The trigger came from a statement released by 16 Singaporean ex-detainees – who were variously detained under the ISA from the 1960s to 1980s – on 19th September, welcoming Mr Razak’s announcement and calling on the Singapore Government to consider abolishing the ISA. The Government predictably responded with a statement justifying the Act and making it clear in no uncertain terms that the legislation would not be reviewed.
The ex-detainees have now responded with a call for the Government to set up a Commission of Inquiry, to look into their longstanding allegations that their confessions – in most cases the only piece of evidence justifying their detention under the ISA – had been coerced under torture as well as their professions of being innocent of the charges against them.
This is a reasonable request. First, the allegations made by the ex-detainees are serious ones, which appear to imply that security agencies had wilfully distorted the facts to fit their accusations against the ex-detainees through psychological and physical pressure. This would be illegal, not to mention immoral, by any count, and must be investigated, all the more so since the Government has so far not refuted the allegations.
Second, the Government has failed to shake off suspicions that many of the arrests under the ISA prior to the 1990s were politically motivated, despite its furious denials in the past. No less a luminary than the present Deputy Prime Minister and Finance and Manpower Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was cited by the media in 2001 as questioning whether a prominent group of activists detained in 1987 was really out to subvert the system. (Source: “The scripting of a national history: Singapore and its past” by Lysa Hong.)
A more transparent approach, through the Commission of Inquiry, may help to address such concerns.
Finally, there are signs that the political climate is shifting. The Worker’s Party, whose manifesto calls for the abolition of the ISA, won the largest bloc of seats by an opposition party since independence in the May 2011 General Election; Mr Tan Jee Say, a presidential-hopeful who openly questioned the ISA in the debates during the Presidential Elections in August 2011, garnered a quarter of the votes.
This seems to suggest that a large segment of the electorate is more ready to question the ISA and is in favour of the Government showing stronger respect for individual liberties. The Government’s argument that the ISA is indispensible has not been convincing so far – most countries, and probably Malaysia in the near future, have gotten on fine without such an Act, and in any case terror-prevention is a function more of effective intelligence than excessively draconian legislation – but if it wants to forestall further pressure it should make the effort to investigate the charges that the ISA has been abused.
Moreover, the aftermath of the General Election, which saw the departure of two of the previous Home Ministers – Prof S Jayakumar and Mr Wong Kan Seng – under whom a lot of detention orders were signed as well as the ex-Prime Ministers whom those Ministers reported to, offers the Government a fresh slate to start on. It should consider taking full advantage of that.
Below is the latest statement released on 28 September 2011 by 16 former ISA detainees in response to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement on 23 September 2011:
Calling for Commission of Inquiry
The Ministry of Home Affairs’ statement of 23 September 2011 contains the usual rhetoric, inundated with Cold War parlance such as “Communist United Front activities” and “Marxist plot”. Its intent is clearly to justify the act of arbitrary arrest under the ISA and instil fear in the people.
The statement fails to address the most important concern of the 16 of us, which is indefinite detention without trial. None of us was brought to trial before a court of law. Our imprisonment was solely based on the statements of ISD officers and statements extracted from us while we were subjected to torture, cold room treatment, deprivation of sleep and the threat of indefinite detention.
Article 9 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Singapore is a signatory declares: “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.”
We reiterate that the ISA is a draconian law that allows the ruling party to arrest and imprison without trial anyone it deems a threat to its power. Its impact on Singapore over the past half a century has been both crippling and pernicious.
We call upon the Government of Singapore to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate if the allegations made against us as well as all former ISA detainees are justified. More so when recent publications, memoirs and panel discussions by historians and ex-ISA detainees have given accounts different from the official narrative on the events of those years. We urge the government to have the moral and political courage to set up such a commission in the interest of truth and transparency.
Dated this 28th day of September 2011.
Dr Lim Hock Siew
Dr Poh Soo Kai
Lee Tee Tong
Loh Miaw Gong
Chng Min Oh @ Chuang Men-Hu
Tan Sin alias Tan Seng Hin
Toh Ching Kee
Koh Kay Yew
Vincent Cheng Kim Chuan
Teo Soh Lung
Yap Hon Ngian
Tan Tee Seng
Low Yit Leng
Wong Souk Yee
Tang Fong Har