Singapore: Fascist or Democratic?


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Fascism (definition): “A totalitarian philosophy of government that [assigns] to the state control over every aspect of national life.” (TWT)

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SOURCE: Lawrence Britt / Free Inquiry

[Infographic / Summary followed by Full Text]



Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism: Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia*. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

* View “Singapore: The Politics of Inventing National Identity,” by Stephan Ortmann
(PDF download).

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights: Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause: The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial , ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military: Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism: The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media: Sometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security: Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined: Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected: The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed: Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts: Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment: Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption: Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections: Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or (character) assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

SOURCE: Lawrence Britt / Free Inquiry

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a) Censorship in Singapore (Wikipedia)

b) Excerpts from “Anti-colonialism. . .Operation Coldstore” (Thum Ping Tjin)

c) Is this not a mockery of democracy? (Singapore Recalcitrant)

d) Hushed Fascism, Singapore-Style (Chris Ho / Facebook)

e) Political Abuse of Psychiatry (re: Amos Yee)

f) Singapore Blogger Faces ‘Financial Ruin’ (re: Roy Ngerng / Forbes)

g) Teo Soh Lung (on “fighting back with words”) and SDP / CSJ (on “accountability“)

h) Jolly Hangman (re: human rights abuses / Alan Shadrake)

i) Exciting Conversation on Facebook

Political Abuse of Psychiatry (Amos Yee)


Image by stimu1us on dA.

UPDATE (6 July 2015): Amos is free; however there are plenty of issues the government has yet to address.

Below is my original blog post published on 25 June 2015.

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A short excerpt (#1) on the subject of political abuse of psychiatry, viewed in the context of 16 year-old Amos Yee’s current prison-in-remand situation (Points #2-5).

1) “Psychiatric confinement of sane people is a particularly pernicious form of repression.

Psychiatry possesses a built-in capacity for abuse that is greater than in other areas of medicine. The diagnosis of mental disease allows the state to hold persons against their will and insist upon therapy in their interest and in the broader interests of society.

In addition, receiving a psychiatric diagnosis can in itself be regarded as oppressive. In a monolithic state, psychiatry can be used to bypass standard legal procedures for establishing guilt or innocence and allow political incarceration without the ordinary odium attaching to such political trials.”
(– Wiki)

2) “Amos has always been a chirpy, confident and very vocal child. He is also very creative, and would spend an endless amount of time on something which he sets his mind on.

But my son is a different person now. . .I wondered why my son, who is here to be assessed if he has autism, is kept here in the same block as those who are mentally ill.

[Block] 7 is where they keep the truly mentally ill patients, and those who have committed crimes or offences and who are also mentally unsound. It is also where my son is being held.”
(TOC: A mother visits her son at IMH)

3) “The entry of heavily shackled Amos Yee from holding room to dock in Court No. 7 on 23 June 2015 cuts a very depressing sight. No longer the cheerful teenager who looked and smiled confidently at the gallery, he walked slowly with his head bowed. It was painful to see this young person’s spirit reduced to such a sad state by our judicial system. He sat in the dock, head bowed most times.

The ill treatment that Amos suffered during his remand must be highlighted. Amos’ mother said that he was interviewed by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors etc over two weeks. Such interviews took place during the one hour community time when a prisoner is allowed to socialise and enjoy a bit of sunshine. It is the only time a prisoner looks forward to in a long and boring 24 hour day. Yet the prison authority has to be sadistic by arranging interviews during this one hour. I can only conclude that such arrangements were deliberate, aimed to break his spirit. Indeed Amos spirit is broken for he no longer reads and is tired because he cannot sleep with 24 hours lighting in the cell and cell mates who harbour resentment against him for having to sleep in a cell equipped with spy cameras.

A prisoner in remand is very often worse off than a prisoner who is serving sentence. He is left to himself whereas the prisoner serving time has regular activities to fill his day. He can attend educational or vocational courses and is allowed to spend time with other prisoners. Amos Yee’s special treatment by being locked up in a cell with 24 hour close circuit cameras means confinement within the four walls for 24 hours with one hour outside his cell. 24 hour lighting ensure that the mind is disorientated. A prisoner will inevitably suffer insomnia for he cannot sleep well.

Some observers are happy that Amos is now remanded at IMH for another psychiatric assessment. This is so sadistic. Why is the report by the State appointed psychiatrist, Munidasa Winslow that Amos might be suffering from autism spectrum disorder insufficient for the court to make a decision? Is there a necessity for the judge to order another report just to confirm or dispute Winslow’s report? What is the intent besides undermining the expertise of Winslow?

