Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My ISA Nicer Than Your ISA

Can over indulgence in moon cakes turn one loony? That thought came to mind when perusing commentator Eugene Tan's thesis that, on subject of the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA), there isn't the mistrust and fear of abuse by the government in Singapore vis-à-vis the Malaysian situation. Compare that to the consensus view of a group of 16 former detainees that safeguards which prevent its abuse are spurious. Since they missed out on quite a number of Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節) dinners during their extended incarcerations, abstinence from the pastry must have contributed to clearer logic.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) went further to declare that "no person has ever been detained only for their political beliefs", implying that political adversaries usually have other human foibles that require a spell in the cooler to repent of their sins. Aljunied voters, take note, the bar has been raised. Don't be forgetful and leave the cigarette butt on the bench - NEA officers are waiting to physically pounce on you and wrestle you to the ground for the infraction.

To set the record straight on political weightage, a short primer on the ISA may be useful:

In the 1950s the Internal Security Act was enacted by the British to deal with the threat of a protracted communist insurgency after World War II ended. The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army (MNLA), the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party, from 1948 to 1960.

In 1960, the Emergency officially ended, but the Singapore government decided to keep the Act even after the insurgency was over. The expression "beat swords into ploughshares" is not a Singapore invention, and the guys in charge always liked to keep their powder dry.

In 1962, the blunt ISA instrument was unleashed to detain over 165 suspected "communist members and sympathizers" under “Operation Coldstore”, including Lim Chin Siong, the charismatic leader of the opposition Barisan Sosialist whose oratory was praised in "The Singapore Story" by Lee Kuan Yew:
"...a ringing voice that flowed beautifully in his native Hokkien. The girls adored him, especially those in the trade unions. Once he got going after a cold start at the first two meetings, there was tremendous applause every time he spoke. By the end of the campaign, Lim Chin Siong was seen as a charismatic figure and a person to be reckoned with in Singapore politics and, what was of more immediate concern, within the PAP."

Also arrested was Barisan Sosialist MP Chia Thye Poh, who was incarcerated without trial for 23 years (29 Oct 1966 - 17 May 1989), the longest-serving political prisoner in the world after Nelson Mandela (27 years in prison). Even union leaders like brothers Dominic and James Puthucheary were not spared.

In 1987, “Operation Spectrum” saw 22 young social activists and professionals detained without trial for allegedly being members of a “Marxist conspiracy”. Lee Kuan Yew would later tell an anxious Roman Catholic Archbishop Gregory Yong and others at a private Istana meeting with a straight face that they were in fact "do-gooders". This was before "I stand corrected" became fashionable.

In 1988, former solicitor general Francis Seow was detained for making himself "a willing party to acts of interference in Singapore's internal affairs". Learning of the development at a wedding dinner attended by Jayakumar and Devan Nair, Dr Toh Chin Chye's reaction was "I have lost my appetite."

In 1991 then Brigadier-General (Res) Lee Hsien Loong told Nanyang Siang Pau, a Malaysian daily, and Lianhe Zaobao, “Communism may be dead, but it is not the only threat. We must still deal with other groups, like religious extremists. So, it is still better for us to retain the Act.” After all, the label "venomous religions" is equally transferable to Buddhism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Sikhism, etc

Reacting to Malaysia's enlightenment, MHA was quick to highlight that the Singapore variant of ISA is nicer, only 30 days in custody, compared to 60 across the Causeway. And, since 1991, the President has the power to veto the detention order. That's right, the President Tan with the white hair, not the maverick one. As for the farce of the ISA Advisory board, let the former detainees have the final words on the subject,
"In 1987, appearance before the board lasted no more than a few minutes each. Furthermore, detainees were discouraged from appearing before the board by ISD officers. Many were advised that appearing before the board would jeopardise their chances of early release."


  1. Sad Singaporean9/20/2011 12:08 PM

    Eugene Tan is pathetic.

