Singapore, the ISA and international civil society action in 1987

(This is a catch-up blog post for readings sometime in September last year onwards…there’ll be a few more  in the coming weeks)

The reading for the week of 6 September (2009) dealt with the international organisation and civil society reactions to the 1987 Internal Security Act (ISA) arrests in Singapore.

You can find the article at the Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies website.

Titled ‘The 1987 ISA Arrests and International Civil Society: Responses to Political Repression in Singapore’, it traces ‘the development of political dissent from abroad and how such actions played a formidable role during the so-called ‘Marxist’ conspiracy arrests in 1987 and how such alternative political viewpoints will continue to play a large role in shaping criticism and opposition to the present repressive political climate in Singapore.’ (from the abstract)

The group found the piece interesting and informative, and it certainly shed some light on some of the events  surrounding the Operation Spectrum arrests, which I believe is still quite obscure to most people of the post-75 generation, including most civil society activists living at the present time.

Three questions, however, appeared to us, and especially to me, as we discussed this article.

First, although the writer gave a fairly comprehensive overview of the organisations, informal groups and individuals involved in solidarity actions in the wake of the arrests of the so-called Marxist conspirators — post-1987, we are given precious little information or opinion regarding the abstract’s assertion, namely, how such alternative political viewpoints will continue to play a large role in shaping criticism and opposition…to the powers-that-be in the country. In fact, besides stating (in the paper) tantalising nuggets such as ‘The strong international interest shown during the 1987 ISA arrests compares markedly to other PAP crackdowns past and present’, we get to read little of how similar solidarity actions and/or alternative viewpoints (or lack thereof) will continue to shape criticism of and opposition to the PAP regime in Singapore.

Second, how did these international civil society actions tie in with other international fora such as in the UN General Assembly meetings? This blogger has personally heard an account of how the Singaporean delegation to the UNGA at that time was confronted with protests and questions from at least some of his or her counterparts at the UN level. The reading group understand that this was outside of the author’s focus for his paper; however, he could have briefly touched on other types of international interactions in tandem with his emphasis on international civil society actions.

Third — and this relates to the first question — where are most or any of these groups and individuals now, and how have they influenced, or helped to shape critical discourse and alternative/oppositional viewpoints, with regard to political repression in Singapore after the 1987 arrests? Again, the author of the piece could have provided readers a few clues, or pointers, or even a minimalistic projection of how they’d evolved, or even the way forward, if any.

In response to this, A said something that was rather insightful. In essence: some of the info that we may have expected to be there simply wasn’t, because there is most likely a culture of self-censorship and fear — on the part of the author, the editors, the managing editors of the journal, the sources themselves. Any single one or more element in this equation is plausible.

Of course, the questions we posed might just have had a simpler explanation: the info we wanted, the knowledge we seeked, was not part of the research scope of the paper, and/or the author might not have thought to include (even a passing mention of) them.

Posted by rodsjournal.

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