It is depressing that a bright young lad is made to suffer in this way. Is this our world class judicial system?”
(Teo Soh Lung)

4) “UN Human Rights Office calls for the immediate release of Amos Yee in line with its commitment under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

5) “Amos Yee’s medical condition is autism and not derangement and it is insanity on the part of the authorities to put this vulnerable teenager in a block together with adult patients suffering from derangement.”
(Former ISD Director, YSW)

6) “And the police told me: ‘Quickly sign this, then we don’t have to take any responsibility if something happens to you.’”
(Notes From Prison by Amos Yee)

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UPDATE / 27 June 2015: Signed. “Petitioning The Singapore Government Drop the Charges Against Amos Yee!” —

Excerpts from “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore”


Excerpts from “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore”

by T. J. S. George (1973)

Link: Amazon | NLB

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1. Pugnacity: Inclined to quarrel or fight readily; quarrelsome; belligerent; combative (Dictionary).

Excerpts from Book:

1) The Lees are Hakkas. And that is worth remembering. . .[Hakkas] are strong individualists, known for their pugnacity. (Pg-16)

2) [During World War II], LKY learned Japanese and obtained work as a translator in the official Japanese news agency, Domei. . .during his years in power he has shown a pronounced contempt for Singapore’s journalistic fraternity and has ensured that newspapers in the island were run much as Domei was run by the Japanese army. (Pg-22)

3) LKY’s concept of ‘Singaporeanism’ [is] a way of [making] a society in his own image — the projection on to the national scene of an individual’s complex psychological problems. (Pg-30)

4) [Lee’s group formed] its own party. They chose the name People’s Action Party (PAP). It appealed to them ‘mainly because this political party was meant for the people’. (Pg-36)

5) Elections to the central executive [section of the PAP] were restricted to cadre members — and cadre members were chosen strictly after screening by Lee Kuan Yew. As Lee himself once justified it, “The Pope chooses the cardinals and the cardinals elect the Pope.” (Pg-45)

6) Lee remarked later that “to lose would mean that a bunch of rogues would form the government and ruin the country and also fix the PAP.” It was a characteristic comment which summed up Lee’s own personality — his self-assurance, contempt for others, tendency to equate himself with the country and [indicated] Lee’s readiness to “fix” others once he got hold of the reins of power. (Pg-46)

7) Cassandra of the Daily Mirror [likened] LKY to Goebbels. The Daily Express angrily editorialized: “To such men Britain entrusts independence. Greedily they seize their new freedom for themselves and deny it to the people for whom it was intended.” (Pg-51)

8) Ong [Eng Guan] protested that the meeting was being converted into a trial. [He said]: “This is not the first instance of cloak and dagger plots in the party and it will not be the last.” (Pg-55)

9) In the days when LKY was in opposition, in 1956, he gave a vivid description. “I’m told [repression] is like making love — it’s always easier the second time. The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course, with constant repetition, you get more and more brazen in the attack and in the scope of the attack.” He became, and has remained, a striking example of what he was then condemning. (Pg-65)

10) [In Operation Coldstore], the important figures were put away [and] the Barisan Sosialis became a headless body. (Pg-68)

11) In Lee’s reckoning no one else in Singapore was, or could be, right. What he achieved in the process was a one-man party and a one-party state. (Pg-71)

12) Tunku [Abdul Rahman]’s responses sprang from the heart and from his identification with the people; Lee’s from the mind and his studied aloofness from the crowd. The Tunku was utterly human, Lee a machine. (Pg-77)

13) Lee’s policies have often ended up as counter-productive because they were unrelated to the human factors surrounding them. (Pg-84)

14) Malaysian Finance Minister Tan Siew Sen described the PAP as a party which shouted “Fire, fire” while committing arson. (Pg-86)

15) The West (its notions of post-war Asia swinging between anti-communism and the thirst for profitable investment) seemed grateful to Lee for what he projected as the Asianization of democracy — which in fact meant reducing people to digits; or to the letters GNP. (Pg-110)

16) Systematic destruction of political opposition and suppression of the trade union movement were the outstanding features of this policy [of rigorous internal repression]. The government also completely ‘officialized’ the education system, beat the mass media into subjection and instituted other programmes aimed at casting a generation of Singaporeans in a carefully prepared mould. (Pg-112)

