Bertha Henson is latest to join the list of notable Singaporeans who have cast doubts on the 1987 arrests of 22 social workers whom the Government described as “Marxist conspirators”.
Ms Henson was a former associate editor with the Straits Times, and was involved in the coverage of the arrests in May 1987, at a time when she was a rookie reporter.
The Government had accused those arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) as “subversives” who were out to topple the government.
In a blog post on Monday, Ms Henson revealed how it was “a terrible period when journalists twiddled their thumbs because an editorial decision had been made to simply run material from the Internal Security Department in full.”
“There was to be, in journalistic parlance, no value-added reporting,” she said.
“We were not to ask questions of anyone nor can we do what we usually do with verbose reports – write it journalistically,” she explained. “I was too low in the hierarchy – and much too green – to give vent to my views. We did what editors, who presumably were better-informed than we were, told us to do – which was nothing.”
As for her own views of the arrests themselves, she said:
“Truth to tell, I have never found the ISD’s reasons for the arrests convincing. What Marxism? What liberation theology? The detainees seemed to be a bunch of people who wanted to do good… Were their actions really subversive? If so, plenty of groups today should be locked up by the ISD for doing more or less what the “conspirators’’ did.”
Ms Henson’s revelation is significant given that her former editor-in-chief at the Straits Times, Cheong Yip Seng, had entirely omitted any mention of the 1987 episode in his 2012 “tell-all” book, “OB Markers”.
Also, Ms Henson’s former colleague, Chua Mui Hoong, the current Opinion Editor at the newspaper, had said in her 2012 book that “circumstances surrounding the arrest of the so-called ‘Marxist conspirators’ and the aftermath are another instance of public policy which calls out for further study.”
But the editors of the Straits Times are not the only ones who have raised doubts about the arrests through the years.
Here is a list of eight notable Singaporeans whose words or actions have cast a question mark over the Government’s claims that the detainees were “Marxists” and that they were part of a conspiracy to topple the Government.