Thursday, December 30, 2010

A vanished earl and a murdered nanny, 36 years ago

A scandal involving a vanished earl and a murdered nanny took place in Belgravia, London in November 1974. 

Read all about it here.

I could have known about it then. However, I did not, until now, thirty-six years later. Just an interesting little fact of my life.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Josaphat, Christian Saint, was Buddha

Barlaam and Josaphat (Wikipedia article) is a Christianized version of the story of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. In the Middle Ages the two were treated as Christian saints, being entered in the Greek Orthodox calendar on August 26, and in the Roman Martyrology in the Western Church as "Barlaam and Josaphat" on the date of November 27.

An intriguing instance of how legends of Christian saints and martyrs arose, and how Buddhist tradition influenced Christianity.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Suppressing dissent in Singapore: Giant leap in school excellence, but people are still dumb

I am the product of the better sector of an overall mediocre school system in Singapore in the years 1962-73, in the "survival driven" phase of the system's history. 

This blog provides an insight into how Singapore's school system has evolved, since 1959, to become "world-class" as measured by student achievement today.

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) (2009), released in Dec 2010, provides yet another indication that our schools are doing very well indeed, ranking second, fourth, and fifth in mathematics, science, and reading respectively in a worldwide assessment. (A surprise for me: Shanghai tops all three rankings, in mathematics, science, and reading.)

However, I am not at all impressed by the quality of the young mind as educated by our "excellent" school system. Neither is the quality of the Singaporean mind, in general, other than mediocre. Why?

Free, open and honest political and social discourse is completely absent in the government controlled media, schools and universities, and society at large. This deliberate fostering of a docile populace is the core reason.

This leads me to a point I made in a previous post, to wit:

NUS (National University of Singapore) and NTU (Nanyang Technological University) are considered "world-class" universities (see THE World University Rankings 2010), and the Singapore school students achieve "world-class" results (for example). The Singaporean society is vastly better educated (by an educational system that excels in producing a capable workforce) now than in 1959 (when PAP gained power) or 1965 (at Independence).

Are Singaporeans still as "immature" and "stupid" as they were fifty-one years ago (when they voted the PAP into power)? When will they become wise?

For how long does the governing elite intend to arrogate to itself the right to suppress all dissent in the name of the ignorant and gullible masses?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Suppressing dissent in Singapore: Teo Soh Lung and the so-called "Marxist conspiracy"

An Open Wound

 By Andrew Loh -
Posted by theonlinecitizen on June 28, 2010  (source)

“Operation Spectrum (Wikipedia) is an open wound… a little black hole in history,” playwright Alfian Sa’at said in his introductory speech at The Legends Hotel at Fort Canning on Saturday. He was addressing more than 150 people in the audience which had turned up for the launch of the keenly-awaited book by ex-ISA detainee, Ms Teo Soh Lung.

“Operation Spectrum or the Marxist Conspiracy is one big lie,” said Mr Sa’at, unequivocally. He questioned why, if the “conspiracy” was true, the Internal Security Department is not “wearing it as a badge of honour”. Referring to the arrests and detention of the 24 people in 1987 and 1988, and the questions which have thus far remained unanswered, Mr Sa’at called for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the arrests. Otherwise, he said, “this government does not have moral legitimacy.”

“As a society I do not think we can move forward unless we come to terms with it,” he added.

The book, Beyond The Blue Gate (a reference to the colour of the gate at Whitley Detention Centre), is Ms Teo’s personal account of her ordeal under detention at the centre in 1987 and 1988. She, along with 23 others, was arrested by the Internal Security Department (ISD) and accused of “[acting] in a manner prejudicial to the security of Singapore… being involved in a Marxist conspiracy to subvert the existing social and political system in Singapore, using communist united front tactics, with a view to establishing a Marxist state.” She was also accused of “infiltrating” the Workers’ Party, then led by the late Mr JB Jeyaretnam, and for making use of the Law Society “as a political pressure group” to destabilize the government.