17) Given this approach to detention and the rule of law, Lee never bothered to change — except to make it more repressive — the Internal Security Act which he inherited from the colonial administration he had fought. (Pg-116)

18) The treatment of political prisoners involves spiritual and political torture. The process of solitary confinement and interrogation, etc. continue until the prisoners are broken down or try to commit suicide. Those who cannot be broken are left to rot in prison. (Pg-119)

19) Amnesty International naturally showed concern about the fate of political prisoners in Singapore — only to get condemned as a meddler and barred from the republic in early 1971 (Pg-121)

20) People whose governments straightforwardly admitted to being communist or military at least knew where they stood. In Singapore, where professions were democratic while practices were dictatorial, the tragedy was compounded. . .[Lee and his cabinet] projected the dangerous thesis that an efficient Asian government could not also be democratic or humane. (Pg-128)

21) In November 1971, the Sunday Times said: “But for two great British universities to honour [LKY] as a Doctor of Laws devalues the degree and dishonours the first principle of university life — that ideas shall be freely exchanged.” (Pg-130)

22) The Statesman of India said: “In nine years of near-autocratic rule Lee has created a society of soulless conformists. . .a submissive press and the lack of an opposition have enabled Mr Lee to strut about his inconsequential stage and see himself as a Southeast Asian leader.” (Pg-130)

23) The opposition Barisan Sosialis was not banned — though every leader showing any potential was either jailed or exiled. (Pg-130)

24) Lee’s favorite word when referring to Singaporeans is, characteristically, ‘digits’. (Pg-132)

25) Professor D.J. Enright wrote in The Times in 1969 [of Singaporean students]: “This is the drawback to the exhortatory method of nation building: the simple-minded, the second-rate and the merely self-committed come to the top while the intelligent and idealistic feel there is no place for them in a world which is new but not very brave.” (Pg-132)

26) No boy or girl can enter a university in Singapore without written political clearance from the government, appropriately called a Suitability Certificate. A student-applicant’s educational qualifications and academic record have no bearing on his ‘suitability’, which is determined on the basis of his and his family’s political background. (Pg-133)

27) Soon the government took the official position that expatriates should keep out of local issues — and local issues could include everything from Singapore art to traffic congestion. (Pg-137)

28) The contradiction between the noble sentiments Lee aired in Kuala Lumpur where he was in the opposition, and the suppression he practised in Singapore where he was in power, did not seem to occur to him. (Pg-146)

29) Lee conjured up a patriotic halo round the denial of civil rights to an entire people. It was not merely a case of freedom being denied; it was also a case of minds being cast in a government-ordained mould. It was totalitarianism without the saving grace of honesty. (Pg-155)

30) [To most Western correspondents and visitors], Singapore’s apparent glitter has been impressive enough. (Pg-136)

31) Lee has never been impressed by charges of cruelty towards political prisoners in Singapore: according to his book, he was doing them a favour by letting them live. (Pg-191)

32) Singapore in the 1970s mirrors not the collective aspirations of a people or a generation but the ideals, convictions and prejudices of LKY. (Pg-200)

33) Post-1959 elections have been largely empty exercises, as shown by the deceptive ‘choices’ given and the methods employed for the referendum in 1962, the mass arrests of opposition leaders prior to the general election in 1963 and the hundred per cent PAP control of parliament since. (Pg-203)

34) One of the dangers that Singaporeans face is the temptation to live soullessly in order to make money. The prospects of becoming a society which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing is among the points of criticism Lee’s adversaries raise. (Pg-202)

35) The prosperity Lee has brought about has been accompanied by deterioration in the quality of life. (Pg-214)

36) Democracy simply means a government respecting the governed and being accountable to them. It is a political means to fulfill the human potential. (Pg-212)

37) LKY seems to assume that a sense of national identity can be created from television sets, apartments and jobs, disregarding the citizen’s right to respect and equality: that basic right which enables each ‘digit’ in a social whole to stand up and express his views. (Pg-215)

Source: “Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore,” by T. J. S. George (1973)

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T. J. S. GEORGE is a former political editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the founding editor of Asiaweek (Hong Kong). He is a writer and biographer who received a Padma Bhushan award in 2011 in the field of literature and education. A veteran senior journalist and one of the best known columnists in India, he continues his fight against social injustice, corruption and political anarchies through his columns.

