29 September 2011

Ministry of Home Affairs Response to Media on the Internal Security Act, 29 September 2011

          The 16 ex-detainees call for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate their detentions. The subversion and violence of the Communist insurgency from the 1940s to the 1970s are a historical reality. The Government’s actions against the Marxist plot in the late 1980s were fully explained and justified at the time, and extensively debated in Parliament. These actual situations and events which were real threats to Singapore’s security cannot simply be dismissed as “rhetoric”, as the ex-detainees now try to do.

2         The detentions under the ISA were made for valid security reasons and properly dealt with according to the law. Every case was reviewed at that time by the Advisory Board chaired by a Supreme Court judge. The Government sees no reason to conduct a review now, more than 20 years after the event, via a Commission of Inquiry.




 23 September 2011
Ministry of Home Affairs Press Statement on ISA, 23 September 2011
          Sixteen ex-ISA detainees issued a joint statement on 19 Sep 2011 taking issue with the length of detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and also the ISA Advisory Board process.

2        These sixteen ex-detainees were not detained for their political beliefs, but because they had involved themselves in subversive activities which posed a threat to national securityNine were actively involved in Communist United Front (CUF) activities in support of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), which was committed to the violent overthrow of the constitutionally-elected governments in Singapore and Malaysia.  They infiltrated legally-established organisations like trade unions and student associations, and instigated illegal strikes and demonstrations to cause mayhem and civil strife, to complement the CPM’s armed revolution.  In 1974, one of them provided medical assistance to a CPM saboteur who was hiding in Malaysia.  The saboteur had been conveying a bomb for an attack in Singapore, and was travelling along Still Road (Katong) when it detonated prematurely, injuring him and killing his two accomplices.  Such was the volatile and dangerous security situation then prevailing in Singapore. Following the CPM’s call in 1968 to its underground networks to return to armed struggle, new CPM organisations were formed in the 1970s which included killer squads to carry out sabotage, assassinations and other acts of violence.

3         In the 1980s, seven of the sixteen ex-detainees were involved in a Marxist plot to subvert and destabilise Singapore.  The plot was part of the CPM’s renewed efforts to rebuild the united front by penetrating and manipulating legally-established organisations.  Three of them infiltrated and manipulated several religious organisations and, exploiting the religious cover, pursued activities towards subversive ends.  They worked with others, including leftist elements from the CPM era, to build a covert network to promote a Marxist agenda, using united front tactics to control and influence organisations engaged in religious and social activism.  Five of these ex-detainees swore Statutory Declarations concerning their past activities. 

4         On the issue of length of detention under the ISA, whether a person’s detention is extended depends on whether he still poses a security threat.  For example, detainees who refused to renounce violence were detained for longer periods until they were assessed to no longer pose a security threat to society, whereas others who renounced violence and no longer posed a security threat were released much sooner.

5         The allegation that “the protection accorded by the Advisory Board is spurious, if not a farce” is baseless and unwarranted.  The Advisory Board is chaired by a Supreme Court judge, and scrutinises every detention case to satisfy itself that there are valid security grounds which warrant detention.  Members of the Board are appointed by the President and the Board enjoys the immunities and powers of a court of law.  It examines representations from detainees and their legal counsel, studies the evidence including classified intelligence, and examines witnesses including senior ISD officers when it deems necessary.  These safeguards were further enhanced when in 1991, the elected President was given the power to veto the Government’s decision to detain a person against the recommendation of the Advisory Board.  Indeed, the Board has on several occasions made independent recommendations for the early release of detainees, including three of the sixteen ex-detainees. 
6         The external security environment and the threats to our national security have evolved with changing times and circumstances.  In the CPM era, armed communist insurgencies, transnationally motivated and supported, infected countries throughout our region.  The communist threat was not just violent insurgency but also the systematic subversion of the political arena to foment civil strife and de-stabilise the countryWe also encountered cases of espionage, and cases where a foreign power or agency tried to subvert Singapore’s domestic politics.  From time to time racial and religious extremists, sometimes externally supported and instigated, sought to provoke racial conflict and subvert our ethnic harmony.  Today, we face the threat of jihadist terrorism, not only from Al-Qaeda-linked clandestine groups like the Jemaah Islamiyah but also from self-radicalised individuals.

