Abolish the ISA!

“In 1991, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee told Malaysian journalists that Singapore would ‘seriously consider’ abolishing its ISA if Malaysia were to do so.”

Political detainees in Singapore have been imprisoned for periods ‘which far exceed those in Malaysia’.”

Askmelah’s note: The ISA should evolve with the progress of the political and economic development of the country. ISA has been accused time and again by various parties as a political tool used by the Government in the past despite the constant denials and the repeated explanations of the Government, it should seriously look into replacing it with an anti-terrorism law which will be more relevant in these days and times. Even Malaysia, who is facing a lot of more political and terrorism threats, has abolished it, what’s holding Singapore back?

“The new laws are strictly for terrorism. What we are going to do now is enact similar laws like the Patriot Act in the US or the UK … We have once and for all decided that no laws should be enacted allowing for individuals to be arrested for having a difference in ideologies.” – Malaysian PM Nazi Najib

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Former detainees call for ISA’s abolition

Source: The Straits Times, 20 Sept 2011

Statement signed by 16 says safeguards against abuse are spurious

A GROUP of 16 former detainees has called for Singapore’s Internal Security Act (ISA) to be abolished, arguing that the safeguards which prevent its abuse are spurious.

The 16 signatories of the statement include Barisan Sosialis members Lim Hock Siew and Poh Soo Kai, who were detained for close to 20 years each.

They called the ISA’s effect on Singapore society ‘crippling and pernicious’.

Their statement comes after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced plans last Thursday to repeal Malaysia’s ISA and replace it with terrorism-specific laws.

The former detainees called for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to ‘translate his 1991 statement into reality and keep in step with the aspirations of our people for a mature and functioning democracy’. In 1991, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee told Malaysian journalists that Singapore would ‘seriously consider’ abolishing its ISA if Malaysia were to do so.

However, Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said last Friday the Republic would not scrap its ISA as it remained ‘relevant and crucial’ as a measure of last resort to keep the country safe and secure.

The MHA said while the ISA in both countries shared the same roots, the ISA in Singapore has evolved and is now different from that in Malaysia.

The former detainees took issue with two points the MHA made. The MHA said that a person arrested under the ISA in Singapore may be held in custody for up to 30 days after which an Order of Detention or Restriction Order must be issued, or else the person must be released unconditionally. In Malaysia, the period of custody is up to 60 days.

The former detainees called this comparison ‘irrelevant’, because political detainees in Singapore have been imprisoned for periods ‘which far exceed those in Malaysia’.

They pointed to leftist leaders detained under Operation Cold Store in 1963: Dr Chia Thye Poh was detained for 26 years, Dr Lim Hock Siew for 20 years, Mr Lee Tee Tong for 18 years, and Dr Poh Soo Kai and Mr Said Zahari for 17 years.

Apart from Dr Chia, who resides in Europe, the rest signed the statement.

The MHA also noted Singapore’s ‘additional safeguard’ to prevent misuse of the ISA. The President has, since 1991, the power to veto the Government’s decision to detain someone if the ISA Advisory Board, chaired by a Supreme Court judge, recommends his release.

‘The protection accorded by the Advisory Board is spurious, if not a farce,’ countered the former detainees.

Seven of the signatories were detained in 1987 for an alleged Marxist conspiracy – Ms Teo Soh Lung, Mr Vincent Cheng, Ms Low Yit Leng, Mr Yap Hon Ngian, Mr Tan Tee Seng, Ms Wong Souk Yee and Ms Tang Fong Har. The remaining five signatories are Madam Loh Miaw Gong, Mr Chng Min Oh, Mr Tan Sin, Mr Toh Ching Kee and Mr Koh Kay Yew.

Those among them who appeared before the Advisory Board in 1987 said that the board did not examine witnesses or evidence against the detainee.

