An open letter to Mr Lee Kuan Yew
October 7, 2010, 12:42 am
Filed under: By Rachel Zeng, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore

Dear Mr Lee,

May I extend my most sincere condolence to you for the demise of your beloved wife Madam Kwa Geok Choo.

Despite disagreeing with your political tactics over the years, I can deeply empathise with how it feels to lose a loved one to mortality, especially when more than 60 years of love, companionship and good memories have transpired.

As you grieve over your unfortunate loss, do allow me to gently remind you that time is running out – for yourself and the surviving political detainees who were arrested and tortured without trial, reportedly under your instructions.

Some decades have passed by this nation. The younger generation and future generations to come might be brought up to believe in the unjust accusations slapped upon your political opponents from the Barisan Socialis, the trade unionists, and the detainees of 1987 and more. Undoubtedly there will also be a handful of them like my colleagues in activism and myself, who will question the use and abuse of the Internal Security Act on these politicians, trade unionists, journalists, lawyers, artists and social workers. What these men and women went through were considered unjust because they were never given the opportunity of a fair trial. They were reportedly tortured and forced to confess on national television, the validity of the accusations they faced, without the existence of visible evidences.

One questions the fairness of such a procedure for how can an individual be a guilty criminal without going through the process of being proven to be so? You should know better as you are legally trained.

Thus before it becomes too late for you, I implore you to give them the right to speak, the right to a fair trial and the right to clear their names for I believe that like anyone else with a sense of humanity, you would also like to leave this world with a clear heart and conscience, as well as a better name.

Time is running out Mr Lee, do give it a thought. Perhaps by your willingness to give these former detainees a peace of mind to live the rest of their lives with a proper closure to their detention as well as to post-humously clear the names of Lim Chin Siong and many others, will you be able to leave this world with a lesser amount of hate upon your name, by those who are clearly aware of what had happened before.

Help us re-write our history with the truth never known before instead of letting it remain possibly partially false with unproven accusations, especially against the political detainees of 1963 and 1987. You do owe them a fair voice.

Thank you for reading my thoughts and once again, please accept my most sincere condolence for the demise of your beloved wife.

Yours sincerely,

Rachel Zeng


47 Comments so far
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Outstanding letter. Well done Rachel

Comment by Paul

Thank you Paul… πŸ™‚

Comment by rachelabsinthe

[…] lies one whose name was writ in water – Trapper’s Swamp: The $64,000 Question – Rachel Zeng: An open letter to Mr Lee Kuan Yew – The Temasek Review: Community Clubs offered free meals and transport for residents to attend Mrs […]

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Now let’s wait and see if the old devil
has what it takes to respond, one way or
the other.

I bet that he’s now so totally lost to
not know the time or the day.

Comment by Manda_la

What kind of person are you to take delight in someone’s most tragic loss of his wife? At least the author had the decency to begin with condolences for his loss. I truly question who is the devil in this matter.

Comment by Jenson

My delight can in no way be equal to the old devil’s when he kicked Lim Chin Siong (for the umpteenth time) while delivering his wife’s eulogy. If he shows so little regard for his own tragic loss, why are you showing so much. It’s such a waste you know.
And, since he isn’t sufficiently decent not to speak evil of others during such a solemn occasion, why must I, or even you, be so overly decent to him?
Remember, regard begets regard. Decency too!
You still need/want to question who the devil is? I hope you are not foolish enough to draw his term “daft” to yourself.

Comment by Manda_la

Dear Ms Rachel Zeng

Why are u focused on the past and not the present? What is your position on the ISA detention of the JI members. Do u kind that Mas Selamat should be set free? Do u believe the government that Mas Selamat was arrested because he wants to hijack an SIA plane and crash it? Do u believe the PAP when they say that JI members is plotting to blow up the MRT or embassies in Singapore? Are u willing to arrest them only after their bombing?
WHy not demand the freedom of the present ISA detainess then a apology fm LKY.
In 20 to 30 years, Mas Selamat will look like a harmless old man and the threat of Muslim radicalism may have receded. The youth 20 to 30 years later(like u now) will have no memories of the fear that we have now and not understand the need for ISA detention.

