Evidence showing that PAP co-founder Lim Chin Siong’s detention was wrongful has emerged as a transcript of Mr. Lim’s speech at a contentious protest has turned up in the UK’s National Archives.
The politician was once believed to be a top contender to lead Singapore but his promising career was subverted when he was jailed. A transcript of the speech that Mr. Lim made in 1996 refutes allegations made against him that he had instigated and advocated subversion and violence against the government – a charge that was used to detain him.
In 1964, Lee Kuan Yew and Lim Chin Siong founded the People’s Action Party. Mr. Lim’s leadership, rhetorical skills and intelligence served him well in supplying the organizational base of the PAP and assembling the trade union movement. Mr. Lim wholeheartedly supported Singapore’s marginalized workers. He gained popularity quickly, and at the age of 22, he won the Bukit Timah constituency in 1955. Lee Kuan Yew even introduced him to David Marshall as the next leader of Singapore.
Mr. Lim’s phenomenal career in public service was derailed when he was jailed during Lim Yew Hock’s term (1956 to 1959) and also during Lee Kuan Yew’s term (1963 to 1969).
For the past 50 years, the Singaporean government has officially declared Mr. Lim’s detention as justifiable, labeling him as a communist and accusing him of condoning subversiveness and violence. Mr. Lim denied these accusations as long as he lived.
The government alleged that Mr. Lim initiated the violent protests that occurred on October 25 and 26, 1956. Mr. Lim was said to have agitated crowds, telling them to beat policemen, at a rally organized by PAP held at Beauty World. The crowd gathered in protest of arrests of Chinese students and civil society leaders. The following day, on October 27th, he was apprehended and kept and police custody even without undergoing a trial.
Chew Swee Kee, who was the Minister for Education at that time, said before the Legislative Assembly, “It is significant to note that the Member for Bukit Timah (Lim Chin Siong) at that meeting said that instead of shouting ‘Merdeka’ the people should now shout, ‘Pah mata’, which means ‘Beat the police.’ Is there any doubt whatsoever as to who sparked off the riots?”
Mr. Chew said the riot started when the protestors marched down Bukit Timah Road and fought with the police near the Chinese High School.
This charge that Mr. Lim instigated violence at the rally has been accepted as fact, but it is something that he denied to the end of his days. In 1996, the year that he died, Mr. Lim denied the charge for the last time in an interview with Melanie Chew. This interview was published in her book, Leaders of Singapore, later that year.
This matter may be now be corrected once and for all. In the recently uncovered speech, Mr. Lim reminds the crowd that the police were employees too, and should not be the object of their rage. He also used levity to counteract the tense atmosphere of the protest.
A historical context
In 1948, Singapore came under very strict government control after the declaration of the Malayan Emergency. Political activities were illegal, and citizens were allowed to be searched, held in custody and even tortured without due process. Repression and violence were commonly used to control and govern the citizenry.
In 1955, while preparing the country for decolonization, a new constitution was introduced in the country to give Singaporeans the beginnings of self-government. David Marshall, then newly appointed Chief Minister, replaced Emergency Regulations with the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO), which functioned similarly, but Mr. Marshall exercised fairness in its application.
In June of 1955, after the arrest of labor activists caused unions to protest, Mr. Marshall promised, and delivered, fair and speedy trials for them. Only one of the activists was found guilty, and all the others were quickly released.
This sparked a welcome change from recent years of repression. Politics in Singapore grew and strengthened, as violence and police apprehensions became a thing of the past. However, the British, concerned at growing anti-colonial moves, saw subversion in many activities.
After Mr. Marshall’s resignation on June 1956, spurred by the British refusing his proposal for full internal self-government, he was succeeded by Lim Yew Hock., who in turn was pressured by the British to exert more control over society.
By September of that year, using the PPSO, Mr. Lim took seven people into custody and had anti-colonial groups disbanded. Singaporeans greeted this with anger, forming a Civil Rights Convention that was composed of a wide array of groups from several ideologies, ethnicities and economic classes. Chinese, Indian, and Malay organizations, professionals and laborers, right and left wing groups all banded together, creating a national anti-colonial front that was multiethnic in composition.
Alarmed, Mr. Lim had more and more people arrested, which made Singaporean citizens even more angry. All this led up to the riots of October 1956.
The PAP, in opposition to the administration, met together against the arrests. And on October 25, in a meeting attended by Lee Kuan Yew, Toh Chin Chye and Devan Nair, among others, Lim Chin Siong made a speech where he reminded the protestors that they came together not against the police but Lim Yew Hock along with the country’s the colonizers.
Here is an excerpt of Mr. Lim’s speech, “With regard to police… they are all wage-earners and they are all here to attend this meeting to oppose Lim Yew Hock. We gladly welcome them, and the more of them that attend will make us even stronger. A lot of people don’t want to shout Merdeka! They want to shout ‘pah mata’. This is wrong. We want to ask them to cooperate with us because they are also wage-earners and so that in the time of crisis they will take their guns and run away. (Laughter and cheers).”
Despite his words, protestors clashed against the police near the Chinese High School, causing a riot that lasted until the early hours of the morning. On the same day, police threw tear gas into Chinese High and Chung Cheng High Schools in order to vacate the schools of the students who had staged a sit-in, which resulted in more rioting. These riots lasted the whole day.
On October 27, Mr. Lim was arrested and detained. His speech was used by the government as justification for this. The Council of Ministers had decided to bring Mr. Lim to trial if enough evidence could be found to bring a conviction.
It’s possible that evidence could not be found, since Mr. Lim was never brought to trial.
Sadly enough, Lee Kuan Yew never refuted Chew Swee Kee’s allegations against Mr. Lim at the Legislative Assembly.
The National Archives of the UK declassified files of the Singapore Special Branch lately, including the transcript of Mr. Lim’s speech. It has become obvious that the government falsely represented this speech. And even when the PAP rose into prominence, Mr. Lim was never given an opportunity to show himself innocent.
Similarly, there has never been any evidence of Lim conspiring with communists. No evidence has ever been shown against the other detainees under the PPSO and the Internal Security Act, who number in the hundreds. Other declassified documents from Special Branch files merely show participation in lawful political activities that aimed for independence and freedom. Many of these detainees were apprehended since the Special Branch failed to draw the line between subversive communist acts and the peaceable struggle against colonial rule that was legal under the constitution.
As an example, in November 1956, 163 persons were apprehended preventatively, which means that there was no evidence presented against them, but there was an alleged possibility that they may be communists.
Netizens expressed sympathy for Mr. Lim as news of the declassified transcript broke while some others noted Lee Kuan Yew’s alleged complicity in his ex-colleague’s detention:
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