Commemorating the 7th anniversary of the death of Dr Lim Hock Siew, one of Singapore’s leading opposition leaders back in the early 60, Function 8 posted on their Facebook page a short essay by ex-political prisoner Teo Soh Lung.
In their post, Function 8 described Dr Lim as ‘much feared by Lee Kuan Yew’. He was an ‘effective effective organiser, writer and eloquent orator, his skills combined with his intellect easily matched that of Lee’.
As he strenuously opposed the merger of Singapore with Malaya back in the day, Dr Lim was arrested and detained under ISA during Operation Coldstore on 2 February 1963 along with more than 133 opposition leaders, trade unionists, professionals, educators, and student leaders.
Dr Lim was released only in 1982 at the age of 61 – his party Barisan Sosialis having collapsed already in that time. Decades after his release in 2009, Dr Lim called for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the arrests made under Operation Coldstore. In 2011, he and 15 other former ISA detainees who were arrested between 1950 and 1987 issued a joint statement calling for the setting up of a commission of inquiry and the abolition of the ISA.
Unfortunately, Dr Lim passed away on 4 June 2012 at the age of 81. A memorial booklet was published a month after his death. In it was an essay by Teo Soh Lung who was herself arrested under ISA during Operation Spectrum back in 1987.
In her essay, Ms Teo says she never fully understood the saying “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” until she learned about Dr Lim’s imprisonment without trial. She shared that before the event commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Marxist conspiracy that led to her arrest in 1987, Dr Lim has sent her a message encouraging that she press for a public inquiry on detainees and the abolishment of the ISA.
Even as he was ill at the time, he was still pushing forward and fighting for the cause.
Ms Teo said, “I am very sure that if Dr Lim’s health had permitted, he would have joined us at Hong Lim that day. The abolition of the ISA had always been central to Dr Lim’s political philosophy.”
She continued, “The ruthless use of the ISA by the people in power took away 20 prime years of his life and left his wife, Dr Beatrice Chen, to raise their young son of five months all by herself. We cannot imagine how much emotional and mental anguish he and his family endured during those years.”
She goes on to urge that “we can and should appreciate Dr Lim’s unfailing concern for all Singaporeans” when he called for ISA to be abolished and for an inquiry into ISA cases.
She then quoted something Dr Lim said at a talk in the ‘Changing World Series’ organised by Function 8 years ago. Replying to a question on whether PAP leaders would use the ISA today, Dr Lim had said “My assessment is that they are going to use the ISA as a reserve weapon to safeguard the PAP’s interests. … I hope it will not be used but I think it will be their reserve weapon.”
Ms Teo stressed that it would be ‘foolish’ to not heed the words of someone who has suffered 20 long years in prison under the ISA, and “whose integrity, courage and principle led him to reject an offer of release that came with conditions which would have justified his detention.”.
In fact, Dr Lim even issued a public statement through his wife on 18 March 1972 which was “critical of the PAP regime and its ruthless use of the ISA.” This, says Ms Teo, led to an extension of his imprisonment for another 10 years – all without trial.
Ms Teo adds, “The sentence imposed by a cabinet of PAP ministers, is almost twice the length of a life sentence! What did Dr Lim do to deserve such a sentence by ministers and not by judges?”
Dr Lim’s ‘crime’ was the opposition of the British’s plan to merge Singapore with Malaysia. While the PAP did merge with Singapore with Malaya, Singapore was ejected from the federation merely two years later.
“So what wrong did Dr Lim commit?” questions Ms Teoh.
“He had been proven right to fight against a merger where the terms were disadvantageous to Singapore and Singaporeans,” she continues.
Ms Teo, in her essay, argues that ‘any democratic government would have had the decency’ to released Dr Lim and other leaders, convene an inquiry, apologise, and offer compensation for what they’ve done to him. But that’s not what happened, of course.
Ms Teoh cautioned that it would be ‘foolish’ for anyone to think that they wouldn’t be arrested under ISA simply because they’ve done nothing wrong.
“I used to think that as long as I was doing everything in the open and in accordance with the law, I would never be arrested under the ISA. I said that to the late Mr Tan Jing Quee just about a week before I was hauled up before the Parliamentary Select Committee on the Amendment to the Legal Profession Act in 1986 which marked the beginning of the persecution of the Law Society of Singapore.”
“Jing Quee’s response was short and swift. He said, “We also did nothing wrong but we were arrested.” Jing Quee was detained twice for a total of four years and I was subsequently detained for more than two years,” said Ms Teo.
She laments in her essay that the lust to gain and retain power has caused ‘many good leaders to degenerate into tyrants and dictators’ who have caused ‘untold misery to the people they were supposed to care for’.
Ms Teo notes that Dr Lim was a ‘gentle but firm leader with a vision’ whose contributions to the country’s political development into a more humane, just and peaceful society were cut short.
“They [the PAP government] have deprived us for twenty years of a good and caring doctor who often treated patients without charge, even giving money to those who could not afford to pay for their transport home,” she wrotes.
“Farewell, Dr Lim, I’m sure you have sojourned to a happier world that you so deserve, but your words and deeds will always remain in our hearts.”
Today marks 7 years since Singapore lost the strong leadership of Dr Lim Hock Siew. A memorial gathering will be held on 3 July 2019. Refer to Function 8 Facebook page for details.