‘In 1987, appearances before the board lasted not more than a few minutes each,’ said the statement. ‘Furthermore, detainees were discouraged from appearing before the board by Internal Security Department officers. Many were advised that appearing before the board would jeopardise their chances of early release.’

The statement also argued that Singapore has other laws that deal with acts of terrorism, such as the Sedition Act, the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act, and the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. ‘Indefinite detention without trial is an affront to the human rights of citizens and an assault on our justice system,’ the detainees said.

Separately, former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say yesterday called for the ISA’s abolishment and the formation of an independent Commission of Inquiry to look into past detentions, which some believe were politically motivated.


Group disrespectful of the Archbishop: MHA
source:Todayonline  21 Sep 2012

Home Affairs Ministry suggests organisers of anti-ISA rally deliberately leaked church leader’s decision to retract letter

SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has criticised the organisers of an anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) rally of being “disrespectful” of the head of the Catholic Church here, suggesting that the group had deliberately leaked the decision by Archbishop Nicholas Chia to retract a letter in which he allegedly expressed support for the event.

The organisers are challenging the ministry’s accusation of being the source of the leak.

Nevertheless, in a statement yesterday, the MHA said the group’s actions to “publicise the matter” through a blogger, Mr Alex Au, is “disrespectful of the Archbishop, and contrary to his views and intentions as conveyed to the group after he had decided to retract his letter”.

It added: “This deliberate breach of the Archbishop’s trust confirms the objective of this group to publicly involve the Catholic Church and the Archbishop in their political agenda.”

The rally, which was held on June 2 and drew about 400 people, was organised by Function 8 – a social enterprise formed in 2010 by ex-ISA detainee Teo Soh Lung – and human rights group Maruah.

The MHA’s statement was in response to a flap which broke out on Wednesday, after Mr Au posted an account – based on “second-hand” sources – that claimed the Government had strong-armed Archbishop Chia, 73, into withdrawing a “warmly-worded” and “unsolicited” letter to Function 8. Mr Au had also claimed that the withdrawal came after Archbishop Chia was “summoned to a lunch by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean”.

In its statement, the MHA said Government ministers regularly meet with various religious leaders in Singapore “as part of building trust and understanding and to maintain religious harmony”. 

“Such closed-door meetings allow a frank exchange of views especially on sensitive subjects. This is a well-established process that is appreciated by both ministers and religious leaders,” it said.

The MHA reiterated that it valued the warm ties it has with the Church, adding that it “deeply appreciates Archbishop Chia’s many contributions to religious harmony in Singapore”.

The MHA also noted that Archbishop Chia’s decision to withdraw his original letter “shows his appreciation of the complexity of our multi-racial, multi-religious society, and the need to keep religion and politics separate“.

On Wednesday, Archbishop Chia explained in a statement that he retracted his original letter because “on reflection, its contents did not accurately reflect (his) views on the subject”. He also wrote that he feared the letter may “inadvertently” harm social harmony “if used in a manner that (he) did not intend”. His fear was confirmed by Mr Au’s publicising of the episode, he added.

The Archbishop did not, however, elaborate on the content of his first letter; whether it was “unsolicited”; nor whether the purported lunch with DPM Teo actually took place.

Archbishop Chia also noted that Mr Au’s account of events could only have come from Function 8, since he had only communicated with them about the incident, and even then, only in private.

When contacted yesterday, Mr Au declined to reveal the identities of his sources.

He added: “When I learnt about it, it’s not because anyone wanted me to write about it. I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.”

Mr Au also commented on Archbishop Chia’s rebuttal, saying it was “based on presumptions that there was a certain agenda”.

In writing about the account, Mr Au said his agenda was to “publicise things that I think the public needs to know”, adding that he believes the Archbishop was an “intermediary party in all of these”.

“I think the real issue here is the behaviour of the Government … what it’s trying to do in an opaque way,” he said.