In Beyond The Blue Gate Ms Teo addresses these charges – which she and the other detainees were never given opportunities to address in open court – and gives readers insights into her life in the cell at the detention centre. The first part of the book is from her personal diary – notes which she made soon after her release on 26 September 1987.  The second section of the book, originally titled “Might is right”, was completed in 1991, a year after she was released from a second detention order.

“Immediately after my release on 1 June 1990,” she writes in the book, “I had applied to the Internal Security Department for permission to leave Singapore for a holiday in Australia.” Her request was rejected.

Unable to leave Singapore, she decided to devote her time to writing about her ordeal. “In a way, I was helped by the ISD,” she told the audience on Saturday. With a S$4,000 gift from her sister, she purchased a computer and learnt to use it. Her friends and family had meticulously kept records of her arrest – court documents, lawyers’ attendance notes, letters, notes kept by her siblings, news-cuttings, magazines, parliamentary debates, reports and articles.

“I spent several hours a day writing,” Ms Teo recounted to the audience how the beginnings of the book came about. “I wrote and wrote and wrote,” she said. “I kept the manuscript after completion and for many years, did not look at it. In 1999, I took it out but put it away because I could not bear to read it. It was only a year after my retirement in 2007 that I read the manuscript again.”

She then decided that she would have it published. “[I] owe it to my family, friends and lawyers who worked so hard for my release,” she says in Beyond The Blue Gate. “Furthermore, the young people are curious about Singapore’s past and they too would like to know about what happened in 1987 and 1988 which saw the arrest and imprisonment without trial of 24 people under the Internal Security Act and the exile of many others.”

At the book launch on Saturday, several former detainees were present as well. These included Mr Vincent Cheng, who was accused of being the ring-leader of the alleged conspiracy, Ms Wong Souk Yee, a playwright, and Mr William Yap, editor and translator. So too was Dr Lim Hock Siew [picture right, with Vincent Cheng], a founding member of the PAP and who was detained under the ISA by the government for almost 20 years, from 1963 to 1982, under the infamous Operation Coldstore (see here for more about Dr Lim).

Letters of support from those who were associated with the episode were also read out at the book launch. These included messages from Mr Francis Seow, who represented Ms Teo in 1987 and who was himself arrested and detained for 72 days under the ISA and who now is in exile in the States; Queens Counsel Anthony Lester, who was Ms Teo’s counsel after Mr Seow was detained; several of Ms Teo’s co-detainees at Whitley, including Ms Tang Fong Har, who is now in exile; and Ms Margaret John, from Amnesty International.

It has been 23 years since the “Marxist” arrests in 1987 and the “open wound” which Mr Sa’at referred to is felt most keenly and deeply by the former detainees. “Like rape victims, some still cannot speak of the episode,” Ms Teo told the audience on Saturday. “Today six of the 24 arrested have left Singapore.”

Ms Teo, who was 38 when she was arrested and detained, called for the ISA to be abolished, to applause from the audience.

“It is hard for me to link her to being a Marxist,” Mr Andrew Ong told The Online Citizen (TOC). Mr Ong was about nine years old when the arrests took place but he has known Ms Teo since 1996. That was when he sought her help when he ran into trouble as a teenager. “She is a simple person, down to earth,” he says. To him Beyond The Blue Gate is an important addition to the discourse in Singapore’s history.

Mr Loh Kah Seng, a historian , agrees. “Ms Teo’s book gives a perspective from the side of the detainees,” he says. It is thus a “useful addition”, which is also more accessible to the public. However, whether the book will resolve historical issues, as he put it, is “questionable”. We will still need access to state records, he says.

Perhaps resolving historical issues will happen one day, but for now it is necessary that former detainees be given a voice to tell their sides of events – events which have wider implications and consequences for our society. Indeed, the “Marxist Conspiracy” is one such instance where its effects were felt, for example, throughout civil society in Singapore for many years after that episode in 1987/88.

