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50th Anniversary of Operation Cold Store 2 Feb 2013
Speech by Dr Poh Soo Kai
Dear comrades and friends,
Dear fellow ex-detainees of February 2 and the waves of repression thereafter till today,
Today, we gather to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Operation Cold Store, launched on February 2, 1963. On that day, The British colonialists, with the connivance of Lee Kuan Yew, arrested over a hundred left-wing activists, including myself. In one fell swoop, they wiped out the entire leadership of the Barisan Sosialis, the main opposition force in Singapore.
First and foremost, I want to take this occasion to pay homage and respect to the hundreds of brave young men and women, cut down, cruelly and undemocratically, in the prime of their lives on 2 February, and in the relentless waves of detentions thereafter.
This is also the moment to honour their families and loved ones, who endured immense pain and sufferings, and provided the unquestioning support throughout those endlessly dark days, months, years, and decades.
Every person arrested in that historical juncture of February 2;
every person arrested from the 1940s to the 1980s;
each and every one has undergone a persecution that is so deep that none is unscarred.
• Today, no one among us, the ex-detainees, should feel that his or her pain, sufferings, and sacrifices had been in vain.
• No one among us should feel any shame or humiliation that the cross had been too heavy.
• No one among us should feel he or she had contributed less than another detainee.
• Today, it is time that we all heal the wounds for we have been vindicated in our youthful pursuit of a better humanity.
For today, the unimaginable has happened. That we can stand, tall and straight, in Hong Lim Park (in this bright sunshine) – exactly 50 years after the sinister mass arrests of February 2 – and say, loud and clear:
WE, THE SURVIVORS OF 2.2, WE ARE VINDICATED IN OUR PURSUIT OF OUR YOUTHFUL IDEALISM IN 1963.
Our youthful idealism in 1963 called for an independent, multi-racial, multi-communal nation that is non-discriminatory towards any race or community.
Our youthful idealism called for a nation where the people would enjoy economic dignity and social assurance. A Barisan Sosialis government would not have permitted the current obscene disparity in income between those whom we voted into power and the lowest strata of society. ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Our youthful idealism called for a nation that would enjoy full democratic and human rights. A Barisan Sosialis government would not have permitted any arbitrary detention without trial. ABSOLUTELY NOT.
Can the youth of today in Singapore imagine, the excitement, and magic in the air after World War II, where the youth of all races, on both sides of the causeway, dared to aspire for a united Malayan nation, free from communal politics, free from the Internal Security Act, free from economic humiliation experienced by the poor, the sick, the disabled and the aged?
Yes, our generation, cut down on February second 1963, was the proud inheritor of the People’s Constitution, the Hartal, the Malayan Democratic Union, and the PUTERA-AMCJA coalition that flourished from 1945 till 1948.
Are our youth of Singapore hearing these great names for the first time?
Yes, there existed a People’s Constitution, drafted by John Eber and Willie Kuok of the Malayan Democratic Union.
It was adopted after extensive consultations with the people of all races, up and down, the length and breadth of the peninsula of Malaya, and the island of Singapore.
It is salient to recall the fundamental principles of this constitution. They are:
1. Singapore is an integral and inalienable part of mainland Malaya;
2. There should be equal citizenship rights for all persons hailing from the various communities who qualify to be citizens of this country; the citizenship is to be known as Melayu citizenship;
3. Melayu citizenship is to be given to all persons born in this country and others who had settled continuously in this country for the past 10 years irrespective of whether they came from: Java, Sumatra, the Rhio islands, China, Burma, India, etc.
However, the British colonialists refused to listen to the people’s aspirations.
As a result, the PUTERA-AMCJA coalition, on the suggestion of Tan Cheng Lock, decided to hold a one-day HARTAL which was a call for a peaceful complete stoppage of economic activities on a pan-Malayan scale. On that day 20 October 1947, from Singapore to Malacca to Kuala Lumpur to Penang, workers did not go to work; shops and offices were closed; buses, trains, taxis and cars came to a standstill.
The HARTAL was a convincing proof that all communities, especially the Malay community, supported the non-communal politics that is at the heart of the People’s Constitution.