T. J. S. George Online: Blog | Wikipedia

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More Information:

Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (Amazon)
Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore (NLB)
Book Review (blog)

Caning in Singapore



The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1948.

It established, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected — a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.

Article 5 of the UDHR states:

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Amnesty International’s 2013 Annual Report stated the following:

Singapore took steps to roll back the mandatory death penalty, but [laws] on arbitrary detention and judicial caning remained.

Judicial caning — a practice amounting to torture or other ill-treatment — continued as a punishment for a wide range of criminal offences.

Source: AI Annual Report 2013 (PDF)

In Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, healthy males under 50 years of age can be sentenced to a maximum of 24 strokes of the rattan cane on the bare buttocks; the punishment is mandatory for many offences, mostly violent or drug crimes, but also immigration violations. The punishment is applied to both foreigners and locals.

It seems to take a certain lack of empathy to uphold judicial caning as something which doesn’t violate Article 5 of the UDHR.

I have gathered a few quotations from around the web on the severity of this method of corporal punishment.


Asiaweek May 1994 |


(1) “Singapore canings are brutal. A martial artist strikes the offender’s bare buttocks with a half-inch rattan cane moistened to break the skin and inflict severe pain. The loss of blood is considerable and often results in shock. Corporal punishment is not necessary to achieve public order, even in Singapore. Other countries do not employ corporal punishment, yet their streets are relatively free of random violence. There are also principled reasons for opposing corporal punishment.”
(~ Jerome H. Skolnick, LA Times)

(2) “Could it be that unkindness is all that [people] see from leaders and they therefore equate that with power over others? Rather like abused children who become abusers themselves, abused citizens are just as likely to do the same. It is totally weird logic to say that violence in the form of draconian laws is the only way to ensure stability.”
(~ Marina Mahathir)

(3) “No matter how heinous the crime, you do not descend to the level of barbarity of the perpetrator. . .An eye for an eye is ancient philosophy replaced by more enlightened ideas and ideals, discarded by civilized societies long ago. Caning is mutilation. Mutilation is wrong. It is barbaric. You do not overcome barbarism by descending to barbarism.”
(~ Richard at The Peking Duck)

(4) “Ravi said that academic consensus has conclusively proved, contrary to what the government claimed, that judicial caning has little to no effect on deterrence.”
(~ Ariffin Sha, TOC)

(5) “State-employed doctors also play an integral role in caning. They examine victims and certify their fitness to be caned. When victims lose consciousness during caning, they revive them so the punishment can continue. After caning, some victims suffer long-term physical disabilities.”
(~ Torture in widespread caning)

(6) “The role that doctors play in facilitating deliberate pain and injury through caning is absolutely contrary to international medical ethics. Instead of treating the victims, doctors are assisting in their torture and ill-treatment.”
(~ Sam Zarifi, A Blow to Humanity)

(7) “Doctors are duty bound to ‘do no harm’. . .We will support all doctors who refuse to participate in any way as witnesses and medical examiners whenever the state carries out an execution or judicial caning. Let not the government say that it is carrying out all these inhuman and inhumane practices on behalf of the people and with their support. It is certainly not done in my name.”
(~ Dr. Albert Lim Kok Hooi, Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility)

(8) “Caning used to be reserved for violent offenders, but Singapore’s dominant political leader Lee Kuan Yew extended caning to cover vandalism during an epidemic of political graffiti from the opposition. I know personally of people who prefer to serve a longer term of imprisonment than to undergo the sentence of caning.”
(~ Francis Seow, former Solicitor General of Singapore | NPR Radio 1994)

(9) “He’ll be caned. Who cares? Michael Fay faces a humiliating and agonising caning in Singapore, and many of his fellow Americans think he deserves everything that’s coming to him. Peter Pringle argues that crime has distorted a nation’s perception of human rights.”
(~ The Independent UK, April 1994)

(10) “I was told by some of the inmates that the screams of the victims after each stroke of the whip makes one lose all appetite for food. Caning in Singapore is a barbaric act.”
(~ Chee Soon Juan, Pg-257 of Democratically Speaking)

(11) “In 2012 the courts sentenced 2,500 persons to judicial caning, and 2,203 caning sentences were carried out; including 1,070 foreigners caned for committing immigration offenses.”