Beyond The Blue Gate is a riveting account of what takes place in the darker bellies, as it were, of Singapore’s penal system. It shows how unbridled power, when unleashed on ordinary citizens, have consequences which perhaps even its wielders may not fully realize. It also forces us to question our blind trust and faith in those in authority. Will they always do the right thing? And are we, ordinary citizens, complicit in the ordeal of those who are on the receiving end of such unbridled power – through our nonchalance and disinterest when such instances occur right in our midst?

“My case officer was really a kind and gentle Buddhist could not give me a satisfactory reply. All he could say was that the government had their way of doing things. Although I think they were wrong, they themselves thought it was right to detain me.

Sometimes we went on to discuss the question of conscience. He would say that the government was not an individual. They decide collectively and hence no minister would feel guilty about my incarceration. Only I, as an individual, had to suffer.

He reminded me that the Chinese character for ‘government’ has two mouths.”

- Teo Soh Lung, Beyond The Blue Gate -
Pictures courtesy of Function8

Beyond The Blue Gate (ISBN 978-981-08-8215-0) is available as follows:

a) Contact Rizal via cellphone: 91460944 or email:
b) Online purchase through Ethos Books Online
c) Bookstores: Kinokuniya (Takashimaya, Ngee Ann City), Select Books (Tanglin Shopping Centre)
d) At Pagesetters Services Pte Ltd, 65 Ubi Crescent, #06-04 Hola Centre, Singapore 408559

related blog post: here

Monday, December 6, 2010

Suppressing dissent in Singapore: Free to demonstrate in hotel ballrooms

During the appeal in the High Court on Dec 3, 2010, Dr Chee Soon Juan pointed out that it was ultra vires (beyond the power) of the Constitution for the PAP to ban all demonstrations and protests as Article 14 clearly guarantees citizens the right to freedom of speech and assembly.

Not true, Deputy Public Prosecutor NorAshikin Samdin rebutted, "They are free to do a demonstration in a hotel ballroom."
The Singapore government legal eagles in action: idiotic, moronic and farcical.

Read: Stage protests in ballrooms? Really?  and  The Online Citizen.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Suppressing dissent in Singapore: Jailing social workers (Operation Spectrum)

In 1987, even highlighting the plight of the poor in Singapore could land you, and did land twenty-two social workers and activists, in jail without trial. What a despicable act of a thoroughly despicable power elite.

Beyond the Blue Gate: Recollections of a political prisoner  is a new memoir by Teo Soh Lung, detained under Operation Spectrum in May 1987 for an alleged Marxist plot to overthrow the Singapore government by force. How mindless and gullible the government must have believed the people to be.

Read about the book launch here. Let's see if court proceedings against Teo, as against Alan Shadrake, to intimidate dissenters and suppress the truth, would ensue.

Book Reviews (source)

Lawyer Teo Soh Lung’s memoir of her 21 May 1987 arrest and framing by the Singapore authorities as part of the so-called ‘Marxist Conspiracy’ is a remarkable document. Not only does it show how a person of courage and integrity can speak truth to power, but it also illustrates how that power corrupts and destroys the souls of those who wield it unscrupulously. One day a Singaporean Truth and Reconciliation Commission will determine the truth of the PAP years. Until this happens, this memoir will serve as an essential benchmark.
                 -- Peter Carey, Fellow Emeritus, Trinity College, Oxford
                                                     and historian of Southeast Asia  

Teo Soh Lung’s book should be read by all people who are interested in democracy and the rule of law. Not only is it a poignant personal account of official ill treatment, but it is a brilliant testimony to the cruelty of authoritarianism, even, indeed especially -- when it comes in the guise of legal due process. This is perhaps the most shocking aspect of her story: the abuse of the law in a republic which is democratic in theory, but sacrifices its most democratic citizens to the whims of the rulers.
      -- Ian Buruma, Henry R Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights and Journalism, Bard College

Ian Buruma is among the top 100 global thinkers of 2010 as selected by the Foreign Policy magazine  (source), an intellectual, and a great scholar.