Comment by sg lee

Dear sg lee,

I think you have totally missed the point of my letter.

1. Whether guilty or otherwise, anyone who is arrested for anything at all must be given a trial.
2. Nobody should be tortured during detention, no matter who they are and what their crime may be.

I am asking LKY to give these accused a FAIR TRIAL which were denied to them at their time of detention. Detention without trial, then being accused, tortured and forced to ‘confess’ on TV is a violation to the basic human/ legal rights of a person IMO.

No one should be treated like they were being treated. I hope you understand my point better now. πŸ™‚

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Was Mas Selamat put on trial? Should Mr Selamat be treated like that?
Why comment only on an abstract principle about a FAIR TRIAL? Ask for the release of Mas Selamat and other detainees of JI. Ask your party to support your position.

Comment by sg lee

First of all, while I have friends and associates from various opposition parties, I am not a member of any political party.

Secondly, nobody arrested under the Internal Security Act has been put on trial as far as I know, not even Mas Selamat and other accused terrorists.

My biggest issue here is with the ISA, and the way former detainees were tortured while in detention in 1963 and 1987 affects me emotionally because I believe that no one should be treated in this manner and it also applies to alleged terrorists. To date, I am not aware of whether the JI detainees have been tortured but because I have heard terrible accounts of torture from some of the ’87 detainees, read books by Said Zahari and Lim Chin Siong to know how they have been treated, learned about Chia Thye Poh’s unjust 32 years of detention without trial, I am compelled to address mainly on the proposal of giving these former political detainees a fair trial either to prove legally that they are who they were being accused of, or to have their names cleared.

If I know that Mas Selamat and the rest of the JI detainees have been tortured, I will definitely campaign against that. But honestly, how can anyone be detained without being given a trial? Why do we just believe in the accusations of the state and let all of these detainees former and current to be detained without letting them hearing their voice too?

Maybe you totally agree that this is fair but I do not and so be it. It is your very right to have your own opinions, same goes for me.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

I fully support you in this, Rachel. Congratulations on a well thought out and measured approach.

Comment by Vincent Wijeysingha

Thanks for the encouraging words Vincent! πŸ™‚

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Kudos to you Rachel!

I hate to say this, but this must be said…

You’ve got more balls than 99% of Sinkie males, even if most of them even went thru combat vocation in NS.

Comment by The Blur Sotong

Thank you!

Hehe just take it that this letter was written by someone who is concerned about a particular issue here in Singapore yea… men or women, the ‘bravery’ or ‘courage’ or the drive to speak out, should all be considered equal so long as they know about the issues. πŸ™‚

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Is it really a letter that you mailed to him? Or a political statement you want to get publicity for?

Comment by Wai Leong

It will be mailed. I do not care about publicity and am not doing this for fame but with the hope that at this moment of grief, he will at least think about what is said on the letter.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Dear Rachel,
I think your letter to MM Lee was not all sincere. You just wanted to have your say about his politics. Have done any research on whether the detainees were tortured. The ISA has been used to protect the nation. Just SEE what Singapore has become!! This is attributed to leadership of one Great Man. Sometimes tough things had to be done down the line as it was necessary. Without the ISA and our great team of security personel Singapore would have been infested with the likes of Communalists, Communists, Racialists, Religious bigots and the like of Mas Selemat. Please keep your perspectives and NOT become like the idiots from Amnesty International and other so called Human rights organisations which tend to have a cock-eyed view of what is right and what is wrong.

Comment by Philip James Puspalm

Dear Phillip,

It does not matter to me if you cannot find sincerity in this letter because I know that I am and that is enough.

I know some of the former detainees personally. I read their books, spoke to some of them and heard their stories. Perhaps you should research upon how the ISA was used and how the detainees were punched, kicked, tortured in freezing cold rooms with cold water splashed on them.

Books have been written, check them out.

No one should be accused and charged without being given a trial. That does not make sense at all legally, even if we do not go into the area of human rights.

You won’t be calling Human rights organisations cock-eyed if you actually know the former detainees personally and have heard of their stories through their sharing and their books.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Means you were doing it for the publicity first and foremost; mailing him a letter is an afterthought.

