Artist arrested – Chia Thye Poh’s detention continues to haunt Singapore Government


Local artist Seelan Palay has reportedly been arrested after standing in front of Parliament House, holding an art piece, this afternoon. His piece, entitled “32 Years: The Interrogation of a Mirror”, was developed in commemoration of the 32 years former elected Member of Parliament, Chia Thye Poh, spent in detention without trial.

Seelan’s arrest and artwork draws attention to Singapore’s dark political history – a history in which Chia Thye Poh features prominently.

Chia Thye Poh was detained in 1966 under the Internal Security Act of Singapore for allegedly engaging in pro-communist activities against the Singapore government. Although the allegations remain unproven to date, the former MP was incarcerated for 23 years without charge or trial, and subsequently placed under house arrest for an additional nine years.

Confined to Sentosa island during his house arrest, Chia was stripped of employment opportunities, the freedom to travel and the freedom to exercise his political rights, among many other restrictions.

All in all, Chia was detained for more years than the world’s most famous political detainee, Nelson Mandela.

Today, Seelan introduced his art piece at Hong Lim Park, revealing to his audiences that he had developed the piece over two years, before moving to the National Gallery Singapore and to Parliament House. He was reportedly arrested at 3.20pm after holding his piece in front of the House for about 30 minutes.

An eyewitness, former political detainee Tan Tee Seng said:

“Seelan’s piece was a reflective one, literally! He had drawn on a piece of mirror at Hong Lim Park as his spoke of the motivation of his presentation. He then walked to National Gallery (former Supreme Court), knelt at the steps and contemplated silently for about 10 minutes with some 15 people watching his presentation. After that, he walked to the Parliament House and stand in front of the main entrance. Looking at his work, one would be able to see the reflection of the august building of the parliament house – a stark reminder that Chia Thye Poh was an elected Member of Parliament when he was arrested under the ISA in 1966.
“About six police officers scampered to surround him when he stood silently facing the Parliament building. I overhead one of the officer asked him what was the drawing about. I took a peep at what the police officer was pointing, i saw the reflection of the officers in blue and the parliament house in the background. Seelan’s gave a small lecture to the young officers who apparently did not know who was Chia Thye Poh. Interestingly, the police officers may have seen themselves in the frame of what Seelan’s had drawn.
“Two police cars came, more than 10 police officers arrived and after a short standoff, Seelan was handcuffed and then led into one of the police vehicle.
“As it was clear that Seelan was to be taken away by the police car and realising that was not part of Seelan’s presentation we decided to move on. Four police officers came running after us and demanded for our particulars. When asked why, I was told that I may be a witness to an offence committed. When asked what offence was committed, I was not given an answer but instead told of the power of police to demand for anyone’s particulars or they would bring us to the police station to ascertain our identity. Their reason – maybe we are foreigners! When reminded that it was a public space and we have millions of tourists and foreigners in this little island, we were warned that we are not cooperating with police investigation and wanted to take statement from us. We gave our particulars and if need be, will lim kopi with them another day. Seelan’s presentation today open my eyes to the naked power of the state over its citizens.”

Seelan's piece was a reflective one, literally! He had drawn on a piece of mirror at Hong Lim Park as his spoke of the…

Posted by Tan Tee Seng on Sunday, 1 October 2017

Activist/artist Seelan Palay presented a performance on Sunday afternoon at Hong Lim Park, "32 Years: The Interrogation of a Mirror" in commemoration of the 32 years of detention without trial that former Elected Member of Parliament, Chia Thye Poh went through. During the performance, Seelan, who turns 32 this year, said that he couldn’t fathom how a person could be locked up without trial for the same number of years that he has lived.Prior to marching out of Hong Lim Park (where he obtained a permit to perform) to carry out the unannounced part of his art performance, he said to his artwork as if speaking to Chia himself, "I hope to ask you two questions. Can the liberated human mind be constrained by a state sanctioned space, and in that regard, can a liberated work of art be contained within a state sanctioned space? Do you know the answers to both of these questions? I will show you."After making his way to National Gallery Singapore and to Parliament House, Seelan was arrested by the Police at 3.20pm after about 30 minutes of standing in front of Parliament House, while holding his art piece. He was subsequently taken away in a police vehicle from Parliament House.

Posted by The Online Citizen SG on Sunday, 1 October 2017



  1. Why was he arrested? One man standing with an art-piece is considered an illegal demonstration? What crime did he commit that he deserved to be handcuffed? The policeman questioning him tried to assert his authority by putting his hand on his hip but he failed! Looked stupid! Lets see what crime he will be charged with or will he be detained under ISA? Shame!!!!!

  2. As coined by his siblings as a dishonourable son, LHL will not say anything because his father detained all his opponents branding them as communist when they were not. How else could he have won without they being locked up. Whats would have happened if suppose Lim Chin Siong had a upper hand and had locked up Lew Kuan Yew for 32 years??? How would LHL narrate his sufferings? This is the man the late Lee once pronounced ” meet the future prime minister of Singapore.” Can you imagine what kind of anguish, sufferings and torment the parents of Chia Thye Poh would have gone through when he was detained at the tender age of 24. You know, Karma, she is a bitch, that is why we all saw the humiliation LHL went through when his own siblings call him a dishonourable son. But I think (Karma) she is not finished yet. Perhaps there worst is yet to come.

  3. As an ordinary common citizen , without having the details of the artist arrest, simply reading from the post; Wonder what crime is committed when one hold an artefact of some kind standing in public area fronting government building ? SPF enlighten us the citizen please.
    It seems that there is that much or not at all tolerance of and public space to exercise civil liberty of kind in this so pronounced democracy of Singapore ????
    Wonder why it is so very much deem a taboo for interested citizens to discuss the person Chia Thye Poh , if not for anything but as a subject of general general knowledge. After all we are to believe he was justifiably incarcerated for most part of his life ……….

  4. BTW, when Mandela became President, Singapore held both the longest serving as well as the 3rd longest serving political prisoners except, unlike Mandela, they were imprisoned without trial. Sadly there are now political prisoners which break that record. PM Lee has instructed his Min. of Love to take back the record.

  5. After the release of Nelson Mandela it was too embarrassing for the shameless Sg G to continue the detention of Chia Thye Poh. LKY should be recognised for who he was. He was a political scoundrel, devoid of all humanities, in his pursuit of power. First he locked up his strong political opponents. Next he got rid of his peers in his cabinet in the name of leadership renewal because he didn’t like his ideas to be challenged during cabinet meetings. Don’t believe? Look up EW Barker, Minister for Law. When the trump up charges of linkage with communism became untenable in the late 80s, this shameless G turned to the use of defamation law to squash vocal opponents. LKY passed laws to gradually constrict the public space for political dissent. Even a single man demonstration is illegal. That is the legacy of the great LKY, the dictator extraordinaire.

    • Well you have just described men who do do things and not just talk only. Their actions while questionable by critics standing by the sideline are often inaccurate.

      Those in power will always use it. Otherwise what’s the point of having power?

      LKY’s decisions and actions were probably the right ones at the time they are taken. Who are we to judge when we were not part of it. Besides how would you like your actions and decisions to be scrutinized, you’ll call that being judged.

  6. A leader who believes in Freedom of speech
    Nelson Mandela doesn’t throw people to Sentosa who wants freedom of speech…..
    A leader who does not think of himself first, citizens come first
    A leader who doesn’t always think of the many zeroes $$$$$$