Gender pattern in US PhDs

Women have steadily increased their share of PhDs granted in the US over the last thirty years.

However, the differences among the academic fields remain marked. Men dominate in engineering (80%) and physical sciences (70%), and women dominate in education (67%). Women slightly outnumber men (52-58%) in the remaining fields of social sciences, life sciences, and humanities.

(source in the Huffington Post)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Singapore Police in action: The great escape of a terrorist, the great capture of a critic

Though utterly incompetent in the Mas Selamat saga (read the excellent Mr Brown), the Singapore police are excellent at apprehending and harassing Alan Shadrake, a 76 year old critic of the Singapore judiciary.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Suppressing dissent in Singapore: The jailings of Gopalan Nair and Alan Shadrake

A recent parallel with Alan Shadrake is Gopalan Nair, a lawyer and critic of the Singapore judiciary, jailed in Singapore in September 2008 for expressing his views in his blog.

Such suppression of free thoughts and their free expression is the most infuriating and contemptible action of a big bully.

The respected Foreign Policy magazine (Washington, DC. May 07, 2010 issue)  listed Gopalan Nair, formerly of Singapore, among the "World's Top Dissidents", in the company of Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma, Simar Samer of Afghanistan, Arnold Tsunga of Zimbabwe, Anwar Ibrahim of Malaysia, and Shirin Ebadi of Iran.

This is what Foreign Policy said about Gopalan Nair:
Gopalan Nair, a former opposition politician, is known throughout Singapore's embattled blogosphere for his fierce promotion of human rights and blunt criticism of founding leader and current "minister mentor" Lee Kuan Yew. In September 2008, Nair was sentenced to three months in jail for defaming a judge in a blog entry. On March 6, he published a hoax post on his blog indicating that Lee had suffered a heart attack and had been brought to Singapore General Hospital. Nair's motive? It was, he says, "a deliberate attempt to highlight how tenuous Singapore really is, with all power in the island vested in one man, and the dire consequences to the island of his parting. And especially so as [Lee] is 87." Nair lives in California and has been a U.S. citizen since 2004.

Foreign Policy article

Gopalan Nair's blog

Video interview (YouTube) on his arrest and trial in Singapore for blogging

Suppressing dissent in Singapore: The Arrest of Alan Shadrake

(Source: The Online Citizen)

In view of the bail bond of $80,000 likely to be imposed on Alan Shadrake and the strenuous objection by the Attorney General’s Chamber, the British author has decided not to apply to leave Singapore. Instead, he reveals in Court today his intention to take legal action against Singapore in the European courts for malicious prosecution.

The following is a transcript of Alan Shadrake’s affidavit filed in Court in the afternoon of Dec 2, 2010.

I, Alan Shadrake do solemnly and sincerely affirm and say as follows:-

1.  I am the Respondent in these proceedings.

2.  The matters deposed to herein are true and where they are, based on documents in my possession, they are true to my best information, knowledge and belief.

3.  I crave leave to reply to Kwok Charn Kong’s affidavit filed or 30 November 2010.

4.  According to my mobile phone, the time of my arrest was 6.30am on the morning of Sunday, July 18. I had got to sleep about three hours earlier at around 3.30am. The next thing I was aware of was hearing a series of loud bangs on my hotel room door with shouts of ‘open up, this is the police.’ When I staggered to the door still half asleep four men in plain clothes barged into the room. One was holding an envelope and he told me he had a warrant for my arrest. When I asked why he replied ‘For illegal communication’ and when I asked what that meant he said he would explain later. Then they all started ransacking the room, pulling off bed-sheets, looking under the bed and in the wardrobe and drawers and at the same time I was harassed to get dressed quickly and pack my belongings.