Note: According to those numbers, this amounts to an average of ~42 people caned per week.
(~ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor: Singapore Report 2013)

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For some contrast — this is how a country like Norway handles crime:

(1) “Norway tries to address the causes of criminal behavior. . .I do feel that it is better to prevent future crimes by solving the underlying issues.”
(~ Comment by kraznodar)

(2) “Norway no longer has the death penalty and considers prison more a means for rehabilitation than retribution. . .Bjorn Magnus Ihler, who survived the Utoya shootings, said that Norway’s treatment of Mr. Breivik was a sign of a fundamentally civilized nation.”
(~ Norway Mass Killer Gets the Maximum: 21 Years, NY Times)

(3) “Treating drug addicts like medical patients rather than criminals is not only more humane, but more effective and cheaper. Maybe we should broaden that logic to include treating prisoners as humanely as possible as well.”
(~ Erik Kain, Forbes)

(4) Under the c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment section in the 2013 report on the human rights situation in Norway:

“In May two Oslo police officers were filmed examining a suspected drug dealer’s mouth and throat with a thin telescoping metal baton. In response to media reports and inquiries from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Oslo Police stated that such actions were legal. An earlier assessment by the Police University found the actions to be questionable since health personnel must conduct all bodily searches. The police launched an internal investigation and banned the use of the baton for mouth searches.”

I hope Singapore moves toward some…positive reform with its human rights situation in future.

After all, the National Pledge states that progress for the nation is a goal, and that should not mean economic progress at the expense of social progress.

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More Information:

(1) Document – Singapore rejects calls to end death penalty and caning (Amnesty; 2011)

(2) Singapore’s Violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (ThatBoyHuman; 2014)

(3) Universal Declaration of Human Rights (United Nations)

(4) UN Declaration on the Right to Development (United Nations)

(5) Human Rights (Wikipedia)

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UPDATE (9 March 2015): Singapore (still) rejects criticism that caning is ‘torture’ (Yahoo!)

In Conversation–Catherine Lim and Marina Mahathir (2012)


This post is about two years overdue, although the experience of the event is still fresh in my mind :)

I was involved with a couple of events during the 2012 Singapore Writers Festival.

At the time, I circled a number of programmes in my SWF booklet, since I wanted to attend as many of the events as I could.

One that I thoroughly enjoyed was a panel with Catherine Lim and Marina Mahathir. This despite the fact that I had largely been a politically indifferent and apathetic youth when I was growing up in Singapore.

This was the text which described the programme:

“Marina Mahathir in Conversation with Catherine Lim”
Sun 4 Nov | 2.30pm – 3.30pm

Two of our region’s leading writers and social commentators, sometimes controversial, always engaging, talk about what it means to use the written word to engage in civic society. How do they deal with naysayers and critics, and what keeps them awake at night?

These were their bios in the SWF 2012 booklet.

Marina Mahathir (Malaysia) | 2012 SWF Programme

Marina Mahathir writes a fortnightly column on social issues in an English-language Malaysia daily, is an avid blogger, is active on Facebook and Twitter, and is also a television and film producer. She writes and speaks regularly on human rights, particularly where it relates to gender issues, Islam and HIV/AIDS. One to walk the talk, Marina was president of the Malaysian AIDS Council from 1993 to 2005, and currently sits on the board of Sisters in Islam, which advocates justice and equality for Muslim women. She is the daughter of the fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tun Mahathir Mohammad.

Catherine Lim (Singapore) | 2012 SWF Programme

Well-known and outspoken Singaporean author Catherine Lim has more than 20 titles to her credit — from short stories to novels, reflective prose and poetry, and satirical pieces. Her works deal largely with the East-West divide, Asian culture, women’s issues, and Singapore’s culture, history and politics. She has won national and regional book prizes and was conferred n honorary doctorate in literature by Murdoch University, Australia, and was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Information.

Here’s a photograph I took with each of these dynamic ladies at the end of the discussion. I don’t know how I managed to grab a pic as it was all done in a rush, but I’m glad I did!


With Marina Mahathir at 2012 Singapore Writers’ Festival

catherine lim

With Catherine Lim at 2012 Singapore Writers’ Festival

I remember being very engaged by these two speakers when they first stepped into the room that day. My immediate impression (before each of them actually began to be “in conversation” with the other) was that they were both very smiley and energetic, with a good sense of style.

Both of these speakers were/are incredibly vibrant and passionate about politics, civic engagement, and the subject of human rights. Needless to say, it was a lively discussion. There were several quips that seemed to stray across OB “out of bounds” Markers, as evidenced by the entire audience gasping — or laughing — spontaneously.

The room was so packed that people were standing by the sides and the back of the room.

