Written by Tan Wah Piow
Dr Gopalan Raman, a senior lawyer and patriot, passed away peacefully on 8 December 2020, aged 82.
To many in the Singapore legal profession, he was “Mr Reliable”. He won the Singapore Law Society 2014 CC Tan Award for honesty, fair play, gentlemanliness and personal integrity.
The citation read out by Mr Thio Shen Yi, SC described Dr G Raman as a senior lawyer known for his forthrightness and candor who “has no qualms in articulating his views, regardless of the identity of the other party”.
I am privilege to have befriended G Raman the lawyer since 1974. Over the years G Raman was a friend and comrade.
It took a brave man to say, “Wah Piow, whatever you want me to help, just let me know.” This was despite having already paid a high price for his politics.
Raman gallantly came to the aid of USSU in 1974 when David Marshall mysteriously tendered his resignation as the honorary legal adviser to the students’ union the moment the government launched the crackdown on the student movement in 1974.
G Raman acted as the pro-bono defence lawyer for one of the workers in the frame-up case. He was in court for 47-working days during the infamous 1974 trial presided by Judge Sinnathuray.
In his autobiography, G Raman described the trial as “a major landmark in Singapore’s legal history. It is a blot that cannot be erased”.
Singapore needs more G Ramans who would speak truth to power. But political honestly and candour landed G Raman in the dungeon of horror.
”But being a Hindu and a believer in the law of karma I told myself that there must be a reason why I had to be detained. My activities did not pose any threat to the government. If I had antagonised the government in any way at all, it was because I represented some political dissidents.
“These dissidents were true patriots of the country and their activities were for the benefit of the country. If there had been any subversive elements among the clients I had represented, I would not have wanted to act for them.
“’Subversive’ in the true sense of the word being of the party in power. There were no such persons whom I acted for. My detention was completely uncalled for, unlawful and a deliberate act of brutality. Even at this late stage in my life, I feel outraged when I think about it.”
One issue which troubled G Raman deeply for many years after his release was his ’confessions’ which were manufactured by the ISD alleging that he and Dr Poh Soo Kai were linked to a ’Changi bomber’ case. G Raman had vehemently and unequivocally withdrawn the ’confession’ he made under duress.
In his book published in 2018, he shared his anguish over unfair criticisms against him for succumbing to ISD tortures.
”I was drilled in what the process and procedure would be. After the initial orientation I had producers from Radio and Television Singapura calling at the prison and interviewing me and rehearsing what was expected of me. Questions were put to me and I had to answer in the manner that my questioners (who were fed by my interrogators) framed the answers.
“The gist of it was that I accepted that I had promoted the activities of the Communist United Front by writing critical articles about the PAP government, taking part in activities of the University of Singapore Students’ Union as the Legal Adviser, abusing my position as a lawyer and trying to subvert the national security of Singapore.
“There could not have been a more dangerous man than me in the manner in which I had to present myself.
“I did all this because through the fortnightly interviews with my wife I had some idea of the angst and anguish my family was undergoing.
“My wife had no one else to turn to except myself. She had a sister who was eight years younger than her and an elder brother who was five years older than her but with his own personal problems.
“I had touched on the difficult situation my sister and brother were in. Why make them suffer for what I had done or for what I had been alleged to have done? Should I swallow the bitter pill and trade my dignity and my honour for the safety and well-being of my family members?
“There are people outside who have never gone through this kind of suffering or will not understand the turmoil within one’s own mind when faced with such drastic options. Yet they will never hesitate to condemn people like me as cowards and traitors.
“No doubt I have been cowardly in accepting the terms imposed on me but traitor, no.”
The injustice of the detention remains unacknowledged, and generally unknown to the majority Singaporeans despite the publication of his autobiography ‘A Quest for Freedom’ in 2018.
Hopefully a future government would apologise to G Raman’s family for the illegal year-long detention without trial, the physical and psychological tortures which took place during the period, and the humiliation he suffered for participating in a staged ’television confession’ under duress.
It may be a long wait for that to happen.
However, it is entirely feasible for the opposition members of parliament in Singapore to raise the issues of Dr G Raman illegal tortures and detention without trial which were mentioned in his book.
This is one modest way for Singaporeans to confront injustices, historical and current. It is also a way to honour this fighter so that he may truly rest in peace.