Three years ago, I was involved in organising an event commemorating the 22nd anniversary of Operation Spectrum with fellow activists which took place at Speakers’ Corner. Although it was a weekday evening, we had a good crowd of about a hundred. We put out a statement against detention without trial and the Internal Security Act, read a letter from Francis Seow, read a poem from the book That We May Dream Again, sang It’s Blowing in the Wind and we threw our fists into the air shouting “Abolish ISA!”. At that point of time, what happened in 1987 was not well known to many of our peers. Singaporeans in general, did not seem interested at all to find out what the Internal Security Act was all about too. I remember having to explain to some of my friends what the ISA was all about and what the former detainees had gone through but all they could ask were “Are you sure?” I thought that was pretty sad.
Fast forward to this year, more people have shown interest in finding out what happened in 1987 which motivated them to attend the event That We May Dream Again jointly organised by Function 8 and Muruah on Saturday at Speakers’ Corner. It was heartening to see the crowd of about 400 (perhaps a little more than that) filled with both familiar and non-familiar faces. Without a doubt, plainclothes police were among the crowd (they should work on improving their acting skills), but nothing they did (including taking closed up shots of me, which was plain rude) could intimidate us. I should have smiled for that camera though but I glared at the photographer, whose camera was merely a few centimetres away from my face. When that happened, I was inside the mock-up of the tiny one-bed cell, taking care of the exhibits, imagining how it must have been like for the detainees to be locked up in one (the actual size is equated to the size of a queen size bed). I wasn’t the only one to notice their presence, their DSLR, camera phones and ear piece, but I do hope that they went back learning something that our history textbooks have failed to inform us about.
Sadness engulfed me when I first stepped into the mock-up of the one-bed cell, so much so that tears were springing into my eyes. Beside me, Suan Tze, one of the former detainees was telling me that the actual cell had a smaller window and ventilation holes on the ceiling. It was too much for me, I had to step out. One thought came to my mind – “They were treated worse than animals in captive”. That was depressing.
For the rest of the day, I went in and out of the room, just to make sure that the exhibits were in place. Everytime I went in, questions began to fill my mind… I began to have a greater respect for the former detainees who I already have a high amount of respect for. It must have taken a lot of courage and strength for them to be able to survive the ordeal and to come public about what had happened. I am glad that they are not keeping their silence because the public should know about what they had gone through under ISA – the arrest, torture and ill-treatment, and being forced to confess to something they did not plan to commit.
Detention without trial is an act that goes against the very principle of law. Its continued existence and practise insults the existence of a legal system that generally proclaims that one is innocent unless proven guilty (perhaps debateable in local context?). How can any country accuse any individual of committing a crime without giving them a right to trial?
Singapore did… in the 50s, 60s and 80s… til now. The injustice caused by detention without trial disgusts me. Shouldn’t it be abolished already?
In my opinion, no one should be detained without trial and no one should expect the former detainees to “move on” and forget about what had happened to them. Being arrested in the wee hours of the day, put into tiny cells, ill-treated and tortured into confession without being given a fair trial, is not something one can move on from.
It is time for a commission of inquiry (a truly independent one), it is time to abolish the ISA. It is also time to let the exiles come home in safety.
From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank the former detainees for coming public with their stories. It has been an honour being part of the event!
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