Press conference held by Function 8 for the 60th Annivesary of Operation Coldstore and the demand for the PAP Government to abolish ISA, apologize to former political detainees and compensate them over their detention.

We, the undersigned former political prisoners, affirm and support Dr Poh Soo Kai’s statement below. We ask for an apology from the People’s Action Party (PAP) government and reparation, whether symbolic or substantive, for physical and psychological mistreatment, and consequential deprivation of livelihood suffered by some of us during and after our imprisonment without trial under the Internal Security Act (ISA).

The ISA has to be abolished. It has been used by the PAP government repeatedly against those it feared would be threats to its power. The ISA has done tremendous damage to us, our families and the people of Singapore.

Statement by Dr Poh Soo Kai

Sixty years ago, on 2 February 1963, I was imprisoned without trial along with over a hundred others. I was then the Assistant General Secretary of the Barisan Sosialis.

I am now 91 years old and am one of about 50 survivors of Operation Coldstore alive today. In 1963, most of us were in our youthful twenties.

The PAP government has been relentless in using the ISA, arresting and imprisoning people without trial.

Those of us who refused to sign “confessions” were imprisoned indefinitely, some for almost two decades. Dr Chia Thye Poh, then an elected Member of Parliament, was arrested at age 25 and imprisoned for 23 years; for nine more years he was forced to live with severe restrictions – three years confined to Sentosa Island and six years within the limits of Singapore.

Today, I demand accountability for myself and all political prisoners, so that Singaporeans can understand the roots of our draconian political system. The PAP has been the only ruling party in Singapore since 1959. Its younger members may not be fully aware of how their party managed to defeat its political opponents and critics so thoroughly. It is time they know the party’s history.

On 19 September 2011, 16 ISA survivors signed a statement calling for the Singapore government to abolish the ISA when the Malaysian government announced that it would repeal their ISA.

The Ministry of Home Affairs responded that the signatories were involved in “subversive activities which posed a threat to national security” and that they were not detained for their political beliefs but were “actively involved in Communist United Front activities in support of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), which was committed to the violent overthrow of the constitutionally-elected governments in Singapore and Malaysia”.

I CATEGORICALLY REJECT such spurious and unsubstantiated allegations and fabricated charges. The PAP government has continued to repeat such lies for 60 years.

I CHALLENGE the PAP government to produce evidence to substantiate their allegations against me.

I STRONGLY MAINTAIN that I was arrested under Operation Coldstore because of my political beliefs, which were based on the anticolonial and proworking-class manifesto and constitution of the PAP when it was formed. I was one of its founding members.

Operation Coldstore was about Lee Kuan Yew, the compliant successor of the British colonialists, needing to keep his position as prime minister.

An account of the key political events in the 1960s will bear this out. The people of Singapore were anticolonial. They were against the Lim Yew Hock government for arresting innocent students and trade union leaders in 1956. I now know from de-classified archival documents that Lee Kuan Yew was secretly plotting those arrests with Lim Yew Hock to win over the British, who wanted to retain her military base in Singapore.

The PAP had a landslide victory in the 1959 general election. There was no political crisis or instability in the country in its initial years as government. Once in government, Lee collaborated with the British who pressed him to act against the left faction of the PAP led by Lim Chin Siong. Instability emerged within the PAP itself when Lee expelled his rival Ong Eng Guan. Ong defended and retained his seat convincingly as an independent in the Hong Lim by-election of April 1961. He had campaigned on the platform of keeping the PAP government true to its election pledges, including freeing prisoners held without trial by Lim Yew Hock.

From the Hong Lim by-election, the British realised with alarm that the PAP was no longer the force it was when it came into power in June 1959, and that the electorate had a mind of its own.

In July 1961, the PAP lost the Anson by-election in the face of the same demand to free those imprisoned without trial. When the seat of Sembawang became vacant not long after, Lee (having lost two by-elections) did not dare to face another by-election.

The British threw Lee Kuan Yew a “lifeline”, as they put it. They gave Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman the merger deal of a Malaysia which included British North Borneo and Sarawak and which put Singapore’s internal security in the Tunku’s hand. Lee relentlessly called the PAP left “communists” and expelled them when they refused to give him complete control to decide on the terms for merger. The expelled PAP left-wing formed the Barisan Sosialis which was then the strongest political force in Singapore. But Operation Coldstore totally decimated them.

Operation Coldstore was ordered by the British, Singapore and Federation of Malaya members of the Internal Security Council to overcome the challenge from the Barisan Sosialis. Nine out of the 16 Central Working Committee members led by Lim Chin Siong were arrested and imprisoned. Their imprisonment eliminated the Barisan’s top echelon from the September 1963 general election, giving the PAP a clear win. Despite that, the government almost immediately ordered another wave of arrests, including of another three members of the Barisan Central Working Committee who were successful in the general election.

Separation took place less than two years after merger, and the ISA continued to be the instrument used to suppress political activities which were constitutional but which the government labelled “subversive”, without needing to provide evidence. I remained in prison at the pleasure of the PAP government even when Barisan’s objections to the terms of merger were shown to be valid.

