“1987 Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy, 30 Years On” to be launched on 21 May

Below is an extract from former detainee under the Internal Security Act (ISA), Chew Kheng Chuan’s essay in Function 8’s new publication, “1987 Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy, 30 Years On”.

“You know what they say ISD now stands for?” DSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police) SK Tan of the ISD remarked to me on April 19, 1988, not without some amusement, “Instant Statutory Declaration!”

I was arrested under the ISA the first time on June 20, 1987. After one month of being held, I was served a one-year detention order. However, in September 1987, after 3 months of detention, I was released—my detention order was suspended and I was served a restriction order—restricting my speech, movement, and my right to join any organisation. I could only travel abroad or participate in any organisation with the expressed permission of the Internal Security Department (ISD).

On April 18, 1988 we released the “Statement of Ex-Detainees of Operation Spectrum” to the foreign press in Singapore. On a slightly-mischievous nod to the failings of the local press—all seemingly un-independent mouthpieces of the government—the release to them was delayed until after they worriedly pleaded to receive their copies of the press statement.

The reaction of the government was swift. Eight of the signatories of the Statement—a statement essentially declaring their innocence of any intended subversion—were immediately re-arrested. The ninth signatory, our friend Tang Fong Har was not re-arrested only because she was out of the country at that time. And she has since, grievously—gone into political self-exile from that time and has not been able to return to Singapore in 30 years.

The other ex-detainees who did not sign the statement for fear precisely of this consequence of re-arrest—were all rounded up by the ISD for questioning.

Thus it was that I found myself back at the ISD Headquarters at Phoenix Park, rather than back again at Whitley Road Detention Centre, facing an intense barrage of questioning by DD(O) [Deputy Director Operations] Sim Poh Heng and his ISD officers.

One of many other accounts detailed in the book, “1987 Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy, 30 Years On”. It will be launch on Sunday, 21 May 2017 at 4.30 pm at The Projector.

On 21 May 1987. 16 people were arrested and detained without trial under ISA in an operation, entitled “Operation Spectrum” for their alleged involvement in “a Marxist conspiracy to subvert the existing social and political system in Singapore, using communist united front tactics, with a view to establishing a Marxist state.”

On 20 June 1987, six more people were arrested, bringing the total number of detainees to 22.

The government alleged that the mastermind behind the alleged Marxist plot was Tan Wah Piow, a former University of Singapore Students’ Union president who had been in exile in London since 1976. His “key man” in Singapore was Vincent Cheng, a full-time Catholic Church worker in the Justice and Peace Commission.

Both have denied the allegations made against them by the government.

On 18 April 1988, nine detainees who were released just a few months earlier, issued a joint statement to deny they were subversives. The next day on 19 April 1988, they were re-arrested, along with Mr Patrick Seong, a lawyer for one of the detainees.

A few weeks later, a lawyer for the detainees, Mr Francis Seow who spoke up against their rearrests in conferences abroad, was also arrested at the Whitley Road Centre where he had intended to interview Patrick Seong and Teo Soh Lung, one of the nine detainees who have been re-arrested.

Till today, none of the detainees arrested under Operation Spectrum was charged or tried in open court and the government still stand by its claims.