An Exclusive Interview with Ms Teo Soh Lung

Done by Citizens’ Journal, a friendly page

beyond blue gate, tsl

CJ: What are your views on Operation Spectrum now? Do you forgive the government for what it has done to you (and your comrades)?

Ms Teo: Operation Spectrum was a political exercise. It had nothing to do with national security. The first generation PAP leaders carried out this exercise for two main reasons: (a) To show the second generation leaders who were taking over the leadership of the PAP at that time that the “most effective” method of control was the use of the ISA – arrest all the leaders in any group, including student leaders. (b) To test the nerves of the second generation leaders – whether they can stomach arresting innocent people and imprisoning them without trial, and indefinitely.

There is no issue of forgiveness because the PAP leaders have never seen themselves as requiring any forgiveness. For more than five decades they have used and continue to use the ISA to intimidate and prevent people with views contrary to theirs from being active citizens and contesting and forming an effective opposition in parliament.

CJ: How do you view the response and actions by the PAP government thus far, on Operation Spectrum? We see now that not many people on the street know about such a dark operation in our history, although at the time of its occurrence, it was made known to everyone and intended to be so to make sure fear was struck down the spine of the Singapore citizenry. What would you demand from the PAP as to the “healing” process from such an operation? Or, what do you expect it do next, say in the coming years?

Ms Teo: Yes, Operation Spectrum has largely been forgotten because it happened 27 years ago. So are the earlier operations like Operation Coldstore, Operation Pecah and so many others. If you look at the last chapter of the book “The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years” ed. Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang and Hong Lysa, you will find a list of 1190 names of ISA prisoners who were and are being imprisoned without trial. There are many more ISA prisoners whose names have not been traced. And there are many who have been banished or live as political exiles today.

The best thing that can happen in Singapore is the setting up of an independent Commission of Inquiry to investigate each and every case of imprisonment under the ISA and its predecessors, the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance and the Emergency Regulations. The status of political exiles should also be examined. Why are the exiles not permitted to return to Singapore, the country of their birth, for more than half a century?

As a matured nation, we must know our past and leaders must have the courage to right the wrongs committed by their predecessors. Leaders must accept responsibility, and should be matured enough to apologise to the families of the thousands who have been imprisoned without trial.

CJ: What is your take on the current social involvement climate in Singapore? Are our youths taking part in social and political discourse like those of your time? If yes, how is that different, in terms of being able to garner support and effect change on society and government? If no, why so, and how do you think we (not the government) can help to ‘make it happen’? 

Ms Teo: Today, young people have the internet and news can travel very fast. Society is more open, not because the government is more open but because the young no longer accept what the government says. They do not trust every word of the government and fear is less obvious. But fear has not disappeared. For eg., I once asked a group of youths if they were attending a protest in Hong Lim Park. The answer was quite amusing: We are national servicemen and cannot attend protests! On another occasion I was asked if foreign students at the National University of Singapore are allowed to attend an event at Hong Lim.

Active citizens are always in the minority, be it in Singapore or elsewhere. Most people are only interested in themselves, their families, friends and their work or studies. It is always difficult to convince people that change is good for the country. People like security. But when economic situations affect them or when they suffer injustice, then people will start to question. How long this will take depends on the people – whether they think change is necessary and whether the political and economic circumstances warrant change necessary and people willing to take risks.

CJ: How do you view the dominance of social critic and political criticism by online users and the internet community? Is it healthy, holistic and relevant to the wider society? And if not, how can we improve things?

Ms Teo: Of course discussions, agreements and disagreements on the internet and elsewhere is healthy. It is through such throwing up of ideas that society progresses. Democracy is always good. We learn to be tolerant and not run down people who don’t easily agree with us..

CJ: How do you see your chances of winning at the next General Elections? What are some of your strengths and weaknesses in terms of political campaign? How about that of your opponent(s)?

Ms Teo: There are so many talented young people and they should be taking the lead.

CJ: How do you see SDP, which you chose to join in GE2011, as a brand of politics in Singapore? What have been its greatest contributions as we look back, and what are some of the things you see it going to get done as we look ahead?

Ms Teo: I see every opposition party as necessary for the good of Singapore.

Ms Teo Soh Lung was one of the 22 detainees of the 1987 ISD’s Operation Spectrum. Read her story here.

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