Seeing James Gomez’s anxious face plastered all over the Singapore newspapers reminded me of the last time I saw friends of mine in a rogues’ gallery on the front page of the Straits Times.
In 1987, 22 young men and women were arrested and detained without trial for taking part in a so-called “Marxist conspiracy”. I was living in Singapore at the time and knew three of the detainees. Seeing people I knew giving subsequent TV confessions extremely unnerving. In fact the whole event was a major reason behind my decision to leave Singapore a couple of years later.
Here are the first three conclusions of a mission from the International Commission of Jurists that visited Singapore while the "conspirators” were in jail. You can read the rest of the report here, but this should give you a flavour of how Singapore’s justice system measures up to international standards of accepted behaviour.
1. The detention without charge or trial, 'brainwashing' interrogation techniques and other physical and psychological maltreatment by the Internal Security Department amount to clear and grave violations of the human rights of those detained and an abrogation of the rule of law. With only one hour's interval, detainees were interrogated continuously by relays of interrogators for 5 days and nights, with complete sleep deprivation. (This is a well-known torture practice).
2. The activities of the detainees were a legitimate exercise of their civil rights, which should be defended and applauded in a healthy democracy. There is no evidence which justifies their being labelled 'Marxists' or 'communists'.
3. There is no evidence of a Marxist conspiracy or that this informal network of community development groups and workers posed any imminent threat to the security of Singapore.
After they were released, several of the detainees, including some of my friends, issued a statement saying they had been tortured. They were promptly rearrested and released only on condition that they sign statutory declarations denying everything they had said in their earlier press statement.
Well I guess this grisly affair did achieve its main purpose, which was to intimidate a whole generation of young Singaporeans from involvement in any activity that could be termed “political”. I would guess that this is the same motive that lies behind the bizarre harassment of James Gomez at the moment.