5. I wanted to shower but they refused to let me do this and would not let me use the bathroom with the door closed. They gave me only enough time to pee and clean my teeth, I was not allowed to shave or shower. This constant bullying harassment went on all the time until I had packed all my possessions. My two mobile phones and my passport were taken from me at the same time. I did not take my prescription drugs, as Mr Kwok claims – he was not there anyway -because with a combination of three I have to take one of them in particular with food. It was too early anyway. I usually take the first batch around 9am at breakfast.

6.  I was then bundled down the stairs to a side entrance where a car was waiting and I sat between two officers on the back seat. At police HQ I was taken to room on the 18th floor. All my possessions were taken from me including my wallet, credit cards, cash, and laid out on a table in front of me. All the items were photographed and then I was photographed. After this I was taken to a cell and had to sit or lie on a concrete floor. If Mr. Kwok says I was able to sleep for a total of 9 hours during my almost two day stay there, he is wrong. I could not sleep at all. I was given some cold rice and soggy vegetable and a cup of some liquid which might have been coffee. Shortly after, I was taken to see the doctor who examined me. I was then escorted back to my cell. A little later a guard came to the cell, handcuffed me and took me to a room where my prescription drugs were being held. There I was supervised taking the Morning combination: Norvasc, Co-Approval and Coversyl. All this time I was wearing only a pair of briefs, light trousers and a thin T-Shirt. My belt, shoes and socks also had to be surrendered.

7.  Later that morning, possibly around 10am, I was taken to an ‘interview’ room and told to sit at a table under an air vent. I immediately felt a jet of cold air down the back of my neck. Officer Kwek came into the room and introduced himself as the investigating officer. He gave me three envelopes containing papers outlining three charges against me arising from my book Once a Jolly Hangman. I noticed that he was warmly dressed with his zip-up jacket collar turned up. He then began asking questions concerning some of the statements I made in the book. He told me I could make changes and I understood that if any errors had been made that this would entail one complete statement with the errors removed. But later he said all the statements – errors or not – would be printed as one and that I would not be able to have a copy. The questioning went on all day with normal breaks. The total time each day was approximately ten hours. I did not say in the Affidavit that I was starved or prevented from using the toilet but that this whole ordeal was brutal and uncivilized. Lord Anthony Lester, a human rights lawyer in London, told me during a telephone call after my release that it reminded him of a famous book The Trial and described my questioning as ‘Kafkaesque’. This is a term similar to ‘Orwellian’ – from ‘l984′ the futuristic book. by George Orwell – about authoritarian societies based on Machiavellian principles and techniques and which I understand are not – surprisingly – banned in, Singapore, (perhaps they are used as police text books), but the techniques – the use of fear and threats – appear to be thriving as they did in the Middle Ages.

8.  I must also repeat that if I were a dangerous terrorist with bombs and guns in my suitcase, an armed bank robber or money launderer I would not be in a position to complain. I am a 76 year old writer – and people of my age usually have all kinds of ailments. My medical problems concern my long term heart disease and my risk of developing colon cancer again – twice so far over the past eight years. In August I underwent a colonoscopy procedure at Gleneagles Hospital. Ten days later I almost bled to death in the street – the result of something going wrong with the operation. Had I not been rushed to the emergency ward I would have collapsed and died before anyone would know the cause. A doctor and nurse at Gleneagles said had I arrived half an hour later, it would have been too late. This is just one example of the stress this persecution has caused me over the past four months. Someone should have used their common sense when planning my arrest. It could have been done in a very civilized manner especially as Singapore continually proclaims itself to be a civilized, ‘First World’ country. If not as strong as I am, I could very likely have had a heart attack there and then that morning.

9. Concerning the timing of my arrest, the Straits Times published a report issued by the CID that I was arrested at 8.30am. Mr. Kwok says it was 7.40am. I say it was 6.30am and I will stick to my version of what time it was. I was there and I have no reason to change the time – as it seems the CID now has.

