Former Solicitor-General, Francis Seow dies at the age of 88

Screenshot of Francis Seow in an interview by Martyn See.

Former Solicitor-General, Law Society president and ISA detainee, Francis Seow has died at the age of 88.

The news of Mr Seow passing was first announced by Dr Chee Soon Juan, Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) on his Facebook page. He wrote, “I always enjoyed his wit when we met. He also wrote the Foreword to my book, The Power of Courage. My deepest condolences to the Seow family.”

It has been verified with family members of Mr Seow that he has died in Boston, USA, where he had been living in exile.

Seow’s life as a political dissent has been harsh and his eventual exile from Singapore was the ultimate price for voicing against the administration.

Seow had joined the Singapore Legal Service in 1956 and rose through the ranks to become the Solicitor-General in 1969, a position he held until 1971. During his career, he was appointed senior counsel to a Commission of Inquiry in the Secondary IV examination boycott by Chinese students in 1963 prior to Singapore’s entry into Malaysia. For his work, Seow was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal. He eventually left the public service and entered into private law practice in 1972.

Seow was later suspended from law practice for 12 months by Wee Chong Jin, Singapore’s first Chief Justice, for breaching an undertaking given on behalf of his junior law partner to the Attorney-General, Tan Boon Teik, while in private practice. Nonetheless, he was later elected as a member of the Council of the Law Society in 1976 and eventually became its President in 1986.

In May 1986, Seow as the then-president of Law Society issued a press statement criticising the government’s amendment to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act (NPPA).

In response to this, Singapore leaders accused Seow of using the Law society as a political vehicle.

Three months later, in August, the government announced that it would tighten the legislation governing the law society, forcing Seow to step down as president from the implemented changes passed under the Legal Profession (Amendment) Act. The government also deprived the Law Society to comment on any legislation unless asked by the government under Section 38 (1).

Straits Times newspaper dated 21 May 1986

Just before the election in 1988, Seow was also detained under the Internal Security Act for 72 days, when he was accused of having received funds from the United States to promote democracy in Singapore.

He alleged that he was subjected to torture during his detention. According to his accounts, he was imprisoned in a small windowless cell, for his entire period of detention with only a raised concrete platform topped with a wooden plank for a bed. During his interrogations, he was forced to remain standing, on one occasion, for sixteen hours.

election_1988  Seow was released just before the General Election 1988 where he joined Workers’ Party to form a team to contest Eunos GRC against the People’s Action Party. The WP team garnered 49.1 per cent of the vote despite the negative publicity surrounding him.

Straits Times - 19 August 1988
Straits Times – 19 August 1988

During the election, Seow was further charged for tax evasion. Later, while awaiting trial for alleged tax evasion, he left for the United States for health treatment and disregarded numerous court summons to return to stand trial.

Subsequently, he was convicted in absentia. While living in exile, Seow spoke at events organised by Singaporean student societies in universities outside of Singapore.

On 16 October 2007, Amnesty International issued a public statement mentioning Seow as one of two prominent Singaporean lawyers who were penalised for exercising their right to express their opinions. Amnesty International called him a “prisoner of conscience.”

video conf
Forum by SDP in 2011

On 8 October 2011, Mr Seow publicly addressed a forum by SDP via teleconferencing. The event was later investigated by the police for any violation of laws.

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