This week Jom has written about three different events that you won’t hear much about in the mainstream media: Operation Coldstore, “Tak Boleh Tahan! 2023”, and corruption at Keppel Offshore & Marine.
First, an essay, “The long shadow of Operation Coldstore”. Since we consider this an issue of vital public interest, we’ve put it outside the paywall. Please share it widely—and ask your friends to get a paid subscription so we can continue producing independent pieces like this.
What’s Coldstore? Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of one of the largest ever police operations on our little red dot. Months before merger with the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, Lee Kuan Yew’s government rounded up over 120 trade unionists, politicians, journalists, teachers and students.
This included almost the entire leadership of Barisan Sosialis, the leading opposition party in Singapore, formed after a faction had split from the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Some allege that they were kept in solitary confinement for months, and suffered other forms of physical and psychological torture.
Singapore’s establishment maintains that Coldstore was a security operation, but a growing number of historians have argued that it was politically motivated. In our essay we look at the available evidence.
Perhaps it’s unfair to say that the mainstream media never talks about Coldstore. The Straits Times (ST) reported on the press conference held yesterday by ex-detainees—Jom was there too—in which they called for the abolition of the dreaded Internal Security Act (ISA), which allows for detention without trial, and asked for an apology and compensation from the government.
Still, there’s only so far ST will go. Pieces will always be framed around the PAP’s position. Moreover, the publication will always serve as the PAP’s handmaiden in its propaganda efforts. Consider that yesterday, the front page of ST was dominated by a story of a self-radicalised Muslim teenager arrested under the ISA in December last year. (The report about the ex-detainees, meanwhile, was available only online.)
Presumably all this was calculated to steal the limelight. The message was clear: it may be the 60th anniversary of one of the most troubling events in Singapore’s history, but make no mistake, the ISA keeps you safe.
Tak boleh tahan!!! That’s a Malay colloquialism, meaning “I can’t take it anymore”, that Singaporeans utter at moments like this.
It’s also the name of a series of townhalls on the rising cost of living, which we write about in Singapore This Week. The first one was held last Sunday at Orange & Teal, a cafe owned by Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party. Chee also organised a protest under the same name in 2008. In any other democracy the townhall would have made it into the national press. Not this one. The media doesn’t pay much attention to parties not in Parliament. Anyhow, you can find out more about the next two townhalls here.
Finally, corruption at Keppel Offshore & Marine. In our lead blurb in Singapore This Week, we talk about a critique by senior counsel Harpreet Singh, who questions why Singapore didn’t prosecute the six executives involved in the corruption scheme. Again, the critique would have made instant headlines anywhere else.
Not here. Obedient reporters had to wait till Indranee Rajah, minister, offered a short rebuttal on Facebook, before framing the issue through her lens. “Assertions about six ex-Keppel O&M staff show ‘inadequate understanding’: Indranee”, was The Business Times’s headline. This is how the mainstream media often handles alternative views—wait for PAP comebacks, then couch it in their rhetoric.
Manufacturing consent is a daily endeavour.
Perhaps that’s what was so fun about yesterday’s press conference with the ex-detainees–just being surrounded by so many people, in their twenties to nineties, who have long chosen to resist the PAP’s dominant narrative.
Teo Soh Lung, a lawyer who was detained in 1987’s Operation Spectrum, was the MC, while 91-year-old Poh Soo Kai, a doctor and founding member of the PAP, and Coldstore detainee jailed for over a decade in two spells, was the main discussant. Soo Kai Zoomed in from Seremban, Malaysia, his cheery, bespectacled face looming large on the projector screen in the hall.
There were many tender moments, including Soh Lung, aware of Soo Kai's loquaciousness, telling him to “keep it short ah”; and a two-kilogramme birthday cake being wheeled out, candles lit, as Soo Kai virtually “blew” them out.
Perhaps my favourite was a short conversation with Michael Fernandez, a trade unionist whom Lee jailed for nine years, there in person with his son, Mervyn, who had flown in from Sydney.
“Soo Kai. I heard you are ninety-two now?”
“Well I am nine-ty-three!” he said, dragging out the number, with the age one-upmanship that older men seem to enjoy.
Despite all they’ve been through, a recognisable, base instinct that made us laugh.
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