Forum on Freedom and Democracy in Singapore… the one that almost didn’t happen

It’s cancelled Why is this cancelled? The executive director who is now at the first floor is talking to Tian and Sochua and he says that well, I let him speak to you personally He’s David Ang, executive director of this place he cancelled my event the last minute Hi welcome, this is the gentleman who cancelled our event This is an example of the droves of people who have to be relocated elsewhere today Please do not take any pictures My name is David Ang He’s in breach of contract and he has his own version of what he thinks the situation is Do you know I have to leave my son at home just to attend to find out more The explanation is very straightforward We were not aware of the booking and the nature of the event No, no, no If it’s not an illegal event, why is it that you are cancelling it? Because our premises is meant for learning purposes and there shouldn’t be any political or trade union activity on our premises Basically that Why can’t we have it here? We came all the way I want to listen to what’s going on Is there such a thing going on in Singapore or in any part of the world that you can do last minute cancellation? Are you pressured by authorities to do such things? Are you being pressured? Who are you to ask me this question? No no no definitely not I told you that our premises are not meant for any activity relating to a political discussion or nature. I don’t want to sound like a spoilsport but I have to say this This is a private event so if you are staying in this room and you are not invited I have to ask you to leave I always tell my friends Malaysia is 15 maybe even 20 years ahead of us in terms of growth of civil society and in terms of the democratic development in terms of growth of political parties But I think after this GE I think we’ve caught up a little bit But after today I think maybe we’ve not The boundaries keep moving back and forth She’s considered the most prominent woman in Cambodia’s political Opposition She spent 18 years in exile And when she returned to Cambodia in 1989 she served as adviser on Women’s Affairs to the then and now PM Hun Sen In 1998 she was elected to the Cambodian National Assembly ran for parliamentary seat in north west of Cambodia which was then and now probably still the most devastated region after the war. and she won In that year she became Minister of Women’s and Veterans’ Affairs. as one of the two women to join the cabinet In 2004, she stepped down from her role as minister citing corruption as a major obstacle to her work Almost immediately she jumped ship to the opposition she transferred allegiance to the Sam Ranisy Party where she’s deputy head of the Steering Commitee and then she became MP for the Sam Rainsy Party And in 2009 she sued PM Hun Sen for defamation after the claiming that the premier had uttered a derogatory statement against her during a press conference The PM sued her back And of course she lost Then the administration legislators suspended the parliamentray immunity for Sochua so she lost all her parliamentary immunity The lawyer who represented her was forced to defect to the ruling party in return for dropping the charges against her Her lawsuit was dismissed by the appeal court in October 2009 And Hun Sen succeeded And in August 2009 the court found Sochua guilty of defamation and ordered to pay approximately USD$4000 in fines and compensation It was my trial I came out of the courthouse What I was holding is the symbol of my party a candle which symbolises justice This is one woman aginst the ruler of Cambodia The PM of Cambodia has rule for 30 years And this is me And this is the crowd I gathered For 15 months it went on and on These are the parliamentarians for the Opposition party and that’s Sam Rainsy our leader We took the front line in order to show that we are in control the Opposition is in control of the streets of the situation and that is the agenda at that time Justice What’s your reaction? Same same You have what Tian was talking about The Opposition fighting how we come together You have Alex giving us all the theories And then you have practice At this level in the city MPs we have symbols we fight at the street level But in reality this part is really not diificult It’s normal We get arrested They don’t arrest us anyway They don’t want to arrest me because they would give me too much publicity Not like you They want to arrest you but with us they don’t want to arrest us because that would give us too much publicity How? Because we have and this is the role of women in politics and the global networks of women in politics (Voice from the audience) You come from Cambodia to Singapore What did that incident, what feeling came to you? That was not news to me In Cambodia it would happen It happens every day They crackdown on them But You know, I’m going to disappoint you democrats of Singapore I’m going to be frank Why didn’t you stand up? Why didn’t you come together and stand there? Why did you move away? That was my reaction If I were at home, I would have called I know it’s very different You’ll be arrested, of course you’ll be arrested Look at what we go through everyday? Everyday, this scene (Voice from the audience) Because the police say that we are an illegal assembly They will say everything They will give you a book of law this thick (Voice from the audience) Here one person is an illegal assembly in Singapore Yes, I know. So is here. (Voice from the audience) There’s no fear but it’s an entrenched system (Voice from the audience)I think subconsciously we want to maintain status quo Speaker: You’ll lose your job right? (Voice from the audience) But Singaporeans will say that we are fools if we do that Sure (Voice from the audience) Whatever it is, we have already given the State their lives They say these are fools. Why do you do things like that? The gov’t will just take you and that’s the end of you Why do you want to do that? Do you care what they say? (Voice from the audience) Oh it matters Then you’re stuck. You’re stuck. (Voice from the audience) The