Imagine in the days when there was no internet or twitter, when even the telephone was an expensive luxury, a Hartal could be organizationally possible in the time span of a week or 2 , with teams of bicycle riders peddling away furiously from towns to villages to kampongs throughout the length and breath of Singapore and Malaya. So invigorated was the youth’s spirit for a People’s Constitution that no logistical problems could deter them.
This mass, non-communal, democratic movement had to be crushed. And so the British colonialists, who returned after World War II crushed this people’s movement with an array of repressive and deceptive instruments:
• With the brute military force of the Emergency of June 1948;
• With the inhuman uprooting of entire villages and their re-settlement in New Villages, which were, in actual fact, concentration camps. The people were bodily searched upon leaving and entering the camps. All communities – Chinese, Indians and Malays - were affected by this Briggs resettlement plan. The policy achieved the insidious aim of the British “to divide and rule’ over their subjects, especially the Malays and the Chinese – physically.
The British “divide and rule” also privileged communal politics and parties to replace the genuinely nationalistic MDU and PUTERA-AMCJA. If any political parties were not communal, then they were treated as subservient to British interests, like the PAP This disastrous communal politics rolled back the democratic and racially non-discriminatory Malayan nation concept of 1947. When the Malaysian merger was proposed in the early 1960s, it was already infested with racialism. The Malaysian merger was a distorted concept and a far cry from the 1947 Malayan model.
David Marshall characterized the phony referendum for the Malaysian merger in September 1962 as offering choices to beat your mother, or your wife, or your sister. Yet, Lee Kuan Yew forced Singapore into such troubled and turbulent waters, just to save himself from the Barisan Sosialis taking power from him, through the ballot box, scheduled in the second half of 1963.
Our generation, cut down by the mass arrest on 2.2.1963, was the proud inheritor of the momentous People’s Constitution, the peaceful and all-powerful economic boycott of HARTAL, the genuinely non-communally inspired parties like MDU, PUTERA, and AMCJA.
But we can be equally proud that we made progressive history in our own rights with
• the Fajar Sedition Trial;
• the May 13 movement of the Chinese middle schools students against compulsory conscription, in other words, they refused to serve as cannon fodder to British imperialist interests in the region;
• the struggle to set up the Nanyang University to popularize higher education;
• the massive trade union struggles for workers’ just pay and compensations.
It was we, who were the bedrock of the pro-people, anti-colonial constitution of the PAP when we founded the party together with the LKY faction.
Looking back, it is ironical that we had legitimized Lee Kuan Yew in those days!
But the people of Singapore were (and are) no fools. They quickly saw that their democratic aspirations were betrayed and, like all responsible people, they used the ballot box to express their dissatisfaction to the PAP-LKY faction then as they did in 2011 and last Saturday in Punggol East . They delivered two resounding defeats to the PAP in the Hong Lim and Anson by-elections of April and July 1961 – for LKY's failure to release political prisoners.
TODAY, YOU CAN DO IT AGAIN. YOU CAN REPEAT HONG LIM & ANSON AGAIN TODAY!
Looking back, it is so ironical that we had legitimized Lee Kuan Yew in those days!
• Had British imperialistic interests not been in the way;
• had there not been the ISA;
• had the playing field been level or BERSIH, as our neighbours across the causeway today called their mass movement for clean and fair elections;
• had there not been OPERATION COLD STORE of February 2,
Singapore’s history could have been different. And another generation of youth may not have to “restart” again today for they could build upon the democratic foundations that we could have laid in 1963.
WE CANNOT CRY OVER THE PAST.
OUR ASPIRATIONS TO BE DECENT, HUMAN BEINGS WILL NEVER DIE,
AND TODAY, WE CAN REPEAT HONG LIM AND ANSON AGAIN THROUGH THE BALLOT BOX!
WE CANNOT CRY OVER THE PAST.
OUR ASPIRATIONS TO BE DECENT, HUMAN BEINGS WILL NEVER DIE,
AND TODAY, WE MUST DELIVER HONG LIM & ANSON AGAIN THROUGH THE BALLOT BOX!
Thank you, my comrades and friends, my fellow ex-detainees … THANK YOU.
