Friday, March 20, 2009

Yes, that we may dream again

By Chee Siok Chin

That We May Dream Again. That's the title of a collection of brief accounts written by ex-detainees of the Marxist arrests in 1987 by the Internal Security Department.

It is a thin book that one should be able to finish reading in a couple of hours. However, it took me three days to complete it. It wasn't that I had to plod through it and it certainly was not that the accounts were dull.

It was more because after almost each chapter, I found it difficult move on for the experiences suffered by the detainees were heart-wrenching. It was not easy to read about how some of my fellow Singaporeans were used, bullied and persecuted by our own Government.

I have met two of the detainees who contributed to this book. Vincent Cheng and Kevin de Souza. Both men exude sincerity and humbleness. Although there is no hint of bitterness when he spoke to me about his experiences under detention, Vincent Cheng writes in his chapter,

I still feel angry at the injustice of the whole incident, and that the perpetrators have not been brought to account. 'Operation Spectrum' was political rape. I cannot forget nor forgive, the harsh treatment meted out to me in prison to extract information – the freezing room, the slapping and the beatings, including the blow to my abdomen.

He goes on to say “Victims of injustice must not give up the fight to regain their dignity. I believe that forgiveness and letting go is genuine and meaningful only when justice has been, or is seen to have been, done.”

Mr Cheng speaks on a topic close to my heart – justice. The main motivation for his involvement with helping the oppressed and the poor in Singapore then.

He articulates my very thoughts and feelings when he says, “Working for justice necessarily calls for involvement in public life, in 'politics'...Advocacy is an integral ingredient of justice, and this makes the questioning and restructuring of public policies a necessity, even if the authorities do not appreciate it.”

These words concisely sum up why some of us, the SDP and our Friends, have chosen to stand up to the PAP Government despite the charges, trials, jail terms and bankruptcies meted out against us.

When Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who was the deputy prime minister, he said this about the re-arrest of the alleged Marxist conspirators. “The Government does not ill-treat detainees. It does however apply psychological pressure to detainees to get the truth of the matter.”

This directly contradicts Mr Cheng's account of the beating he received at the hands of his captors. Who is telling the truth?

Another detainee, Ms Tang Lay Lee, provides another account of her torture:

“Are you a Marxist?”

“No. I'm a Catholic.”

PIAK!

“Are you a Marxist??”

“No. I'm a Catholic.”

PIAK!

“Are you a Marxist???”

“No. I'm a Catholic.”

PIAK! PIAK!

“Are you instigating workers??”

“No. I'm helping workers.”

PIAK!

In his chapter, Kevin de Souza writes,

The period of detention turned out to be the most traumatic years of my life – the strip search, the blindfolds, the interrogations in cold rooms, the sleep deprivation, the television interviews, the slaps on the face, the tree-legged chair I was forced to balance...the solitary confinement and, most of all the fear of the long-term incarceration without trial.

Either Mr Lee Hsien Loong had no idea what the ISD was doing to its detainees or he was lying through his teeth.

These extracts may be frightening to those who are already afraid. But for those who are tired of the bullying and the lies perpetuated by this Government, this compressed book offers us hope and encouragement to stand up to injustice and oppression in our own country.

Christina Tseng, an associate and friend of several of the detainees, writes at the end of her chapter,

The Kingdom of Heaven is not just about what will happen after we are gone from this earth. It begins with what we do on earth. I believe if more people work towards a better society, if we are motivated by love, justice, peace and compassion, and cared more about the environment, more people will certainly start to experience heaven on earth. I hope this event can help younger Singaporeans appreciate how we can all play a pert in building a better society, whether we are Christian, Muslim or of other faiths.

I have drawn encouragement from the authors of this book. What each of them had gone through gives me strength to continue with my work and struggle for freedom, transparency, dignity and rights for my fellow Singaporeans.

Thank you Vincent Cheng, Tang Lay Lee, Kevin de Souza, Lucy Tan, Christina Tseng, Joseph Ng and Theresa Yeo for sharing so that we may all dream again.

The book can be purchased here.

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