I attended Ho Kwon Ping’s inaugural IPS lecture, where Ho spoke about the future of Singapore, the PAP and even the notorious Internal Security Act or ISA for short. I came to the lecture with high hopes as Ho was a former detainee under the ISA who made good in life despite his detention. Surely he would have some enlightening advice to give to aspiring human rights activists in Singapore.
I was wrong, and left the lecture sorely disappointed and disillusioned.
Ho Kwon Ping is a former journalist turned successful hotelier. A former political activist in his younger days, Ho was detained under ISA in 1977, along with lawyer G Raman, another journalist Arun Senkutuvan, and a list of other “Marxist accomplices”. The government charged Ho with writing pro-Communist articles in the magazine Far Eastern Economic Review.
In his lecture, Ho Kwon Ping did not call for the abolishment of the ISA. Instead, he suggested reducing the initial detention period to one year and putting in more rigorous checks and balances for the subsequent period. He justified the use of the ISA in view of the threat to national security that Islamic radicalisation poses to the world today.
For all his talk about checks and balances for the ISA, Ho has refused to address the biggest rot in Singapore politics: The rule of law in Singapore is a mockery, because the ISA, despite all the checks and balances, still allows for the detention of political opponents and social activists without an open trial.
I was literally floored when Ho uttered the line: “The removal of the power of preventive detention could lead to more dangers”.
I shared the anger and indignance in Mr Chew Kheng Chuan’s comments during the Q&A session when Mr Chew said that the ISA has been “absolutely abused” in Singapore’s history and that the power of preventive detention would always be exploited by governments for their own benefit.
For every day that the oppressive ISA remains in place, Singapore civil society members, welfare volunteers, including members of the press, will continue to live in fear of the repressive PAP regime, who have shown in history that they will use this law without hesitation to silence its critics.
I watched the film, “To Singapore With Love”, by making my way to Johor since it was banned from screening in Singapore. If you are not familiar, the film maker Tan Pin Pin made the film to profile the lives and hopes of 9 political exiles, who escaped from Singapore after the government attempted to detain them under ISA for holding differing political views.
By refusing to demand for the abolishing of the ISA, Ho has turned his back on all of his former leftist allies and ideals. He must have forgotten the pain and humiliation of detention, a fate that he shares with numerous other Singaporean political detainees and exiles, whose only crimes were to speak up for the good of society.
Ho does not speak for my generation today.
We will continue to speak out bravely against injustice and the ISA. We won’t forget the sacrifices of leaders and activists in the past. Most importantly, we won’t back down without a fight. Even Malaysia has recently abolished its own ISA. We will work for the day when Singapore abolishes this oudated and brutal piece of colonial history.
Undergraduate from Yale-NUS