Dr Poh Soo Kai
Dr Poh Soo Kai was one of 133 persons opposed to the terms of Singapore's joining the Federation of Malaysia who were arrested on 2 February 1963 in 'Operation Coldstore'. At the time, he was Assistant Secretary General of the opposition Barisan Sosialis. He was released in December 1973, but was rearrested in June 1976 and is currently held in the Moon Crescent Detention Centre.
After his release in 1973, Dr Poh returned to the practice of medicine but at the same time continued to be outspoken in his criticism of the Government. He attacked the Government for curtailing the application of the rule of law and detaining political prisoners without charge or trial. His rearrest came shortly after the withdrawal of the ruling People's Action Party from the Socialist International. At a meeting of the Socialist International in London in May 1976, the Dutch Labour Party had demanded the expulsion of the PAP for, among other things, violating human rights by detaining political prisoners without trial. A Ministry of Home Affairs statement issued after his rearrest contained the allegation that 'Dr Poh has actively helped pro-communist elements, had established links for collaboration with similarly-minded groups abroad, and was preparing the ground for the revival of Communist United Front activities in Singapore.'
The Government also alleged that he had advised 'student agitators' and had supplied medicine to a communist activist said to have been injured by his own bomb while trying to assassinate a local factory manager. This latter allegation was based on a statement made by a political detainee which was later retracted.
In February 1977, Dr Poh's wife, Grace Poh, was detained for 27 days during which she was held in solitary confinement and subjected to a series of round-the-clock interrogations for periods of up to three days.
50th Anniversary of Operation Cold Store, 2 February 2013
Speech by Teo Soh Lung
Good afternoon friends, ladies and gentlemen.
I am privileged to be given this opportunity to speak at this historic event and in this historical Hong Lim Park. I want to thank:
1. The organisers for working so hard in making this commemoration happen.
2. Mr Tan Kok Fang and his team for putting together a very important publication We Remember 2 February 1963 which is available to all of you today.
3. The contributors to this impressive publication for putting their thoughts down for posterity.
4. The survivors of Operation Cold Store and the survivors of all subsequent operations who are here today. Thank you.
The ISA is a cruel and draconian law which allows the government to imprison anyone without trial for as long as it wishes.
The Late Dr Lim Hock Siew had this to say about detention without trial.
“.. detention without trial is not a peaceful action. It is an act of violence. They come to see you not in the daylight with an invitation card. They come in the morning, 4 am. That is the time when decent people sleep, and when political terrorists and tyrants strike. And when you are detained, you are subjected to all kinds of mental and even physical torture.”
The result of Operation Cold Store was to instil great fear in Singaporeans. Wave after wave of arrests throughout the sixties, seventies, eighties and even the turn of this century, silenced the population and enabled the government to enact oppressive laws and policies that curtailed our fundamental freedoms and human rights. Instead of a government which listens to the people and carry out the wishes of the people, we have a government that did what it wanted to do. Those who opposed its plans were put away in jails, sued for defamation and charged for frivolous offences.
Periodic arrests throughout the decades divided the nation and even divided those who were detained. Detainees kept to themselves after their release. Few would speak about their traumatic experiences, not even to their children and grandchildren. The fear that telling their stories would expose them to rearrests and bring shame and discrimination was real. To be critical of the government and to be involved in politics became synonymous to inviting trouble. How often do we hear of parents telling their children to stay away from politics. And that was how Singaporeans became depoliticised.
When I was in prison in 1987, my only knowledge of the ISA dated back to the arrests of the so called Euro Communists in 1977. In that year, my employer, G Raman and several of his friends in the legal profession were arrested. According to DPM Teo Chee Hean, more than 800 were arrested in the 1970s. Though I was strongly of the view that Raman and others were unjustifiably detained, the majority thought otherwise. Their favourite rebuttal to my defence of those arrested was “they must have done something that you and I do not know”.
Raman and his friends were released after a year or so. Like detainees before them, they never tell their stories because the fear of rearrests was real. In all probability, they also felt that no one would believe in their innocence.
In prison, I was threatened with indefinite detention and reminded of Chia Thye Poh who was then still in prison even after 21 years. I was in the dark as to why he was detained and that itself generated even more fear. If the government could imprison a person for so long, how can anyone be sure of a release?
