Ex-detainees launch book to mark 1987 arrests, call for ISA to be abolished

A group of former Internal Security Act (ISA) detainees have launched a book to mark the 30th anniversary of their arrests, and called for the ISA to be abolished.

The former detainees are part of a group of 22 activists rounded up under Operation Spectrum in 1987 for being part of what the Government called a Marxist plot aimed at overthrowing it.

The book titled 1987: Singapore's Marxist Conspiracy 30 Years On, was launched at an event at The Projector cinema at Golden Mile Tower yesterday afternoon, organised by civil society group Function 8.

It contains essays from 36 contributors, including detainees who detailed their experience being interrogated and detained without trial.

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A documentary on the events surrounding the arrests titled 1987: Untracing The Conspiracy was screened before the launch.

Among the 200 people present were civil society activists and opposition politicians, including Workers' Party MP Chen Show Mao and Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan.

After the film screening, four former detainees - Ms Low Yit Leng, in her 50s; Ms Chng Suan Tze, 68; Mr Vincent Cheng, 70; and Mr Kenneth Tsang, 64 - took questions from the audience.

"After all the experiences that we have, even 30 years after the episode, we (Singapore) still are not in any way attempting to abolish the ISA," said Mr Cheng.

Mr Tsang said Singapore should learn from Asian countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, which have become "great powerhouses" both economically and in terms of democratic freedoms.

Other civil society activists also spoke, among them historian Thum Ping Tjin, who urged the Government to release evidence for the Operation Spectrum arrests.

He said: "Thirty years is a reasonable amount of time where we begin to get perspective on the past."

In their statement released yesterday, the former detainees of Operation Spectrum also elaborated on their call to abolish the ISA.

"Many have been forced into exile because of the fear of arrest and the terrible prospect of indefinite detention without trial," they said, calling on the Government to allow political exiles to return home.

The Government had previously said that it would not scrap the ISA as it remained "relevant and crucial" to keep the country safe and secure.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 22, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-detainees launch book to mark 1987 arrests, call for ISA to be abolished'. Print Edition | Subscribe