MARUAH commemorates 25th anniversary of ISA arrests under alleged Marxist conspiracy

On 2nd June 2012, MARUAH will join several other organisations in commemorating the 25th anniversary of the arrest of 24 persons during Operation Spectrum under the Internal Security Act (ISA), for an alleged Marxist conspiracy.

The ISA allows detention without trial (for potentially indefinite periods). Prior to the 1987 arrests, the ISA was also used in 1963 (Operation Cold Store) and 1970s. Chia Thye Poh was detained for 23 years under the ISA, from 1966 to 1989. [Note: Mr Chia was placed under house arrest in Sentosa from 1989 to 1998] More recently, the ISA has been used to detain Jemaah Islamiyah alleged terrorists from 2001 onwards. None of the ISA detainees have ever been tried or convicted in a court of law.

Between 1987 and 1988 the following were detained under Operation Spectrum which has also come to be known as the Marxist Conspiracy.

  1. Vincent Cheng Kim Chuan,
  2. Teo Soh Lung,
  3. Kevin de Souza,
  4. Wong Souk Yee,
  5. Tang Lay Lee,
  6. Ng Bee Leng,
  7. Jenny Chin Lai Ching,
  8. Kenneth Tsang Chi Seng,
  9. Chung Lai Mei,
  10. Mah Lee Lin,
  11. Low Yit Leng,
  12. Tan Tee Seng,
  13. Teresa Lim Li Kok,
  14. Chia Boon Tai,
  15. Tay Hong Seng
  16. William Yap Hon Ngian
  17. Tang Fong Har,
  18. Chng Suan Tze,
  19. Chew Kheng Chuan,
  20. Ronnie Ng Soon Hiang,
  21. Fan Wan Peng,
  22. Nur Effendi Sahid
  23. Francis Seow
  24. Patrick Seong

This was the timeline of what happened

May 1987 : Sixteen persons are arrested under the ISA. Government says detainees are involved in a Marxist conspiracy.
Jun 1987 : Lee Kuan Yew meets Archbishop Yong and Catholic leaders. Four of the original 16 detainees are released. Six more people are arrested.
Sep 1987 : Teo and six others are freed.
Dec 1987 : All detainees freed except for Cheng.
Apr 1988 : Nine detainees issue statement denying involvement in Marxist plot and alleging ill-treatment while under detention. Eight are re-arrested. Teo files writ of habeas corpus.
Jun 1988 : Four more detainees freed. Teo, Tsang, Wong and Kevin de Souza are issued with one-year detention orders. They begin habeas corpus proceedings.
Aug 1988 : Teo’s habeas corpus dismissed. She files appeal to Court of Appeal.
Sep 1988 : Appeal is heard.
Dec 1988 : Court of Appeal orders four detainees released but are re-arrested immediately.
Feb 1989 : Two more detainees freed.
Mar 1989 : New writ of habeas corpus hearing on Teo’s re-detention. Three other detainees withdraw their writs and are released.
Apr 1989 : Teo’s habeas corpus application is dismissed. She appeals.
Jun 1989 : Detention orders for Teo and Cheng extended for one year. Cheng files writ of habeas corpus.
Feb 1990 : Cheng’s application is dismissed.
Apr 1990 : Teo’s appeal is dismissed.
Jun 1990 : Teo and Cheng are released.

The detainees were accused of being Marxists or followers of such an ideology that could pose a security threat to the country.

What is Marxism?

“the political, economic, and social principles and policies advocated by Marx; especially : a theory and practice of socialism including the labor theory of value, dialectical materialism, the class struggle, and dictatorship of the proletariat until the establishment of a classless society”

“The fundamental ideology ofcommunism, it holds that all people are entitled to enjoy the fruits of their labour but are prevented from doing so in a capitalist economic system, which divides society into two classes: nonowning workers and nonworking owners. Marx called the resulting situation “alienation,” and he said that when the workers repossessed the fruits of their labour, alienation would be overcome and class divisions would cease.”

To date, the Government has never clearly detailed the ideology being followed by the alleged Marxist conspirators , or the specific acts that had genuinely threatened national security. Even if they had subscribed to some form of Marxism, MARUAH contends that the use of the ISA would still not have been justified, because the ISA is meant to address conduct and not just political beliefs. An open and transparent hearing on or inquiry into their activities, such as a criminal trial in open court, would have been a more appropriate response by the Government.

MARUAH notes that many of the accounts that have since emerged suggests that most, if not all, of the detainees had merely been activists who had cared for the well-being of society and had been deeply involved in aiding marginalized communities. They had raised awareness, conducted case advocacy and questioned the adequacy of legal protection for vulnerable workers. There is no public evidence, other than their confessions (the voluntariness of which has been cast into doubt), to suggest anything more sinister.

This incident, known as Operation Spectrum, continues to cast a long shadow of Singapore politics and civil society. 22 activists and their two lawyers were detained under the ISA and were then pronounced as a security threat and as Marxists. Yet, the uncomfortable question of whether it was a fair process, remains unresolved and continues to be the elephant in the room of Singapore’s political history.

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of this case, MARUAH calls for this open wound in our nation’s psyche to be considered, for the first time, in an open hearing, with a Commission of Inquiry to be established to transparently determine the facts in this case.

We also reiterate our call for a public review on whether the ISA can remain relevant in the current form when there are possibilties of effecting anti-terrorism laws to deal with security threats. We ask as we did in the submission made to the Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic Review ( UPR) reporting on Singapore that it would be better for us to amend the ISA to observe the following:-

  1. comply with international norms and best practices on preventive detention, including strict limitations on the maximum duration of detention.
  2. reinstate the courts’ power to review the Government’s detention decisions on substantive grounds
  3. ensure that the advisory bodies under the ISA be institutionally independent from the executive, and empowered to decide on substantive issues including whether the detainee in question does in fact pose the type of exceptional danger justifying preventive detention and whether there are any other satisfactory methods of dealing with the detainee besides detention without trial;
  4. make it mandatory to comply with the decisions of such independent advisories bodies
  5. comply with the requirements of due process and a fair trial to the maximum extent practicable, including allowing the detainee and his or her counsel to review evidence against him or her unless there is clear, objective evidence that doing so would materially compromise any person’s security or safety;
  6. extend the independent advisory bodies’ jurisdiction and powers to include overseeing the appropriate conditions of detention for each detainee, with the objective of ensuring that no detainee is put in fear of torture, or inhuman or degrading treatment, physical or psychological, of any kind.

The above recommendations can be found in MARUAH’s submission to the United Nations, when Singapore’s human rights was scrutinised under the Universal Periodic Review.

The ISA is a blunt approach to counter terrorism. Instead, a anti-terrorism approach should include the following (from UN factsheet (PDF) on Human Rights, Terrorism and Counter-terrorism)

  1. measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, including the lack of rule of law and violations of human rights, ethnic, national and religious discrimination, political exclusion, and socio-economic marginalization;
  2. foster the active participation and leadership of civil society;
  3. condemn human rights violations, prohibit them in national law, promptly investigate and prosecute them, and prevent them;
  4. give due attention to the rights of victims of human rights violations, for instance through restitution and compensation

Arbitrary detention is a serious violation of human rights. Arrests under the ISA go against core values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which contains specific articles (Article 9 & 10) relating to arbitrary detention.

Article 9.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.
Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

So join us at Speakers’ Corner this Saturday [2nd June 2012, 4pm] to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the ISA arrests under the alleged Marxist conspiracy. There will be an exhibition, booths, and sharing sessions by ex-detainees and civil society representatives. More details at the event website.

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