Political activists, opposition politicians nominate former political detainee Chia Thye Poh for Nobel Peace Prize

A file photo of Dr Chia Thye Poh in 1998.
A file photo of Dr Chia Thye Poh in 1998.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A group of political activists and opposition politicians have nominated former political detainee Chia Thye Poh for the Nobel Peace Prize, saying his fight for political rights here has inspired current activists.

At a press conference on Saturday, Singaporeans First Party secretary-general Tan Jee Say said he supported the nomination "out of a sense of public duty", despite not personally knowing Dr Chia, 74, a former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainee.

"We now want the world, and in particular the citizens of Singapore, to know of this personal tragedy and the huge sacrifices that he and his compatriots had made," he said at the event attended by rights activists and supporters of Dr Chia, who was not present as he could not be contacted.

He is said to spend most of his time in Europe.

The former member of the opposition Barisan Socialis, who was elected into Parliament in 1963, was arrested on Oct 29, 1966 for organising and leading an illegal street procession earlier that month, to demand that a general election be held and that eight conditions be met. This included the release of all political detainees and the abolishment of laws he deemed undemocratic.

He was released in May 1989, after having spent time in prison and halfway houses, and was allowed to live on Sentosa island. From 1992, he was allowed to live on the main island of Singapore. During this period, he earned a living doing translation work for the Sentosa Development Corporation.

The restrictions imposed on his travel, public speeches and political activities were fully lifted by the government in November 1998.

Mr Tan argued that the nine-year restriction period taken together with the 23 years of detention, made Dr Chia the world's longest-serving political prisoner, exceeding the 27 years that the late South African leader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for.

Also present at the event was Former National Solidarity Party (NSP) council member Kwan Yue Keng, who distributed a testimonial he wrote calling on Singaporeans to support the nomination.

Former Singapore Democratic Party member James Gomez, who wrote the nomination letter with filmmaker Martyn See in January, said the Nobel Peace Prize Committee confirmed it had received the nomination letter. This makes Dr Chia one of 273 nominees for the Peace Prize this year. But it is not known if he made the shortlist, finalised in May.

The committee, which consists of five members appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, will choose the Peace Prize Laureates through a majority vote next week.