Comment by Wai Leong

Erm I am sorry?

When I write letters to anyone, I want them to receive and read it. But of course you do not know me personally, so it is easy for you to assume anything.

Doing this just as a ‘publicity stunt’ is simply not worth it. There is more meaning in each and every action I do, including letter writing.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Hey Rachel, I have great respect for your views and also your willingness and courage to speak out. It is not easy to stick by certain opinions in Singapore, and your commitment to your convictions is a great example for us all.

Like you, I also feel like there should be more openness and transparency in Singapore, for us to become a true democratic society. I also disagree with detention without trial, and also would like to see the stories of previous political detainees given the attention they deserve, and seeing their names cleared.

However, I do find the timing of this open letter to be a little inappropriate. I personally feel like it’s in bad taste to seize upon an event such as the death of his wife of 63 years to press home a political point, no matter how valid it is. No matter who he is and what we think of him and his politics, it is now a time of deep personal grief for Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and I feel that we should be able to respect that.

I agree that the issues you raised in the letter are important ones that need to be brought into the public sphere, yet it seems harsh and more than a little insensitive to make use of the passing of his wife as an occasion to send an open letter to press home a political point.

I just thought I would write this comment because I did react quite strongly to this open letter, and the context of it. I know that if I had lost a precious member of my family, it would be extremely hurtful to receive a letter than starts with “I am sorry for your loss” and then goes on to criticise my work and professional life and urge me to correct these wrongs before I too kick the bucket and cannot die in peace.

Just thought I would share these thoughts. πŸ™‚

– kirsten

P.S. I have “debated” with Wai Leong on my blog before. He accuses everyone of publicity-mongering, and makes arguments that goes round and round.

Comment by Kirsten

Hey Kirsten,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I do appreciate it! πŸ™‚

This letter was actually written a few days ago but I decided to release after the funeral was over.

This is both a condolence letter as well as a letter to gently implore Mr Lee to reflect upon the past with regards to the former detainees, as he reflects upon his life with his wife who had helped him in many ways throughout his political career so in my opinion the timing is not too inappropriate.

However I do see your perspective, and I thought about it before and had toned down my language from the first draft although the points remain the same.

There really isn’t much criticism intended here but more of my attempt to persuade him to think about giving the former detainees a better closure to their unjust detention. Perhaps it is because of my frank nature that I have not been sensitive enough or soft enough with my words but all over the world, many people do write letters of appeals to politicians and leaders during their moments of being more human than usual.

So yea, that is why I think this is the appropriate moment but I will leave it debateable as well because I am not always right and I know it.

So this is why I am not a politician! πŸ˜‰


Comment by rachelabsinthe

It’s like the opening of a door, you can get in when it is open, not otherwise.

But him being him, I see the doorway wrapped in razor wire.

Whatever, thoughtful article, Rachel. Nothing wrong with timing too.

Comment by Manda_la

Harsh? Perhaps you should try asking Chia Thye Poh. DT

Comment by David Teo

I totally agree with Kirsten’s comment.
The timing and tone of the letter is pretty bad. It’s good that you drafted and edited your letter but it is not gentle in its tone.

It’s as if you are being opportunistic rather than genuinely caring. I do understand that your care for those detained, but he just suffered an inconsolable loss. Perhaps you could have separated your condolence and your perspectives on the detainees? You could send out more than one letter. That is not a difficult thing to do right?

Comment by Wen You Thng

Thanks for sharing your views but I was not being opportunistic. All I had on my mind was the former detainees, apart from empathising with his loss.

Indeed he has lost someone important in his life. The former detainees had lost years and decades of time being with their loved ones during their detention. Imagine knowing that someone is alive and not being able to touch him/ her. Dr Chee Soon Chuan had also written LKY an open letter touching on that. You can check it out too.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

No respect! You have nothing better to do. If you do not like Singapore or how things are being run there, just pack your bag and leave.

Comment by A.S.H

Respect is to be earned and I do have many things to do, I am doing them now.

Singapore is my home and I strive to play a part in making it a better home by speaking up. Thank you for your suggestion though but packing up and leaving forever is not my plan in life.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Typical PAPaya! It’s either Not happy get out of sg OR Get down on your bended knees and thank him for what he has done OR Come up with constructive criticisms.

