OPEN LETTER TO: His Excellency Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister
We write to you today in regard to the 25th anniversary of Operation Spectrum, when 22 young professional Singaporeans were arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA), the law that permitted arrest and detention without charge or trial for indefinitely renewable two-year periods. They were alleged to be participating in a “Marxist conspiracy to subvert the existing social and political system in Singapore through communist united front tactics to establish a communist state”.
Such grave charges were never tested in a court of law. Instead, they were subjected to the threat of indefinite detention and to prolonged solitary confinement and lengthy interrogation under conditions of aggravated mental and physical stress amounting to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The result was highly questionable, heavily edited “confessions” broadcast on television. The content of the “confessions” did not, in Amnesty International’s view, amount to a case of conspiracy against the state. Nor did their legitimate, non-violent activities in church, community, arts, workers and students’ groups and in the opposition Workers Party. Amnesty International named them prisoners of conscience. All were eventually released. Some, however, were later re-arrested after renouncing their “confessions” and describing the ill-treatment to which they had been subjected.
Operation Spectrum is part ofSingapore’s shameful history of human rights violations that took place within the framework of restrictive laws. But they are not only history — they continue to this day within a framework of restrictive laws. The ISA regrettably remains in use, as does the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which also permits detention without trial. The recently enacted Public Order Act severely restricts the right to peaceful assembly. The Sedition Act, the Undesirable Publications Act and the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act are all seriously at odds with international human rights standards as well as Singapore’s own constitutional guarantees to the right to freedom of expression. Such laws are excessive and open to abuse.
Today freedom of expression remains severely limited in Singapore despite numerous calls since 1987 inSingaporeand worldwide for Singapore to make advances in human rights protection and promotion. Those calls appear not to have been heeded by theSingaporegovernment. Once again, therefore, we urge that Singapore use this 25th anniversary of Operation Spectrum to take bold steps to ensure that it is marked not only by Singapore’s courageous human rights defenders with their speeches, books, meetings and other public activities, but by a clear determination by the Government of Singapore to heed those calls.
In particular, we urge the government of Singapore to take steps to ensure that Singapore’s laws conform with international human rights standards:
- Repeal or reform the Internal Security Act and other restrictive legislation that permit indefinite detention without charge or trial;
- Ensure, through legislative and other measures, protection of the universal rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest, and to freedom of peaceful expression, assembly and association for both citizens and non-citizens in Singapore.
Michael Schelew, Former President of Amnesty International Canada
Gail Davidson, Director, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada
The Honourable David Kilgour, JD, Former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, Government of Canada
Dr. Margaret John, Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia, Amnesty International