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."