system is different here The system is different anywhere. Everywhere. But if you fight for this, Do you think our system is more liberal than this? Look at what we have If I were to say I can’t take this guy to court although he called me a prostitute it went on TV, it went on for days If I’m going to say Oh I can’t because he’s the PM I can’t go to court I don’t have a lawyer I can’t, I can’t… You are saying to the village how, what are you going to say to the villagers That you are better? They stand up first and we’ll stand up later? It’s that chain It’s not about what if It’s about this is not fair This is not just This is not the life I want to live That’s what it is Otherwise you’ll be sitting here That’s the challenge to you I know the system is different The president of my party Sam Rainsy was a finance minister He was a banker in Paris So was his wife They sold everything I could make over 10, 20 thousand dollars a month with the experience that I have Why am I going in barefoot sleeping in the village? If I were to say I can’t, I can’t, I can’t… (Voice from the audience) Tell that to Lee Kuan Yew No. You do it. You do it. I’m telling it to my PM. I’m telling to Mr. Hun Sen And by standing up there the youths are standing up there the monks are standing up there the villagers are standing up there But those in power will say we are fools Of course they they say we are fools But at the end of the day Who defines democracy for us, to us? (Voice from the audience) We define ourselves Yah, but not sitting down We’re standing up. Thank you. We’ve come to the 2nd half of our talk which is basically about detention without trial, ISA. Who better to bring on than Mr. Vincent Cheng Vincent was a social worker helping out with migrant workers and low wage workers in the 70s and 80s doing pretty much what TWC2 and Home are doing right now but for that in 1987 he was detained under ISA for 3 years Accused by the gov’t of being the “ring leader” of a “Marxist Conspiracy” Vincent Cheng has been quiet for many years since his release in 1990 til recently He’s starting to speak out This is a passage from the book called That We May Dream Again published by Ethos and Teo Soh Lung played a major part in publication of this book (Ms Teo’s voice) I had nothing to do with it I want to read to you: For me the trauma is insidiously lodged in the subconsciousness even after the passage of 21 years I still feel angry at the injustice of the whole incident and that the perpetrators have not been brought to account Operation Spectrum was political whip I cannot forget nor forgive harsh prison meted out to me in prison to extract information the freezing room, the slapping and the beatings including the blow to the abdomen The last act of subjugation haunted me for a long time To mitigate the duress I decided to allow myself to be abused and bullied into writing tracts of self incriminating lies and half-truths It seemed less painful in the interrogation room but it was more painful when I was put back into my cell There I would shed tears stemming from my sense of utter powerlessness loss of self-esteem constant worry over how my “confession” would harm others The gov’t onslaught resulted in 3 years of imprisonment 5 years in restriction orders a fine of $87,000 and other painful consequences for me and my family It’s a good follow-up to what Sochua has said This thing about being traumatised and fearful for 20 over years I’ve been keeping silent about the trauma that started in ’87 which is still very fresh in my mind I can still remember very well the very day they came to fetch me the cold room that was unbearable because I am allergic to the cold the slappings, the beatings and then finally the subjugation that’s why I say the punch to my abdomen was symbolic of my subjugation that’s where I succumbed and I remember when I was crouching my stomach and then I was standing up this officer was saying: Say you are a Marxist So I say sheepishly, I say Ok, I’m a Marxist And then the lights came on And they brought a glass of hot tea and a plate of ang ku kueh To this day, I hate ang ku kueh It reminds me of subjugation That I was unable to stand up That after all my my fight for justice and all that I succumbed In prison, it was actually a very humiliating time but I took that all in and I kept quiet So after 3 years they decided to release me but they put me under 5 years of restrictive conditions which was almost like being arrested and detained in the house I could not meet people I could not even talk to anybody So even from prison I took a kind of martyrdom route I said, ok you want to bully me I will be the victim and I remained so until our 20th anniversary when we all celebrated our anniversary We were frighten we had to celebrate it in Johor Bahru A number of us came together ex-detainees the exiles who could not come into Singapore we met together and then we had for the first time in 20 years to sit there and reflect over our detention and what has happened since then what we might want to do It was there that I decided that I have to speak up but again I tell you I was frighten I was still frighten of being re-arrested because I was made the ring leader when actually I was not I decided to compose some of the writings that I did I have to tell you actually in prison I wrote a journal but I had to destroy it unfortunately because I heard from my lawyer that Soh Lung who was released a few weeks before me that all her writings and her drawings her art work were confiscated upon release I didn’t want my journal to go into the hands of the ISD so I destroyed it But I kept records of certain dates and key words that I wanted to remember later on Another thing that I learned when I came out from detention was that I was trying to forget about the whole thing The ISD was also very happy They I wanted me to forget about the whole thing as though it never existed but then because I was doing massage work some of these clients maybe recognised me asked me: Are you that Vincent Cheng… So I had to give an explanation Instead of talking about whether I’m Marxist or not