by Tan Wah Piow
I was born in Singapore in 1951, and had therefore acquired the right of rights as a citizen of Singapore – my birthright. This right, which was sacrosanct, is no more the case under the People’s Action Party (PAP).
As a true blue Singaporean, I participated, probably too zealously, in the struggle for democratic rights. I therefore suffered the same fate as many of my compatriots. In the 1970s I was persecuted, framed-up, imprisoned, and exiled.
By 1987, in my 10th year in exile in the UK, my citizenship was revoked. The Notice to rob me of my birth right, euphemistically called ‘deprivation’, was issued on the 22 May 1987. This happened to be the day of the much discredited Operation Spectrum – when the government launched its arrests without trial of social activists.
I am therefore bemused to read the recent statement of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) concerning the deprivation of the citizenship of a criminal who had acquired his citizenship through registration in 2003 under the Family Ties Scheme. The person was convicted for involvement in an international soccer match-fixing syndicate. The justification for the deprivation was, in the words of the Ministry for Home Affairs, ‘The individual’s serious criminal conduct not only undermined the integrity of Singapore’s financial system, but also law and order.’
I too was deprived of my citizenship, but not for causing acts detrimental to the State! It was for not having set foot on Singapore “for a continuous period of 10 years” contrary to s135 (1) (c)(i) of the Singapore Constitution. This being-away-for-ten-year rule was Lee Kuan Yew’s bespoke piece of Constitutional Amendment targeted at Tan Wah Piow. This was stated by Francis Seow, the ex-Solicitor General in his book ‘To Catch a Tartar’.
Readers may now wonder why the legal threshold to deprive the citizenship of a registered citizen is so much higher than that used again me.
Would one of the opposition MPs raise this matter?
Mr Tan, a well-known student leader during his days in Singapore, has been living in London since 1976 as a political exile. Prior to his exile, he along with two of his friends, Ng Wah Leng and Yap Kim Hong were accused of being a member of an unlawful assembly, committing criminal trespass and the offence of rioting on or about 30 October 1974 at about 11 am at the office of the Singapore Pioneer Industries Employees’ Union (PIEU) and charged under Section 147 of the Penal Code.
The three accused were tried at the First District Court before Judge Mr T S Sinnathuray and finally convicted after a 47-day trial which started on the 10th December 1974.
During the trial, the prosecutors presented a case of how the three accused, together with five others invaded the PIEU office and rioted, causing damage to union property while the defence argued that the riot was a fabrication by Phey Yew Kok, the then General Secretary of PIEU with political reasons behind the frame-up. Phey is also the former NTUC secretary-general and People’s Action Party Member of Parliament then.
At the end of the trial, the court found the three accused guilty of their charges, sentencing Tan to a year’s imprisonment, while the other two were both sentenced to a month’s imprisonment.
Mr Tan and the other two defendants had maintained their innocence throughout the whole trial, on the basis that the entire riot was staged by trade union officials at the instigation of Phey and that none of three were present at the alleged riot.
Phey was convicted of embezzlement of trade union funds and fabrication of evidence after being on the run for over 30 years aboard.
In a letter to the Attorney General’s Chambers, Tan wrote that Phey’s conviction is of direct relevance to the 1974 ‘Riot’ case because his criminality dated back to 1973 before he and his PIEU staff testified against Tan and the other two in court. He highlighted Presiding Judge Jennifer Marie’s remarks on Phey during his sentencing: “The facts reveal that Phey, like a serial criminal, systematically and with deliberation over a period of six years, perpetrated these offences. He had no qualms in trying to evade detection and had the temerity to instigate his staff to fabricate false evidence.”
He went on to point how this revelation impinges on the credibility of Phey as a prosecution witness in the 1974 trial. Tan wrote, “This is because the trial judge, TS Sinnathuray, arrived at a guilty verdict based on the evidence of someone we now know to be a crook and a thief, and who had the capacity to exert his criminal influence over his staff.”
He noted that if Judge TS Sinnathuray was aware of Phey’s propensity to influence trade union staff to pursue his criminal enterprise, the weight that the judge would put on the veracity of the prosecution evidence must be very different.
“Likewise, the outcome of the verdict would have inevitably been different.” wrote Tan.
Tan added in his letter, “If the fact that Phey Yew Kok was plundering the trade union coffers since 1973 was known to the judge at the time of the trial in 1974, it would be reasonable to suggest that any judge looking at the matter fairly and reasonably would have found the defence credible to Phey’s criminal enterprise.”
AGC received the letter from Tan on 29 January and replied saying that Phey’s conviction had nothing to do with Tan’s case in 1974. When Tan pressed further, they ignored his letter.
Despite Phey was away for 30 years as a fugitive, living in Thailand, Phey continued to hold his Singapore citizenship. Under the law which deprieved Tan of his citizenship, Phey should have also had his citizenship revoked.