Many, including President Barack Obama, have been paying glowing tributes to Lee Kuan Yew since the announcement of his death this morning, 23rd March 2015. However, recalling what Lee Kuan Yew did to Dr. Chia Thye Poh and many other persons who aspired for multi-party democracy and respect for the freedom of expression in Singapore is a better way to remember Lee Kuan Yew. It is the least that can be done to fight back against the terrible legacy he has bequeathed.
Singapore is one of the very few countries that have not even ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Lee Kuan Yew saw civil and political rights as a threat to his power. He pursued a one party state model with all his passion. To achieve this, he arbitrarily used all legal provisions, often deciding these laws by himself in order to give himself more power and strangulate democracy. The notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) of Singapore, which, among other things, gave Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister the power to keep a person in detention without trial, merely on the basis of a detention order signed by Lee. Many became victim to this terrible law. Another one of his diabolical tricks was to file bankrupt proceedings against his political opponents, knowing fully well that, as long as he lived, Singapore Courts would give orders as per his wishes.
The best-known victim to Lee’s arbitrary rule is Dr. Chia Thye Poh, a political activist and a member of the Parliament of Singapore, who remained in detention for a period of 27 years. Dr. Chia Thye Poh suffered the longest term in prison as a political prisoner.
The People’s Action Party (PAP) of Singapore advocated and effected a one party system of government. To achieve this, Lee Kuan Yew tried all manner of tricks, including imposing severe restrictions on the freedom of assembly. In Singapore, it is still illegal to hold any outdoor meeting attended by more than five persons without authorisation from police authorities. Those who defy this law have been imprisoned or subjected to fines. Lee also had innocent persons arrested from time to time, accusing them of treason and of attempting to illegally overthrow his government. In 1987, for example, he arrested and detained a group of young Christian workers, accusing them of plotting to overthrow his government. They were denied trial, but were kept in detention.
Lee Kuan Yew believed that man lives by bread alone and that freedom and human rights are cultural values alien to Singaporeans and Asians. While the World Conference on Human Rights was being held by the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, in June 1993, he famously advocated this “Asian values” theory, characterising human rights as based on western values alien to Asians.
Today, Singapore is a modern nation that still has not experienced freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, right to fair trial, and the right to free and fair elections. Now that Lee Kuan Yew has passed, it is to be hoped that Singaporeans will come to learn more about the stories of those who suffered for their political opinions under Lee Kuan Yew.
It is time to recognise persons like Dr. Chia Thye Poh, who are large in number, as Singaporean heroes. It is also to be hoped that Singapore will become a respected member of the international community by ratifying the International Covenant ICCPR and all other UN Conventions on human rights. Present and future generations of Singaporeans have a right to know the truth that Lee Kuan Yew managed successfully to suppress for many long years. It is to be hoped that doors of freedom will open in Singapore and the draconian laws that Lee introduced will be replaced with more democratic laws.
The late, legendary British Barrister, Sir John Motimer Q.C. described the hypocrisy of Singapore’s legal system under Lee Kuan Yew in the following manner:
“We have every reason to be proud of the fact that our judicial system has been adopted in so many different parts of the world. At the heart of it is fairness to everyone who holds views with which the government doesn’t agree, and judicial independence. Without these ingredients, the wearing of wigs, the humble submissions and the quoting of House of Lords authorities become a meaningless parade of archaic customs and costumes.”
It is to be hoped that soon the draconian legal system Lee Kuan Yew created will become a thing of the past and that his style of governance will be abandoned; instead, it is hoped that Singaporeans will be able to establish a civilized system based on the rule of law