  2. By the way how can any religion be venomous if their teachings have never preached people to kill or harm others ? It's only people with a vindictive and crazy mindset without the least decency not to cause harm to other people that can only be classified as venomous.

    And our leader of great substance wouldn't and shouldn't have acted in such a venomous manner anyway. To do so should be called a venomous hypocrite.

    I think I have used sensible English, it doesn
    t matter whether it is British or American.

  3. Am very disappointed with this country. When can we progress to be more mature, transparent, open and humane as a country ? I hope i will see it before i die.

  4. Just having access to ISA without the need to use it is sufficient to keep the population cowed and perpetuate PAP rule.

  5. This whole ISA thing is such a debacle. The responses from our Ministry are not only let down, but an international joke. To call yourself a first world country yet retain all the draconian third world rules, just so they can feel safe to govern and rule over you -- is just pathetic. See how afraid or insecure they are in their earned respect and right to rule from the people. Not only is our neighbors Malaysia more democratic than us, even Hong Kong exchange said they are more democratic than us to reject duo listing of ManU IPO. Goes to show they will bend the rule as and when it's to their advantage. Not to mention 1 set of rule to their ex-civil servant who violated the Official secret acts and being protected with his privacy. 1 rule for the elite another for the poor. You think ah kow will have such privilege?

  6. Don't waste yr breadth. They already won the GE & PE. Don't owe you anymore. They will wait and drag until closer to 2016. Then like a desperate najib throw those repeals in. They have nothing to lose by sticking their ground digging a bigger holes for themselves.

    Laughed so hard when i saw their ad for youth "Be the change!"
    Elephant can't change themselves and want to call the young ones to lead...yawn lah!

  7. Sinkies deserve the leaders they chose in the elections.

  8. Detention without trial is bad regardless how what name is given to it and has no place in a progressive society. What is the point of having glossy malls and spanking office blocks when the population is living in a police state. The rule of law must be upheld. Human rights is not a dirty word.

  9. /// Alan Wong said...
    By the way how can any religion be venomous if their teachings have never preached people to kill or harm others? ///

    Alan - try these for size:

    " the Bible also contains the horrific account of what can only be described as a "biblical holocaust". For, in order to keep the chosen people apart from and unaffected by the alien beliefs and practices of indigenous or neighbouring peoples, when God commanded his chosen people to conquer the Promised Land, he placed city after city 'under the ban" -which meant that every man, woman and child was to be slaughtered at the point of the sword."

    " The extent of extermination is described in the scriptural passage Deut 20:16-18 which orders the Israelites to "not leave alive anything that breathes… completely destroy them …"

    " Thus we read in the Book of Numbers that the Jews "waged the campaign against Midian, as Yahweh had ordered Moses, and they put every male to death... the sons of Israel took the Midianite women captive with their young children, and plundered all their cattle, all their flocks and all their goods. They set fire to the towns where they lived and all their encampments... Then, when they took the captives, spoil and booty to Moses..., Moses was enraged.... 'why have you spared the life of all the women...? So kill all the male children. Kill also all the women who have slept with a man. Spare the lives only of the young girls who have not slept with a man, and take them for yourselves".Num 31:7-19.

    Similarly in the Book of Deuteronomy, when the Jews attacked Sihon's Amorite kingdom, "Yahweh our God delivered him over to us... We captured all his cities and laid whole towns under ban, men, women and children; we spared nothing but the livestock which we took as our spoil".Deut 2:33-35

    Likewise in the Transjordanian kingdom of Og, king of Bashan: "We captured all his towns at that time... Sixty towns... We laid them under ban... - the whole town, men, women and children, under the ban".Deut 3:4-7."

  10. The, if you don't know the Christian religion, I beseech you to shut up. Quoting from a few chapters in the Old Testament does not make you an expert nor does it entitle you to cast blasphemeous aspersions.

  11. ISA and OSA are Draconian Laws
    said some.

    Me says they are Radical Laws
    subject to any interpretations
    of the Authority. They are similar
    to religious extremism which
    liken everything a sin when
    differences arise.