Halfway through the discussion, a middle-aged woman in the audience started to ramble when she asked a question (a mic was given to her — maybe this was during the QnA portion of the talk). She got increasingly aggressive with her tone and one of the questions she directed to the speakers was:

“Where were you academics when Singapore needed its academics/intellectuals to [speak up]?”

If I remember correctly, what she was saying was in reference to Operation Spectrum or Coldstore, neither of which I was aware of at the time due to my aforementioned woeful teenage political unawareness.

Catherine Lim was responding sincerely even as the woman interrupted her. The festival director informed the audience member in a calm but stern way that they were to “maintain the peace” (not in those exact words, but to that effect) which was a responsible and respectful way of handling the situation so as to prevent any chaotic or ugly outcome.

That incident made me feel quite nervous (I was wondering how the guest speakers on the panel would answer, with a full-house audience looking on). Part of me also felt surprised at how passionate people could be, which was a world of difference from a climate of political slumber where people are too indifferent or fearful to be involved in any way. I remember thinking that the incident would probably never be reported in The Straits Times (please feel free to correct me if there was indeed a mention of it in the local mainstream media).

Throughout the conversation, what was most evident was these ladies’ razor-sharp intelligence, combined with their poise, diplomacy, and lack of arrogance. The combination of these qualities made an inspiring and refreshing impression on me — along with many other members in the audience, I’m sure.

Maybe I felt compelled to attend the event due to my (at the time) latent interest in socio-political issues. I am thankful I had the chance to.

It was nice to see how crowded the room was. The full-house attendance challenged the notion that local Singaporeans are a perennially politically disengaged, apathetic lot.

Book Review: Once A Jolly Hangman


once_a_jolly_hangman* Also on The Online Citizen and The Real SG.

The contents of this well-researched book were so depraved and disturbing, that it took me several weeks to (1) finish reading the book in its entirety, and (2) gather my thoughts about it in order to write a cohesive review.

I would have thought that the book was a work of fiction were it not for the ‘non-fiction’ label at the back of the book in the print version.

Back in 2013, former ISD director Mr. Yoong Siew Wah mentioned “the callousness of the Singapore government” on his blog.

This callous and insensitive aspect that is completely lacking in any compassion for humanity, is certainly apparent in Once A Jolly Hangman. The title alone points to the bizarre nature of the system, where the macabre act of hanging a human being is undertaken with joy as if it were a festive occasion and cause for celebration.

Perhaps the most morbid fact mentioned is the “Death Row Diet.”

As it says in the book, “Beyond the walls of Changi Prison hanged prisoners’ organs are worth tens of thousands of dollars each.”

As if this fact of profiting from dead prisoners’ bodies were not deplorable enough, the prisoners on death row who sign the consent form to donate their organs for transplant or research are put on a special regime known as the Death Row Diet. This diet consists of high-quality, nutritious food to “ensure the organs are in perfect condition for transplant after they are hanged.”

Is this not a form of ultimate exploitation of human life, where one profits handsomely from the dead and forgotten?

The other thoroughly disgusting component of the book has to do with the racial bias of the elites. The author, Alan Shadrake, structures the book around several real-life accounts to show how people with money and the right connections have the means to prevent themselves from being executed by the state. If you’re poor, uneducated, or of an undesirable race (or, to phrase it a little better, your skin colour is not the right one), yours is the “pitiful, hopeless situation” where even the innocent may end up being executed.

Alan Shadrake went to jail because of this book — for contempt by scandalising the court. A scandal can be defined as an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage. How is the author scandalising the court when his book is based on scandalous facts?

What Alan Shadrake did with this book was to give the deceased a human face, since their lives weren’t worth anything to the Singapore authorities (apart from what could be gained from their organs, post-mortem). This further highlights the hypocrisy of Changi Prison’s motto.

I didn’t even know Changi Hilton — I mean, Changi Prison — had a motto until reading this book. That motto is:

“Captains of Lives: Rehab, Renew, Restart.”

From their own website:

“RENEW is a commitment an inmate makes to change his/her life for the better. Through the CARE Network, our offenders are given opportunities to restart their lives.”

Renew? Restart? Tell that to the families of Flor Contemplacion, Angel Mou Pui-Peng, Amara Tochi, Shanmugam Murugesu (a Tamil Singaporean former jet ski champion and army regular), Nguyen Van Tuong, Vignes Mourthi, and countless others who were executed in Singapore for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, without the riches or powerful connections to help them out of their dire situation. Or to the family members of Huizuan with regard to her tragic death in Changi Women’s Prison in 2011, which could have been avoided if more care had been shown by the prison staff in her medical condition before her death.