After almost two days in custody either lying on a concrete floor or being interrogated, I was released on bail at close on midnight having at that late hour to find a hotel which would admit me, without a passport. I did not surrender this document as a condition of bail, as it had already been confiscated along with all my other possessions. The bail was also conditional that I returned to continue the interrogations every day. At the same time I had to change hotels almost everyday. I was not given any special time to do this and the pressure on me to ‘cooperate’ continued until my lawyer M Ravi complained to Officer Kwek and sent him my medical reports which explained the many procedures I was undergoing and about to undergo to ensure my heart condition stabilized. This was successful after being prescribed four special heart muscle strengthening vitamins and an additional blood thinner.

10.  This ordeal continued until Friday morning when I decided to see my GP at Silver Cross Clinic, Bukit Timah, where I used to live. I was extremely fatigued and had worrying chest pains. After various tests and reading my six year record on the clinic’s database, she made an appointment for me to see my long-term cardiologist, Dr. Peter Yan, at Gleneagies Hospital. My GP and Dr. Yan recommended that the interrogations should stop until my heart condition was under control. He put me through many tests, including an MRI, a 24-hour heart monitor, and two treadmill tests. At one stage he described my heart beat as being ‘all over the place.’ He prescribed four special heart strengthening vitamins plus an additional blood-thinner which, together with my five prescription drugs, at a cost of $800.00 per month. The total medical costs involving four doctors and specialists at Gleneagles and Mount E hospitals total almost $15,000 which has caused an overdraft at my bank.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the ordeal I was put through – and which is continuing unabated as far as the AG’s Chambers is concerned – has had a deleterious effect on my general health. I have in my possession four finisher’s medals for half marathons in Singapore – all of which were completed in less than three hours. Today I can hardly walk 500 meters without feeling thoroughly fatigued. This confirms my belief that the barbaric ordeal I have been put through has had a very serious effect on my health and that a pacemaker and double angioplasty should be obtained as soon as possible.

11.  However, once I felt more comfortable and relaxed after the medical treatment which stabilized my heart condition, I twice suggested to Officer Kwek that if he wanted to continue with interrogations I would be willing to cooperate provided they were not long and exhausting as before. He referred me to my lawyer M. Ravi I did not say at any time that Officer Kwek behaved in an uncivilized manner towards me. I was referring to the barbaric method of arresting me at dawn, harassing me to get dressed and packed, put in a cell for almost two days unable to shower or shave and with only a concrete floor to sleep on. In addition to this I found it extremely uncomfortable sitting under a cold jet of air from the vent – deliberately, I have since been told – which is one of the Machiavellian methods used to undermine the morale of those under being interrogated. When I complained, Officer Kwek allowed me to sit at the end of the table away from the air vent. However, the room was still very cold and uncomfortable. To say that I was allowed to have toilet breaks and given refreshments at intervals, however, is rather strange. I thought eating and relieving oneself is a normal human need and I hope, had I been starved and prevented from going to the toilet while being interrogated in a cold room, is something even Singapore would not have perpetrated. Again, I would like to emphasize that I am not a terrorist, a bank robber, rapist, or ‘overstayer’ and there was no need to treat me in such an ugly and uncivilized manner,

12.  Then for the Attorney General to ‘remind’ me of my rights to request the return of my passport without conditions in order that I may spend Christmas with my family and seek further medical attention in the UK, as Dr. Yan advised me to consider in the near future, then rescind the offer by making it impossible by imposing an $80,000 bond is further evidence of Singapore’s duplicity in the administration of justice. This also helps to confirm much of what I have said in my book Once A jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.

13. In view of all the above, I have instructed my legal advisors in Singapore and London to begin proceedings for malicious prosecution.

14.Annexed herewith, Exhibit “A”, are copies of the numerous letters (inclusive of fax transmissions) sent, by my counsel Mr. M. Ravi, to the police, entailing the extent to which the police had harassed me in the name of investigations and the extent to which my counsel had to go to preserve my health and sanity,

Affirmed by the abovenamed