Today, people are beginning to be aware of Operation Cold Store because more and more literature of that era is emerging. Back in the 1970s, I knew almost nothing about those arrested in the 1960s. The first time I heard about Said Zahari was when I saw a friend, the late Francis Khoo, selling a little collection of poems by Said Zahari. The title was Poems from Prison. I bought a copy. I took another copy from him and attempted to sell it to a priest. I can still remember the shocked look on his face. He shook his head, refusing to even touch the little book and walked away hurriedly.
That sadly, was the political climate of the early 1970s. Taking advantage of the silence of released detainees and the fear of the ordinary citizens of being arrested under the ISA, the PAP governed without restraint.
We are very fortunate today that despite the devastation caused by Operation Cold Store, we still have survivors like Dr Poh Soo Kai, Said Zahari, Michael Fernandez, Tan Kok Fang and others. They have not only survived the darkest days of Singapore’s history, they have survived to tell their side of history. They have spoken and written books in the last decade, telling us the contributions of their generation which the PAP government have deliberately distorted and maligned.
And so to all of them and to all the survivors of Operation Cold Store, I say thank you for liberating us from the British colonial masters and thank you for sacrificing the prime of your lives in pursuit of a dream for a Malaya, embracing Singapore and building a land that believes in equality, democracy, multi culturalism and human rights.
Although that dream for a united Malaya was interrupted by Operation Cold Store and wave after wave of arrests under the ISA, I am confident that the decades of silence is over. In the last ten years or so, the internet has returned the voice to Singaporeans. Thanks to you, the young people of Singapore, this voice is getting louder and louder and it will not be silenced again.
Today, there are about 19 people in prison under the ISA, some of them for more than 10 years. This is wrong and I call upon the government to either charge them in open court or release them immediately. We cannot be expected to trust the reasons for their detention, when we ourselves have been wrongfully detained.
The abolition of the ISA is long overdue. Malaysia has abolished this law and I cannot believe that Singapore which possesses the most sophisticated weapons and spyware in Asia cannot do without this law that has caused and continues to cause untold miseries to thousands of detainees, their families and friends and silenced the people of Singapore. And so I call upon the government to abolish the ISA.
It is my hope that all those who have been imprisoned under the ISA will one day receive a public apology from the Government of Singapore. It is important that we recognise the invaluable contributions of an earlier generation of Singaporeans who fought selflessly for our country. An admission of how badly the ISA has been abused will be the beginning of a proud history of Singapore.
Last but not least, I call upon the government to let all exiles return to Singapore without conditions. They have sacrificed their youth for our freedom and they have every right to return home to the embrace of their families.
COMMEMORATION OF THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF OPERATION COLD STORE ON 2 FEBRUARY 2013
FROM SAID ZAHARI AS TRANSMITTED VIA POH SOO KAI
On 23 December 2012, I visited Said Zahari at the ground floor apartment in Puncak Alam 3, Selangor, Malaysia, where he lives with his daughter Riz and grandsons. As this day was a Sunday, his son Roesman and his family were also there paying their weekly visit to the grand old man.
Said came into the tiny cozy living room in his wheelchair, a broad smile on his face. We were instantly relieved at his cheerful and hearty appearance though we had been given the good news a few days earlier – that he had been discharged from hospital where he had been warded for two mild strokes.
On 16 Dec 2012 at about 8.30 a.m., a text message had appeared on my cell phone informing me that Said Zahari had a second stroke and was in Sungei Buloh Hospital, ward 4A, bed 24. The message was from his son Roesman.
Not knowing his actual conditions, I was anxious and at once, transmitted Roesman’s message to Syed Husin Ali, who fortunately was able to see Said that evening at about 7.45 p.m. After the visit, Husin emailed to say:
"Visited Said this evening. He can speak well, as usual, his mind is alert n memory good. But he cannot move his right hand n leg. He looks normal n not weak."
As good luck would have it, the following day of 17 December at about 10 p.m., I got a text message from Said’s son, Roesman that Said had just been discharged and had gone home.
During our visit on 23 December, Said was very happy and touched to know that many comrades and friends – and we went through their names - were concerned about his condition when they learned of his recent strokes. Among them, the Monsooners and not least was, of course, Soh Lung on behalf of friends in Singapore, who enquired:
"(Got) message from Roesman. Has anyone visited Said? How is he?"