After 60 years, the PAP government should go beyond just repeating unsubstantiated allegations. It should provide evidence to support the justifications they gave for launching Operation Coldstore.

The 2011 Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement repeated the lies that Barisan Sosialis was ready to join forces with “groups resorting to violence and bloodshed as in the Brunei revolt” and that national defence and Singapore’s security were jeopardised.

Nothing can be further from the truth. What Barisan Sosialis did was no more than issue a statement of moral support for the Brunei revolt of December 1962. It was a statement of solidarity with all colonies rising to overthrow colonial rule. As the PAP government well knew, Barisan Sosialis did not possess or supply any weapon to the Brunei People’s Party led by A. M. Azahari who had won the election but was denied the right to govern Brunei.

The 2011 Ministry of Home Affairs statement also mentioned that one of the signatories had given medical aid to a CPM saboteur. While the person was not named officially, I believe it was a reference to me. I was arrested for a second time in June 1976. A month earlier, the Dutch Labour Party had tabled a memorandum to expel the PAP at the Socialist International meeting. My speeches highlighting the prolonged imprisonment without trial in Singapore were cited.

However, no mention was made of the Socialist International memorandum as reasons for my arrest. Instead, the government alleged that, in December 1974, I had given medicine for an injured bomber who had intended to assassinate the managing director of the Nanyang Shoe Factory. The person who came to my clinic made a televised “confession” that he had passed on medicines from me to his injured comrade. At the same time, the ISD said to me that their raid of my clinic showed that I had given him medication for his sore throat and that my records were in order. They were showing me that they were free to make false accusations and I was in no position to stop them.

Then in 1977, I was alleged to have also treated the other injured bomber hiding in Masai, Johor. My wife, a nurse was alleged to have accompanied me there.

This “Masai incident” was a total fabrication. I only found out about this alleged incident later. “Masai” was never mentioned in my prison interrogations. I have categorically denied and rebutted these allegations for the last ten years and more. I have done this in my speeches and writings, and whenever the authorities repeated the lie.

Operation Coldstore, carried out on 2 February 1963, was the start of the pernicious use of state power by the PAP government to imprison political opponents without trial and for as long as it chooses.

On this 60th Anniversary of Operation Coldstore,

The undersigned former ISA prisoners and I are putting on record that we demand:

  1. The immediate abolition of the ISA;
  2. An apology from the PAP government to rectify the grievous crimes it had committed against us; and
  3. Compensation for us, former political prisoners and the families of those who are deceased.

We ask this as a matter of right, as survivors of the most serious and baseless allegations which the PAP government has chosen to ignore.

Names of signatories
Name Date of Arrest
Mavis Puthucheary wife of James Joseph Puthucheary 1956, 1963 ^
Otto Fong son of Fong Swee Suan 1956, 1963
Ng Beng Tee 1956
Otto Fong son of Chan Lai Ying 1956
Tee Hong Seng 1957
Tan Kok Fang 1957, 1963
Roesman bin Mohd Said son of Said Zahari 1963
Liew Lai See wife of Hoe Cheok Wah 1963 #
Rose Tan wife of Tan Jing Quee 1963, 1977
Lee Soon Huat 1963
Wee Toon Lip 1963
Iqbal Ghouse son of Salahuddin Ghouse 1963
Chen Yutao wife of Kang Hoon Lim 1963
Haw Thar Heong 1963
Lee Tee Tong 1963
Michael Fernandez 1964, 1977
Lim Yew Beng 1964
Chiew Kam Chow 1965
Tan Muihua 1966
Chong Ming Kee 1966
Tan Gim Joo 1966
Fu Yang Yeow 1966
Lan Ah Lek 1966
Toh Ching Kee 1967
Liu Li Ying 1967
Tan Seng Lee 1969
Wee Bee Kwee 1970
Chng Min Oh @ Zhuang Ming Hu 1970
Tan Sin @ Tan Seng Hin 1970
Goh Peng Wah 1970
Kee Ai Tee wife of Tan Kim Sew 1970
Chwa Seh Kea 1970
Sim Teong Hiok 1970
Toh Siew Tin 1970
Ngoh Teck Nam 1974, 1977
Tan Suan Poh 1974
Tan Gim Seng 1974
Oh Soon Loo 1974
Ho Chin Huat 1975
Lee Wan Ning 1975
Ong Sooi Eng 1975
Oh Teng Aik 1976
Teng Ah Boo 1976
Tan Ping Wee 1976
Chew Thiam Pow 1976
Mok Kwong Yue 1977
Chua Chap Jee 1977
Koh Kay Yew 1977
Pang Thu Sing 1977
Lim Pai 1979
Ting Moi King 1980
Vincent Cheng Kim Chuan 1987
William Yap Hon Ngian 1987, 1988
Teo Soh Lung 1987, 1988
Tan Tee Seng 1987
Low Yit Leng 1987
Wong Souk Yee 1987, 1988
Chng Suan Tze 1987, 1988
Tang Fong Har 1987
Chew Kheng Chuan 1987, 1988


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