Singapore and Guantanamo

by Teo Soh Lung

The whole world knows about prisoners in Guantanamo. Few however know about a high security prison in Singapore where prisoners suffer the same fate as those in Guantanamo. They are detained indefinitely without trial with many tortured and unknown.

According to Wikipedia there were 779 prisoners in Guantanamo since 2002 (the year it was established). Nearly 200 were released since mid 2004. President Obama promised to close down the prison but failed to do so before he left the presidency. Today there remain 41 prisoners. Several prisoners who were released and returned home have successfully sued their governments for having to undergo inhumane treatment in Guantanamo. A few committed suicide in Guantanamo.

Singapore’s Guantanamo was established in 1948 when the British empowered themselves by enacting the Emergency Regulations soon after World War 2. Interestingly, while enacting such laws in all her colonies, Britain removed similar laws which they enacted just before the war broke out. The government was sued by several detainees during the war and though their causes were lost, it probably resulted in the repeal of those laws shortly before the war ended.

The Emergency Regulations contain draconian powers for the government which inevitably led to abuse. The acting colonial secretary Andrew Gilmour boasted of several thousand houses being searched and people dragged to the police station and thrown into prison. We do not know how many were incarcerated during those days which people (most of them do not speak English) called the days of “white terror”.

The Emergency Regulations morphed into the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO) under the Marshall government (1955). This law contained some safeguards. The appeal tribunal which consists of three judges was empowered to order the release of prisoners without the interference of the government.

But in 1959 when the PAP came into power, it swiftly removed the power of the judges. The appeal tribunal was removed and replaced by a toothless board which exists to this day. The brilliant prime minister Lee Kuan Yew ensured that judges will lend credibility to the board. He appointed one high court judge to the board. The colonial office minutes had this interesting note when the amendment bill was read in the legislative assembly:

“So apparently when anyone is picked up under the Ordinance now he is like a prisoner in the Bastille and so far as I can see nobody, not even the Internal Security Council, can get him out again unless the Singapore government chooses.” (If you would like the details, read “The 1960 Operation Coldstore in Singapore, Commemorating 50 Years” edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa.)

The PPSO morphed into the Internal Security Act (ISA) when Singapore joined Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963. When Singapore was ejected from Malaysia, the PAP enacted even more drastic amendments to the ISA. Judges are now dismissed from adjudicating on arrests under the ISA. There is no judicial review in ISA cases. So anyone who believes and brags about Singapore abiding by the Rule of Law is just kidding himself. There is no rule of law in Singapore. This is the reality. And the sooner we get out of this dreamland, the better it is for our country. If we have the rule of law, we wouldn’t have prisoners like Dr Chia Thye Poh and Dr Lim Hock Siew who spent 32 years and 20 years respectively in jail without trial.

While the United States reject detention without trial on her soil and have to use Cuba to cover up her nefarious activities, Singapore announces to the world that its Internal Security Act is the law that ensures national security and that the government believes in the rule of law. It is really a cruel joke.

No one knows how many people the government has imprisoned since 1959. We are told by Minister Teo Chee Hean that 2460 were detained for the period 1959 to 1990. The Ministry of Home Affairs issues occasional press releases advising on the number of people arrested or released. These numbers are unreliable. For example, a person who has been arrested and detained for 30 days are not included in the computation of ISA prisoners.

Singaporeans are trusting of their government and really don’t care about the number of people arrested or imprisoned under the ISA. They labour on the naïve belief that they will never be victims of this law. Those detained in 1987 too did not anticipate that they would be victims under this law. Many don’t even know that such a law exists!

And this is where I strongly recommend all of you to buy a copy of “1987 Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy, 30 Years On” which contains essays of survivors of the 1987 arrests as well as their families and friends. This book will be launched on Sunday, 21 May 2017 at The Projector. (You can register your attendance here.) 

So while you can hope that you will never be arrested under the ISA, I think it is wise to know and to be prepared for such an eventuality if you are a person who cares about yourself, your family and your fellow citizens!

While there are 41 prisoners in Guantanamo today, Singapore has according to the ministry, 17 prisoners. The table below is what I have tracked. I may be slightly off the mark though.Three of these prisoners have been in prison for 15 to 16 years. Like prisoners of the past who were called communists, pro communists, terrorists and Marxists, these 17 have also been called all sorts of names – lone wolves, ISIS, terrorists, JI etc.

It took the so called “Marxists” 30 years to publish “1987 Singapore’s Marxist Conspiracy”. Who knows if in another 30 years, those imprisoned after the bombing of the Twin Towers in September 2001 will write their books to deny the government’s allegations against them! After all, there was no trial and no one knows who they are and what they did.

So come to the book launch on Sunday, 21 May 2017. Read the book and challenge the editors and writers if you are not convinced of what is in the book.

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