Bread must be eaten fresh.

Comment by Manda_la

Hi Rachel
The issues you have raised are no different from mine. Truth has to be told. There’s been too much name-calling and character assassination propagated by the mainstream media.
ISA HAS BEEN misused !
It’s been used to help preserve the power of the ruling party; not so much for the security of the nation although, on the face of it, it is meant to be.
Well done !

Comment by ONG T H

hi rachel,
although i don’t really agree with you politically. ( but let us not go there )
unlike the rubbish i read from the TP this was classy. i guess this class differentiates from the TP who are nothing but a hateful bunch. i also like the fact that you didn’t delve into ‘let’s rejoyce that she has died, and really that pissed me off’
anyhow, class act.

Comment by atleast

Hi there, disagreements are fine with me because it means that there is a diversity of opinions. πŸ™‚

I am not one who rejoices in death, because I have lost people I love to mortality and I totally understand how it feels like.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

[…] Almost a state funeral, but not quite – Trapper’s Swamp: The $64,000 Question – Rachel Zeng: An open letter to Mr Lee Kuan Yew – The Temasek Review: Community Clubs offered free meals and transport for residents to attend Mrs […]

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Dear Rachel, a very well written letter. More importantly I admire your gumption to address this to LKY. I live and work overseas now and have been contemplating of being a quitter (migrating with the family). Thank you for making me proud again to be a true blue Singaporean. cheers, TBS

Comment by TBS

Dear TBS, thank you for your encouraging words. πŸ™‚

I have lived and worked overseas before so I totally understand the great temptation to pack up and leave this place. However I can’t do that… there is just so much to do here.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

To those who say this letter was inappropriately timed: what better time to remind a person the same grief he causes others? If Mr Lee at this moment cannot empathise with the suffering of those crushed on his road to ascendancy, then there is no hope for salvation.

Comment by K

Same sentiments here… πŸ™‚

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Ms.Rachel Zeng probably summarize the current political conventional wisdom of MM Lee Kuan Yew during the Hay Days of the PAP and its Chief Honcho First Premier Lee Kuan-Yew.For those of us of the 1960’s generation we saw and heard a different Lee Kuan Yew he was a progressive leader with an Agenda for Social Equality and Justice for one and all.He was in a sense a Robin Hood of Sri Temasek,one for all and all for one leh !Alas some of us became Expatriates to Foreign Lands elsewhere from Singapore after the and before the Break-Up of Merger with Malaysia,so we can’t really attest to LKY politics from 1965 onwards having disappeared from the scenario,we were less fortunate to be borned afterwards and have benefits of a new modern Singapore!Of course we must criticise the Leadership for its wrongs inflicted on the Opponents of the PAP and LKY in particular !We must be detached ,dispassionate and objective about the early founding of Singapore since independence !

Gerald Heng Sr.unintended Quitter from Singapore since the talak divorce from Malaysia___ of Boston,MA,USA.

Comment by Gerald Heng Sr.

Dear Gerald, thanks for sharing this with us.

Opposition in tribe, village, community and country is and should be respected/ accepted as a natural act of a human mind. One elite/ leader can’t please everyone and he/she is never perfect because no one is. In order to improve the social health or a community, society or country, the elites or leaders must take opposition and feedback into considerations instead of dumbing down the whole nation with no free press, fear mongering and authoritarian rule.

We complain behind closed doors, about the rising cost of living, ERP and many other bread and butter issues. These complaints behind closed doors in itself is a form of opposition. Some people just chooses to bring it beyond the privacy and comfort of their homes.

And this is what I am doing right now… not an easy journey but yes we must criticise when we see something that ought to be criticised. There is totally nothing wrong with that.

Comment by rachelabsinthe

Dear Rachel,

You are a Breath of Fresh Air after so many years of drumming down and out of the Opposition! Believe it or not you are much like Madam Kwa Geok-Choo although as the Chief Honcho’s wife she can only be seen in ceremonials but not heard ! She was worth as much as Saudara Lee Kuan-Yew,equaLLY INTELLIGENT if not more so born and bred at a time when it wasn’t fashionable nor appropriate for women to be smart and intelligent! Dr.Lee Wei-Ling is in someways like her MaMa ! The Opposition must continue to have your Blessings and Opinions for the Community of People must hear all sides ! It seems we need a Thomas Paine of the Rights of Man in Singapore of this current age!SAY IT DAMN IT, ITS YOUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH leh !

