Early this year, I responded to your challenge issued during the 2011 Presidential Election TOC TV Forum that “one must be able to back up” “the very serious charge” that “the Internal Security Act had been used for political purposes”.
In my response [link], I referred to recently declassified British Government documents relating to Operation Coldstore which revealed that Lord Selkirk, the UK Commissioner to Singapore at that time, reported to Duncan Sandys, secretary of state for the colonies, that ‘there is no important new evidence of subversive activity on which arrests at this juncture can be justified. We could not substantiate a charge that they are planning to use violence. In the absence of specific evidence of subversion the arrests would be construed as an attempt by HMG to stifle legitimate opposition.’ (Geoff Wade)
Independent check of archives in London
As I have produced before you the evidence that you asked for, Singaporeans expected you to follow up on it. More than 8 months have passed, but you have neither replied my letter nor shown any interest or follow-up action to verify the evidence. Perhaps the declassified papers were too far away from Singapore but now that you are in London on a State visit, physical distance is not an issue. The documents are kept at the British National Archives in Kew, London which is about 8 miles or a short drive of 15-20 minutes, from Buckingham Palace where you are currently staying. You can of course spend as much time as you want to go through the papers and satisfy yourself of their authenticity and accuracy. If this short journey or research work is too arduous for you to undertake, you can always request Her Majesty’s Government to arrange for their intelligence officers to brief you. I am sure the HMG as gracious host, will be happy to oblige.
Your independent verification of the evidence is particularly important at this juncture in view of 2 recent events :
1. In disallowing the film “To Singapore, With Love” from public screening or distribution in Singapore, a documentary about political exiles who fled from Singapore, the Government has alleged that it contains “untruths and deceptions”, designed to “whitewash their past actions” as ” Communist Party of Malaya members and Communist United Front sympathisers” and
2. The Government has launched a reprint of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s radio broadcasts on The Battle For Merger of 1961 ” ‘to provide a reality check’ to attempts by some historians to recast the role played by communists and their supporters on the issue” (Straits Times, 10 Oct 2014).
Truth about the Merger
Singaporean historian Dr Thum Pingtjin, a Rhodes Scholar and Commonwealth Scholar educated at both Oxford and Harvard, has written about events leading to the battle for Merger in ARI Working Paper No. 211 ‘The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger’: Singapore’s “Progressive Left”, Operation Coldstore, and the Creation of Malaysia.
Citing the declassified British Government documents, he made the following points :
1.” ….Lee engineered a ‘Hobson’s choice’ (in the Merger Referendum) : he ensured that all alternatives to the PAP option were repugnant, leaving the public with no real choice. The British called this ‘a dishonest manoeuvre’ and the Tunku ‘a dirty game’ ….”,
2. “… Under Lee’s direction, Singapore Special Branch produced a paper describing an extensive communist conspiracy in Singapore, directed from the underground by the CPM and led in the open by Barisan politicians as part of a Communist “United Front”. The Security Liaison Officer (SLO), Maurice Williams, tore apart the paper, noting numerous major deficiencies. Firstly, ‘ ín spite of intensive investigations, no evidence has been obtained’ of a conspiracy, and that the paper’s conclusions were entirely ‘surmise’. Secondly, sharing the goal of Singapore’s independence with the Communists did not make someone a Communist sympathiser. Thirdly, it was ínconceivable that Secret Branch investigations would have failed to yield any evidence of such control and direction’ of a conspiracy of such massive breadth and scale. “Finally, the label Communist “United Front” was so broadly applied that it referred to anyone unhappy with the government. Thus, he concluded, ‘The developments since August 1961 outlined in the paper do NOT support this conclusion’ stated in the Special Branch paper, and strongly advised against repression.
“Unable to proceed with arrests, the Federation and Singapore governments sought to provoke the Barisan into unconstitutional action on their own. A campaign of harassment against newspapers, publications, trade unions, and opposition politicians commenced.
“Meanwhile, Lee sought to go over Selkirk and appeal directly to his superiors in London. But when he met British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in May 1962, Lee was forced to admit under close questioning that the Barisan leaders were merely ‘stooges’ and not leading Communists, and that the trade unions were no more communist than the Electrical Trades Union in Britain – i.e., not controlled by communists and functioning chiefly as a left-wing pressure group.111 ……….”
Dr Thum’s research paper, dated November 2013, can be accessed by clicking over this[link].
Mr President, the Government is now disputing the accounts of historians even though they quoted, from official British Government documents, the professional judgement of British Special Branch officers that those arrested were not communists or communist united front sympathisers but merely leftwing politicians and trade unionists opposed to the PAP. It is important that this fundamental matter be resolved as we prepare to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our independence.
Mr President Sir, I urge you to get to the bottom of this issue, to seek and establish the truth by checking it out at the British National Archives in Kew, London during your present State visit in the United Kingdom. You owe it to the people of Singapore to do so particularly when you asked for evidence to prove that the ISA had been used for political purposes.
Tan Jee Say
Below is a screenshot of my open letter to the President in February 2014