Speech on 2 June 2012
In Search of Justice – That We May Dream Again
Remembering the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy”
Good afternoon everyone.
Twenty-five years ago, while we were sleeping, 16 persons were dragged off under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and later were presented to the public as Marxists with clandestine communist connections.
Over the next few weeks in 1987 we saw images of those arrested in the media. We were told many times by the government and the media that these individuals were subversive and out to harm Singapore, a security threat. Hence the need for the ISA to contain this spread of Marxism, Communism, Socialism – it is still not that clear what really was the charge.
For the layperson, we saw a motley group of people who did not strike us as major plotters. What we saw was a bunch of committed people who were keen on helping migrant workers, as we call them today, and those earning low wages. They were doing case advocacy, gathering data and offering direct service to them.
How this kind of work was translated to Marxism or Communism still remains a mystery, for many of us. We have teased each other in friendship circles about being a Marxist as the term has been so liberally applied by the government that many among us too can be called Marxists – still – it is no laughing matter. Seriously. If those who were detained were Marxists then we must be clear, without a doubt, that it is so and assess the impact on our society, if any. Instead what we have grappled with then and now is this huge uncertainty. The cases against them have never been clearly linked to the ideologies of Marxism or Communism. So we just to believe the government – which is really asking too much of any population. None of us could draw any satisfaction from attending a court trial and judging for ourselves the involvement in these ‘clandestine’ activities.
In addition since their release we hear of abuse during incarceration. We have heard their “Piaks” and flinch at the sound of the slap as they recount what happened during interrogation.
We are troubled. Twenty-five years ago we were troubled. I found that I had no space of my own to talk about this issue. I was a teacher then and no one really wanted to talk about it. I missed acutely then my father who was too ill then for me to have a discourse with him. I escaped the powerlessness and helplessness when I fled to UK to further my studies. There in the first week during orientation I meet an Irish bloke on my course wh asked where I was from. When I said Singapore the dam broke and we talked late and long about Operation Spectrum and I heard about the ring of Catholics here and everywhere round the world who were praying for those who were detained. The administration of the Catholic Church at that time may have stepped back but individual Catholics were with them.
There are many brave souls around Operation Spectrum. But none more brave than the detainees/survivors themselves who ironically have also created the various spaces for us to talk about Operation Spectrum and the absolute power of the ISA. I say ironical as their space was taken away. Their voices were silenced. But when they came out many among them stood up to speak to give us space and voice. We are gathered today to look for our voices to support all those who were detained and who live in exile under Operation Spectrum. This is a national hurt from what I see as an open wound. It is time to close this wound. We ask all of us to lend our voices to asking for a Commission of Inquiry into the charges levelled at all those who are detained and the abuse they faced while being incarcerated.
This must never happen again. We need transparency and an open court system to deal with all forms of charges levelled against the people. That is precious and our right. It is also important that law enforcement officers have some space to do their checks and we need to find that balance to enjoy the security that is also vital. But the current form of the ISA is not the answer.
In SEARCH of Justice, folks, is crucial. It is the only way to reconciliation as with justice, can there be a pathway to forgiveness for all.