what Liberation theology… I went straight to explain about how I was treated in prison so I would tell them stories of how I was beaten up the cold room and so on and I always find I am able to turn these people to my side when you tell them exactly how you were treated because they will be shocked They will be shocked at how this can happen in Singapore How could Lee Kuan Yew that “great man” do this? I remember when I was treating this Aids patient he was dying and I was massaging his feet and then he asked me why I was doing this then it led to my revealing to him that I was in prison under the ISA and then I told him how I was treated and then suddenly he shouted “Lee Kuan Yew, you bastard!” I was really shocked and his god father ran out of the kitchen “What happened, what happened?” I find that sometimes, not sometimes we ex-detainees, we have to speak out I think that’s the first step Most of the time we are so traumatised we all keep silent Most of our ex-ISA detainees whether they are from the 50s, 60s 70s everybody has been keeping silent (Voice from the audience) Is that what they want? I think it’s the trauma that is preventing us from speaking out So we have to break out And I think the first step is we have to open our mouth or if we are afraid to speak publicly then maybe we should write we should keep a record of all we are going through and then later on at an opportune time we can actually have that and share with the people of Singapore I think it’s very important that you cannot work alone I think we have to work together If we want to abolish the ISA, we want to call for Truth and Reconciliation Commission we have to work together We have got to forget a lot of our differences and to work focusedly on what we want to achieve. I think this process of democratization if I put it in a very simplistic way is that first of course you need people who have conscience who have the courage to speak out to consistently put up the cost these we have seen everywhere civil society, the voice of conscience even in the most repressive situation you have Aung San Suu Kyi, you have this type of people There is a certain optimism that I and many Malaysians activists are sharing now because now what we are fighting for is publicly recognised Now the question is we have to compete to show that we are more competent than the ruling party to run the show And we believe so because there is so much baggage in Najib’s camp that they are not able to deliver so we are not worried just that we have to overcome public prejudice we have to overcome the kiasu attitude of our own public and rightly so In democracy, that’s how it is because they are our boss they have to decide We cannot go around and scold them why are you so kiasu They are our boss They kiasu, we have to assure them if you are kiasu, you better vote for us because if not you will lose your future because this group of people running the show they don’t know what they are doing They are going to lose you My agenda is human rights. I have no intention of overthrowing the PAP gov’t If the PAP gov’t delivers me the human rights I’ll vote for them It’s as simple as that So I’m going to talk only about the agenda Referring to the elections that Martyn mentioned it’s already fading from memory very fast because of you see like today things are back to “normal” After the announcement of the ISA repeal in Malaysia there was this within 24 hours an announcement that no, no, no we are not going to repeal Everything is hunky-dory in Singapore Things are back to “normal” But during the elections I was not particularly enthusiastic about some Opposition parties People assume from my blogging that I am pro-Opposition and I always tell them: Don’t be ridiculous. I’m not. I only have the agenda There are some parties which are closer to my agenda and therefore my sympathies, empathies and support go to but some parties are not Today I’m going to talk strictly about the agenda I’m really not going to talk about Oppositional politics because there are 2 greater experts here I have never participated in Oppositional politics I have no intention whatsoever You can see that to realise democracy you need to have these building blocks which are very simply the core human rights You can’t have meaningful democracy without meaningful equality of political weight and you can’t have meaningful equality of political weight without these human rights That is your intellectual linkage between human rights and democracy You can’t have one without the other Electoral democracy of which comes first? Electoral democracy or civil rights and human rights? and the funny thing is that if you look at history If you look historically most countries went considerable distance down this road first before they went to democracy They established your freedoms, liberties and rule of law first and then gradually created democracy as we recognise it today To a certain extent it went in tandem but that’s how Even in Hong Kong they still don’t have democracy But I think in many ways Hong Kong is far better than a lot of ASEAN countries when it comes to this So it’s quite possible to have the second which will make me happy because that’s the agenda I without the first which I’m not too concern about that The way I look at it There are different Opposition parties but they’re not all the same Just because they are all equally anti-PAP does not make you all the same to me because they way I look at it I look at Opposition parties that have a strong committment to human rights and those that don’t and to me when it’s this kind of thing it’s really a case of another potential autocrat trying to replace that autocrat So at the end of the day what difference does that make?

Maurice Vega

9 Responses

  1. this is a difference between a true political leader and cowards who wants to be politically involved yet doesn't want to do anything…

  2. LKY and his insane fixation with marxist and communist conspiracy. Pyscho fuck. May his soul gettormented by lenin, stalin and marx wherever they are

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