future.

Continuing to look back on who had done what wrong does nothing. Instead, what are the challenges that lie ahead of us?

We all want a true and fair democratic, stable and prosperous society. Rather than see our people pursuing each other with knives to our backs, I prefer to see us all working together side by side  for a country that is democratic and caring, with a strong economy, effective national defence, and a first world parliamentary system.

I say this from the depths of my heart, and I believe this proposition is just as beneficial to the PAP.