What is even worse is that Changi Prison sends out a letter to the families of the individual on death row informing them of when the execution will take place — a letter which has that same motto emblazoned on the bottom of the page.

This was truly one of the most despicable and morbid books I’ve ever read. It reveals a darker side which the authorities would likely prefer to keep hidden beneath the country’s veneer of justice, cleanliness and efficiency.

* * *

More Information:

Once A Jolly Hangman (
Book Depository (Free Shipping)
Wikipedia | Guardian UK | Interview (Author: Alan Shadrake)
Murdoch Books / Pier 9 (Publisher)
Singapore sentences UK author to jail (Amnesty International)

Dr. Chia Thye Poh


* Featured on The Real SG and TR Emeritus.

Dr. Chia Thye Poh – Singapore Profile


* One of the world’s longest-held political detainees (32 years without charge or trial; 1966-1998)

* Recipient of the LLG Spirit Award (2011)

* Quote: “The PAP government [is] intolerant towards sharp criticisms. . .they seem elitist and arrogant.” (Dr. Chia Thye Poh, 1989)

1. Background and History


Dr. Chia Thye Poh (born 1941) was detained under Singapore’s Internal Security Act for allegedly conducting anti-government, pro-communist activities.

He was imprisoned for 23 years without charge or trial, then placed under house arrest for another 9 years, with restrictions on his place of abode, employment, travel, and exercise of political rights.

Amnesty International recognizes him as “Singapore’s longest serving prisoner of conscience.”

2. Barisan Sosialis

Dr. Chia was a university physics lecturer when he entered politics.

He was a member of the Barisan Sosialis (Malay for “The Socialist Front”), and an elected member of the Legislative Assembly for Jurong Constituency in 1963. The Barisan Sosialis was formed in 1961 by left-wing members who had been expelled from the People’s Action Party (PAP).

3. The Power-Packed Minute in Parliament

This is an excerpt from Parliamentary Debates of the Dewan Ra’ayat (House of Representatives), dated 19 September 1964.

Dr. Chia was given one minute more to “complete his speech.”

Here are some of the things he managed to say:

“Sir, when the Prime Minister talks of defending our country, we find it hollow. . .This Government is oppressing the people; more than 200 political leaders and trade unionists are in the jails of Singapore. . .Political dwarfs like Mr. Lee Kuan Yew can strut around and talk big. . .All this nonsense [with] these riots is just to hide the truth that the main culprits belong to the ruling parties.”

4. 1966 Arrest Under the ISA

Dr. Chia was in his mid-twenties when he was arrested on 29 October 1966 under the Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for indefinite detention.

Dr. Chia was detained for his role in organizing and leading an illegal protest march of supporters to Parliament House on 8 October 1966. He had handed a letter to the Clerk of the House demanding for a general election, the release of all political detainees and the nullification of “undemocratic” laws.

The other detainees were released after they signed a document promising to renounce violence and sever ties with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

However, Dr. Chia refused to sign the document!

In his own words:

“To renounce violence is to imply you advocated violence before. If I had signed that statement I would not have lived in peace.”

For more than 30 years, Dr. Chia would quietly but steadfastly refuse to cave in to the authorities’ demand that he publicly confess to being a violence-oriented communist.

“If the government had the evidence,” Dr. Chia stated in a 1998 feature in Asiaweek, “it should have tried me in open court.”

5. Arrest and Imprisonment

Dr. Chia’s detention for 32 years — without charge or trial — gives Singapore the dubious honor of holding one of the world’s longest-held political detainees.

The length of detainment is technically longer than that of Nelson Mandela (who was put on trial in 1964 and spent 27 years in jail).

The detention left Dr. Chia in poor health, with lung problems, a weak bladder, and psychological scars.

His eyesight deteriorated from many years spent in a darkened cell. During his interrogation, he was told that prisoners held in the darkened cell would go insane in a few days. The authoritarian PAP regime also kept him subjected to day-long interrogations in a freezing cold room.

Later, the regime started pressurizing Dr. Chia’s aged father to persuade him to give up. Security agents were also directed to drive Dr. Chia through the streets of Singapore, while taunting him to sign his confession paper. They told him he would “rot in jail” otherwise.