The anti-ISA rally was staged to mark the 25th anniversary of the 1987 detention of 22 people, including some church workers, in what was described by the Government as a Marxist Conspiracy to usurp power.

In the aftermath of the 1987 episode, after being shown what the authorities said were evidence of the church workers’ involvement in the alleged plot, the Church’s leadership said it “was satisfied that the Government of Singapore has nothing against the Catholic Church when it detained 10 of our Church workers amongst the 16 who were arrested for possible involvement in a clandestine communist network.”

The Vatican reiterated the same position two years later, saying: “The Apostolic Nunciature and the Archdiocese of Singapore did not feel themselves as an object of attacks on the part of the Government authorities of Singapore, and their relations have been and are good.”

Churchgoers contacted by TODAY said they gravitated towards Archbishop Chia’s version of events, citing precedence.

One Catholic, who declined to be named, said he had interacted with Archbishop Chia on several occasions and found him to be “a very mild and passive person”. “And throughout these 11 years (as Archbishop), he has not shown public support for any social or political activism causes,” he said.


Group calls on Archbishop to publish letters
Source: Todayonline  21 Sep 2012

Function 8 wants public to be able to judge actions of group, blogger Alex Au for themselves

SINGAPORE – Function 8, the social activist group accused by Archbishop Nicholas Chia of leaking private communication between them to blogger Alex Au, has challenged the leader of the Catholic Church here to make public the letters that are at the heart of a furore that erupted on Wednesday.

The group’s challenge came as the co-organiser of the event, Maruah, also hit out at the Archbishop, calling his remarks disappointing.

In a blog post on Tuesday, Mr Au charged that Archbishop Chia had sent a letter to Function 8 of his own accord to express support for a rally against the Internal Security Act (ISA), only to later retract it in a second letter, after pressure exerted by the Government.

In a statement yesterday, Function 8 also called on Archbishop Chia to “make known to members of the public if his first letter to the organisers … was solicited or unsolicited”.

It said: “In the midst of a national conversation called by the Prime Minister, we believe there is no room for whispered meetings on the issues (that have surfaced). We request Archbishop Nicholas Chia to publish his first and second letters and advise on what transpired between the time his first letter was written and his second letter so that the public can judge for themselves whether the actions or inaction of Function 8 and Mr Au were ‘irresponsible and regrettable’.”

In response to accusations that it had leaked the letters, the group said: “Has His Grace forgotten that his second letter was (sent as carbon copy) to a third party and that his staff and others within the Church may also have sight of the letters?”

Also, both letters from Archbishop Chia “were not marked ‘private and/or confidential'”, Function 8 said.

TODAY was unable to reach Archbishop Chia for comments to Function 8’s statement by press time.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Archbishop refuted Mr Au’s version of events and said he withdrew his letter because he felt, on hindsight, that it “did not accurately reflect (his) views on the subject”. He also expressed fear that the letter would be used “in a manner that (he) did not agree with”, which he noted was confirmed by the leak of what was private communication to Mr Au, who subsequently wrote about the episode.

In its statement, Function 8 hit back at what it said were “unsubstantiated” remarks made by Archbishop Chia.

On Archbishop Chia’s point that he feared his letter of support may harm social harmony here if used in a manner he did not intend, the group said it did not understand how he could conclude that the disclosure of his own letter would have such an effect.

Function 8 also asked: “What was his initial letter intended for and what are the unintended manners in which it could possibly be used to ‘harm the social harmony in Singapore’?”

Named after the F8 key which allows a computer to reboot safely, Function 8’s aim is to encourage civil society participation.

In a separate statement, Maruah President Braema Mathi said the human rights group was “deeply disappointed” with the Archbishop’s remarks.

She said: “We are still clueless as to whether there was intervention by the State in this matter and, if so, on what grounds and to what extent. Instead civil society has been vilified in the Archbishop’s remarks which are the opposite of our intentions to preserve harmony by seeking clarifications.”