In commemorating the 50th Anniversary of 2 February 1963, Said noted sadly that there are not many of us around any more.
Nevertheless, he has no regrets to have stood up for the editorial independence of Utusan Melayu. He knows today that the historic Utusan strike of 20 July 1961, which lasted for 93 days, continues to inspire the young people of today, who cannot imagine this glorious past of Utusan, given the paper it has become today as a tool of UNMO. This was evident from readers’ posting in Pusat Sejarah Rakyat’s facebook when PSR commemorated the Utusan strike on 20 July this year with a newspaper clipping of that time showing Said with other strike workers. In fact, Said had gleefully gone into Pusat Sejarah Rakyat’s facebook with the help of his grandson, and registered his “like”!
Said and I continued to dwell on the past, about Said’s great friendship with Lim Chin Siong. Recalling his passing on 5 February 1996, Said sighed and wished that if only Lim Chin Siong had lived to see today when the youth on both sides of the Causeway are stirring and moving to a new consciousness. Undoubtedly in early 1963 with Lim Chin Siong in charge of Barisan Sosialis and Said Zahari newly elected to head Partai Rakyat Singapura, this personal and political bond between these two men from the Chinese and Malay community respectively was too much of a threat to Lee Kuan Yew. Both men needed to be ruthlessly put away under Operation Cold Store on 2 February 1963.
In like manner, Said recalled his friendships with Ahmad Boestaman, the great Malay nationalist leader as well as A.M. Azahari of Brunei whose armed revolt provided the excuse for the British colonialists to launch Operation Cold Store under which we were all arrested.
Our conversation went on and on, to the present in Malaysia and Singapore. Said is buoyed by the recent developments and salutes the youth on both sides of the Causeway for giving us hope and cheers in our old age.
25 December 2012
Lee Tse Tong
Lee Tse Tong was arrested on 8 October 1963. He was held under the Internal Security Act until November 1967. In that month, he was released after bringing a successful application for a writ ofhabeas corpus but was immediately rearrested under the ISA. He was then deprived of his citizenship on the grounds that he had no proof that he was Singapore-born. In February 1968, he was served with a Banishment Order and transferred to Queenstown Remand Prison 'awaiting deportation'. Since 1975, when the Banishment Order was dropped, Lee has been held under the Internal Security Act. He has now been imprisoned without trial for more than 16 years.
A former secretary of the now banned Singapore Busworkers' Union, Lee Tse Tong was elected to the Singapore Assembly for the Barisan Sosialis in the elections of 1963. His case has been taken up by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). At its conference in Caracas in 1979 the IPU passed a resolution urging the Singapore Government 'to release Mr Lee Tse Tong immediately and unconditionally'.
Chng Min Oh
English translation of speech here:
Chng Min Oh was arrested on 3 August 1970. He was Chairman of the Goldsmiths Employees Union. He was held in solitary confinement for the first six months of his detention. In August 1978, he was transferred to Whitley Road Holding Centre for interrogation. While undergoing interrogation at Whitley Road, he was assaulted and forced to pour his urine over himself. In protest at these conditions, he went on a hunger strike. By late September 1979, he had lost 40 pounds in weight and both he and Ho Koon Kiang, another prisoner who had been subjected to similar treatment, were transferred to Changi Prison Hospital. Chng Min Oh later complained of multiple injuries including damaged ears resulting in a loss of hearing. In November 1978, Chng was returned to the Moon Crescent Detention Centre.
How the press reported it :
STRAITS TIMES - A report with no byline and a glaring inaccuracy. "Operation Cold Store was the British colonial government's sweep of communist elements in both countries." With that sentence, Lee Kuan Yew and Tunku Abdul Rahman dodge culpability. Note: Many detainees of Operation Coldstore remained in detention even after Singapore's independence in 1965.
LIANHE ZAOBAO - It depicts Coldstore as a joint operation between Singapore, Malaysia and British Colonial governments. And ends with a quote to abolish the ISA, which was the rallying call at yesterday's event.
Read more :
HARD TRUTHS - Too Hard To Swallow
HARTAL- 66 Years After
A renewed call from the past to abolish ISA
Democracy and human rights in deep freeze: the legacy of Operation Cold Store