Obituary for Mr Lim Hock Koon, who passed away at the age of 86 on 11 May 2021.
Mr Lim was the leader of the students who presented a petition to the Governor of Singapore at the Istana on 13 May 1954 to seek exemption from national service for male students between the ages of 18 and 20.
He is also the younger brother of Dr Lim Hock Siew, a Singapore politician, medical doctor and second-longest-serving political prisoner after Chia Thye Poh.
Mr Lim was cremated here in Singapore and had his ashes scattered into the sea.
The event that spark off Singapore’s independence
On May 13, 1954, eight student representatives from the Chinese Middle Schools were scheduled to present a petition to the Governor of Singapore at the Istana, seeking exemption from national service for male students between the ages of 18 and 20.
They were supported by nearly a thousand students who lined the pavement from Clemenceau Avenue to the Istana. That peaceful assembly was violently disrupted by riot police who were armed with ropes, batons, shields and rifles. Many students were injured and 48 were subsequently arrested and charged for obstructing the police and refusing to disperse when ordered to do so.
More student protests and sit-ins following the incident forced the Chinese Chamber of Commerce to mediate between the students and the colonial government. After a record 22 days’ camp-in, the colonial government finally allowed deferment of national service.
It was the action of the students that inspired the people to unite and demand civil and political rights for Singaporeans. Two weeks after the May 13, 1954 Incident, the students at the University of Malaya, who published a newsletter called Fajar, were targeted by the colonial police. The editorial board of the publication was charged for sedition over an editorial entitled “Aggression in Asia”.
Eminent Queen’s Counsel, D N Pritt came to Singapore to defend the students. He was assisted by Lee Kuan Yew. The acquittal of the students without their defence being called raised the profile of Lee who shortly after, formed the People’s Action Party with the support of the students and workers.
The series of industrial actions, protests and demands for civil and political rights finally compelled the British to grant independence to Singapore.