Ms Mathi said Maruah was informed of the letters that the Archbishop had sent to Function 8. It was also aware of the contents, which it said “reflect diverse views on key content areas in relation to preventive detention without trial”.

“Both organisations made a decision not to publicise the letter(s) till we sought clarifications from Ministry of Home Affairs and other relevant parties,” Ms Mathi said. “It is unfortunate that the matter of the letters was leaked to the media before we could receive clarifications from the relevant bodies. Both organisations had wanted to focus on seeking a dialogue rather than dealing with the Archbishop’s letters in a public manner through the media.”


Archbishop refuses to release letter
Teo Xuanwei

Source: Todayonline 23 Sep 2012

Archdiocese Communications Office reiterates church leader’s earlier position that letter did not accurately reflect his views

SINGAPORE – The saga over a letter written by Archbishop Nicholas Chia (picture) continued yesterday with the leader of Singapore’s Catholics steadfastly refusing to release it, while the group at the centre of the episode accused the Government of setting it on a collision course with the church.

The Archbishop will not and “had never intended” to release a letter he had sent purportedly expressing support for an anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) rally because it was “intended as a private communication”, a statement from the Archdiocese communications office said yesterday.

This comes a day after the rally’s organiser, Function 8, pressed Archbishop Chia to make public his purportedly “unsolicited” letter that was supposedly “warmly-worded” toward the event, in the face of accusations that it had acted irresponsibly by leaking the episode to blogger Alex Au.

In a blog posting on Tuesday, Mr Au charged, based on “second-hand” sources, that the Archbishop had retracted a letter that was supportive of the anti-ISA rally on June 2 after he was “summoned to lunch by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean”, who is also Home Affairs Minister.

The Home Affairs Ministry (MHA) then chided the group and Mr Au on Thursday of being “disrespectful” of the Archbishop and Function 8’s objective of involving the Catholic Church and the Archbishop in their political agenda.

In response to what it termed as “MHA’s unwarranted allegations” – which Function 8 branded as an attempt to “set (it) against the church” – the group yesterday said in a statement that it was “forced” to publicise a letter it had sent to the Archbishop a day after he had withdrawn his letter “in order to clear the allegations against (them)”.

Parts of the letter were blacked out, explained by the group as an attempt to “protect the direct contents” of the Archbishop’s letter, as well as the identity of a third party who was copied in his letter of withdrawal.

In the letter, Function 8 had said it was “deeply disappointed and puzzled” by the withdrawal, adding that it did not regard the rally it was organising as “political activities”.

“We are somewhat amazed and dismayed that you seem to suspect – without giving any reason (and indeed there is none) – that there is any ulterior motive to use your letter outside of the event, in any way at all,” Function 8’s letter read. “How did you come to this conclusion? We had not even solicited the letter from you in the first place.”

The group’s and Mr Au’s assertions that the Archbishop’s letter was unsolicited and supportive of the anti-ISA rally on June 2 have not been established so far.

The Archdiocese Communications Office yesterday reiterated the Archbishop’s earlier position that the withdrawal of the letter came about because he felt, on hindsight, that the letter “did not accurately reflect (his) views on the subject” and could harm social harmony here if used in a manner he had not intended.

The office added: “If the group (Function 8) was going to publicise it at a political event, something which he did not intend, then they should and could easily have asked for permission first. They did not do so.”

In its statement yesterday, Function 8 also contested MHA’s suggestion that it was responsible for leaking the episode to Mr Au, saying it was in the midst of trying to arrange a private dialogue with MHA shortly before the flap broke out.

“There is no conceivable reason why we would choose to trip ourselves up by having the matter aired in public. Why has MHA made publicity of this matter the focus of conversation when the more pertinent question is one of transparency in executive action in engaging civil society?” Function 8 said. 

The group added that it “continues to request a meaningful dialogue with MHA and other affected parties on this matter away from the noise of what has turned into an ugly public dispute”.