7         A small country, open to external influences and located in a turbulent region, will always face security threats.  Their nature will evolve over time.  The ISA and its use have likewise evolved as Singapore’s circumstances, vulnerability and risk tolerance change.  While the Government certainly monitors developments in the laws and systems of other countries, on a matter as important as security it ultimately has to decide based on what is prudent and necessary in Singapore’s context and is in Singapore’s best interests.  As an instrument of last resort, the ISA has enabled us to counter serious security threats, protect our people, and preserve our racial harmony and social cohesion.  It remains relevant and necessary in today’s evolving security environment, for keeping Singa¬pore safe and secure.



Following is the joint statement issued by ex ISA detainee on 19 September 2011

We welcome Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak’s announcement that his government would repeal the Internal Security Act (ISA) and the Emergency Ordinance. He said the changes are aimed at “having a modern, mature and functioning democracy which will continue to preserve public order, ensure greater civil liberties and maintain racial harmony.” We look forward to the Malaysian Prime Minister fulfilling his promise to his people.


Singapore inherited the ISA from Malaysia. This law has been in existence for more than half a century and its impact on society is both crippling and pernicious. Its life began soon after the Second World War as the Emergency Regulations in 1948 when the British used it to put down strong anti-colonial movements. In 1955, the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance incorporating the Emergency Regulations was passed. When Singapore joined Malaysia in 1963, the Federation of Malaya’s Internal Security Act 1960 became part of our law.


The Ministry of Home Affairs claims 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…” (ST 17.9.2011)

This comparison is irrelevant because political detainees in Singapore have been imprisoned for periods which far exceed those in Malaysia. Dr Chia Thye Poh was imprisoned for 26 years. Dr Lim Hock Siew was imprisoned for 20 years. Mr Lee Tee Tong was imprisoned for 18 years and Dr Poh Soo Kai and Inche Said Zahari for 17 years.

The Ministry further claims that the Advisory Board is a safeguard against abuse under the ISA.

The protection accorded by the Advisory Board is spurious, if not a farce. Several of us have appeared before such a board and can confirm that the board did not examine witnesses and evidence against the detainee. In 1987, appearances before the board lasted not more than a few minutes each. Furthermore, detainees were discouraged from appearing before the board by ISD officers. Many were advised that appearing before the board would jeopardise their chances of early release.

Singapore has many existing laws that will deal with acts of terrorism. We have the Penal Code, the Sedition Act, Corrosive and Explosive Substances and Offensive Weapons Act, Vandalism Act and after 9/11, the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act and the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. These laws provide severe punishments which include death, life imprisonment and caning.

In 1991, then Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “Singapore will seriously consider abolishing the Internal Security Act if Malaysia were to do so”. He made this response to seven Malaysian journalists in his office when asked why the ISA was still needed in Singapore even though the Communist Party of Malaya no longer posed a threat. (ST 3.2.1991.) Now that Malaysia is repealing the ISA, we call upon PM 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. Indefinite detention without trial is an affront to the human rights of citizens and an assault on our justice system.


    Dated this 19th day of September 2011.

    Dr Lim Hock Siew
    Dr Poh Soo Kai
    Said Zahari
    Lee Tee Tong
    Loh Miaw Gong
    Chng Min Oh @ Chuang Men-Hu
    Tan Sin alias Tan Seng Hin
    Toh Ching Kee
    Koh Kay Yew
    Vincent Cheng Kim Chuan
    Teo Soh Lung
    Yap Hon Ngian
    Tan Tee Seng
    Low Yit Leng
    Wong Souk Yee
    Tang Fong Har