Gerald Heng Sr. of Boston,MA,USA an unintended Quitter since Merger Busted Up !

Comment by Gerald Heng Sr.

Dear Gerald, I am only doing my humble part as a citizen of Singapore… you have flattered me. πŸ™‚ Once again, I thank you for your encouragement!

Comment by rachelabsinthe

As Brutus the Honorable Roman has said ” My friends the Fate of Nations lie not in our Stars but on us as men/women ! ” or their character thereof ! You have Character !!!! Character is Destiny,it did wonders to a Lee Kuan Yew of the 1950’s !Very likely you weren’t born yet !

Quitter Gerald Heng Sr.

Comment by Gerald Heng Sr.

Like Manda_la says, let us wait and see what he has to say after the period of grieving.

Comment by KoMo Tan

Human rights being the least of concern by the political party in the early formation of the country can be forgiven due to threats of unrest and for the sake of stability of parliament. right now it’s about time to loosen the grip on the people, let opinions be free and do what a government should do, protect the people. I support your cause, but i fear for your safety. MM LKY might be too old to accept insights on new ways the run the country. lets begin with the new generations.

Comment by Tommy

Season’s Greetings ! Blessings of Life, Liberty, Joy and Prosperity to all the good people of Singapore and the Foreign talents who go into the Community therein !There is really Much in Little Singapore ! Land Space and Mass these days don’t mean much,the Media Internet Global World has made the Mind and the Global Ideas and Ideals much more appropriate to market growth and progress ! Soon I am sure too much of damning down Opposition Ideas will only be counter-productive,see all the great inventions and creative ideas came from a vested interest in Democratic Institutions such as Free Speech, Freedom of Associations and a Free Marketplace of Ideas in freedom of debated and discussions with a mutuality of respect for each other for how else do we know ideas are stupid or foolhardy if we don’t allow opportunities to air those ideas ?This is Christmas Tyme and don’t we know the World’s Great Religion like Christianity has only arisen of a Rebellion of a Rebellious Rabbi of Judaism like Jesus Christ who wasn’t Holy in the Eyes of Judaism !and note a Rebellion in China brought forth the New People’s Republic of China that today is the Second Most Powerful Economy on earth in just 50 years !And Singapore was a Rebel State of Merger with malaysia and booted out in 1965 and yet today its a First Rate Economic Nation that has beaten Malaysia to no where in Economics ! So I think Opposition Politics has a chance and a role to play in Moving the Country along ! Merry Christmas and happy New Year 2011 ! Gong Xi Sin Nien Chien Chin, Fu Fu Kwai Kwai !

Gerald Heng Sr.
Boston,MA. USA
an unwitting Quitter.

Comment by Gerald Heng Sr

MM Lee Kuan Yew the Grand Father of Singapore is at it again criticising the Singpaore Malay Muslims for not intergrating and because its so near to General Election Time he has done an about turn apology! Any minority be it in Malaysia or USA or Canada will find it difficult to integrate if they aren’t wealthy enough to do so at the desired levels of MM Lee.Of course we must accept that MM Lee has always been a mega-man personality since his ascendancy from day 1 of the 1959 General Election and he hasn’t piped down as the saying goes! A strong media opinion in fact during the Break-Up of Merger from Malaysia,the whispering campaign at Whitehall and the the Tengku first PM of Malaysia was that he should be given Singapore all to himself, as he would be unsettling at best to the Alliance Party Partners in Malaysia due to his mega-watts personality and politics!Poor Thing he had his tearful momento of anguish after that talak divorce on Merger Break-up! He and Singapore are the unintended Quitter of Merger ! Booted or Routed Out !
Gerald Heng Sr
Metrowest Boston,MA.USA.

Comment by Gerald Heng Sr.

[…] An open letter to Mr Lee Kuan Yew […]

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