Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Singaporeans Reawaken The Past

Singaporeans reawaken the "Marxist Conspiracy

Twenty-five years later, a handful of people seek to redress an old wrong
Last weekend, about 400 Singaporeans gathered in a local park to call attention to a notorious 25-year-old raid called Operation Spectrum, when Singapore’s Special Branch swooped down on 16 activists and community workers and charged them with being involved in a Marxist conspiracy to overthrow the government. Eventually six more were arrested, bringing the total to 22.

To this day, no one is really sure what it was about. The 22 were mostly young Catholics who were forced to “confess” on television such sins as sending books to China, which might have made a good deal more sense if instead they had been receiving books from China, which was then still a putatively Marxist dictatorship. The detainees didn’t fit any stereotypes as agitators, such as those who rattled the island republic during the decades of the 1950s and 1960s. They were actors, social workers, lawyers and students.

The fact that 400 Singaporeans could assemble in a public park to discuss the 25-year-old events and demand that the government do away with its harsh Internal Security Act without seeing their leaders carted off to jail may be an indication that despite the country’s reputation for draconian punishment for anyone contradicting the government, some things may have indeed changed.

The June 2 event was organized by the human rights NGO Maruah, which calls itself the focal point for the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism, a regional group with its secretariat based in Manila. Maruah appealed for 350,000 signatures to call for a commission of inquiry on whether there had been a Marxist conspiracy at all. Another group, Function 8, released a statement saying that “Nothing substantial or credible was ever produced to corroborate the government’s allegations. Later documents showed even greater ambiguity in the reasons behind the detentions in 1987. An injustice was perpetuated and continues to linger to this day.”

Many of the detainees have later alleged wrongful detention, ill treatment and torture.

There is considerable conjecture that then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was concerned about the Catholic liberation theologists who had become active across South America and, in Asia, the Philippines in particular – priests demanding social justice and an end to poverty, and that he didn’t intend to see anything like that happen in Singapore. In court testimony in a libel suit – one of many that Lee would file against the press and particularly several against the now defunct Far Eastern Economic Review, the then-prime minister said his concern was to prevent a collision between the church and the government. He said he wanted to defuse the situation, which he felt was being aggravated by the actions of some priests in whipping up emotion through press statements and special masses for the detainees.
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