6. Domestic Exile

When those tactics still failed to break Dr. Chia’s spirit, he was sent into domestic exile on Sentosa island on 17 May 1989.

Dr. Chia was made to pay rent for the one-room guardhouse, as well as pay for his own food.

This was due to the Singapore government’s audacious assertion that he was under “observation status” and not a prisoner. Dr. Chia thus negotiated a deal which allowed him to work as a freelance translator for the Sentosa Development Corporation.

In 1992 Dr. Chia was allowed to move back into his parents’ home, and in 1997 he was allowed to accept a fellowship from the Hamburg Foundation in Germany for politically persecuted persons.

In November 1998, all remaining restrictions were lifted. Dr. Chia immediately called upon the Government to repeal the ISA, citing that the ISA is a law that “tramples on human dignity and strikes fear into the mind of the people.”

For three decades, mild-mannered Dr. Chia was branded by the Singapore government as a violent “communist revolutionary” and a threat to national security.

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar, a political science professor at the University of Malaya, said:

“It is a damning indictment on the Singapore Government to have held a chap for all those years and then when finally releasing him issue all those restrictions. It was such an inhuman thing to do.”

7. 2011 Recipient of the LLG Spirit Award

Established in 1988, the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award is the highest honour in the Malaysian Chinese community. The award is bestowed on those who live up to the spirit of Lim Lian Geok, former Chairman of The United Chinese School Teachers’ Association Of Malaysia.

In 2011, Dr. Chia was honored with the prestigious LLG Spirit Award.


The 70-year-old was fondly remembered by the 400 people attending the award presentation at the Confucian Private Secondary School in Lorong Hang Jebat.

At the ceremony, Dr. Chia shared his words of wisdom:

“A university is not an ivory tower. . .what matters is its spirit, its capacity in bringing up graduates that empathize with the people and work for the progress of mankind and world peace. . .Just as Mr. Lim Lian Geok had said, his body might be destroyed, yet his spirit would survive and flourish. [That spirit] will always live in the heart of the people. It will always inspire us to overcome all difficulties and march on.”

Associate Prof. Andrew Aeria, a political scientist at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), aptly described the sharp-witted Dr. Chia as “a shining icon to the struggle for human rights and democracy.”

8. 5 Reasons Dr. Chia Deserves Our Respect

(i) Integrity and Conscience

Dr. Chia: “[Signing a false statement] would have been against my conscience. I wouldn’t have been able to live in peace with myself.”

(ii) Formidable Intellect / Insight / Courage to Speak His Mind

“Under the PAP rule, there is no genuine parliamentary democracy. . .there is always the danger of one-party rule slipping into one-man rule, and worse still, into dynastic rule. The PAP government does not like critical newspapers or publications, and is intolerant towards sharp criticisms. They seem elitist and arrogant, regarding themselves as the best and the most suitable to rule Singapore. And they rule it with iron-handed policies.”
(Dr. Chia Thye Poh, 1989)

(iii) Remarkable Resilience

Dr. Chia: “My ideal has not been dampened after [more than thirty] years under detention. In fact, prison life can only make a person more determined to fight against oppression and for a fair, just and democratic society.”

(iv) Peaceful Nature

Dr. Chia insists he bears “no personal grudge against anyone” (including his tormentors responsible for the deplorable 32-year detention).

(v) Benevolence

Dr. Chia: “The struggle for democracy is much more than personal battles. Democracy is not about violence.”

* * *


1989 Interview with Chia Thye Poh (Think Centre)
1999 report on release of Chia Thye Poh (LA Times)
Award for Asia’s Forgotten Man (SG Rebel)
Barisan Sosialis (Infopedia)
Chia Thye Poh (Wikipedia)
Chia Thye Poh: A Man Who Never Gave In (Asiaweek)
Chia Thye Poh long time prisoner of conscience is honored (Asian Human Rights Commission)
Chia Thye Poh, Photos (National Archives, SG)
Parliamentary Debates of the Dewan Ra’ayat (19 September, 1964)
Singapore’s Gentle Revolutionary (South China Post)
Speech by Chia Thye Poh at LLG-Spirit Award Ceremony (Think Centre)

More Information:

Rare photos of Dr. Chia Thye Poh (SG Rebel)
The Secret of Singapore (by Dr. Chee Soon Juan)
Dr. Chia’s “One Minute” (YouTube, 1969)
Dr. Chia’s Acceptance Speech (YouTube, 2011)