Compulsive history

I found Siew Kum Hong’s point spot on:

If there was anything in this film that could possibly be the subject of a ban deserved to be banned, it would have to be the words used by Dr Lim. If his speech was somehow illegal or unlawful, then the authorities should go after him for having made that speech and used those words. Go to the source and address the root problem, so to speak. Instead, the Government has chosen to suppress the film, without prosecuting Dr Lim for the speech. If the speech itself was lawful, then how can the possession or distribution of the film be unlawful?

He was referring to the ban that the Media Development Authority (MDA) imposed on a video recording of a 20-minute speech by Lim Hock Siew, made last year by Martyn See.

As reported by the Straits Times:

The Government has banned a video recording of a speech made by former political detainee Lim Hock Siew, on the grounds that it is against public interest.

The video by filmmaker Martyn See, 41, gives a ‘distorted and misleading portrayal’ of Dr Lim’s detention under the Internal Security Act, said the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts (Mica) in a statement yesterday.

Mica added: ‘The Singapore Government will not allow individuals who have posed a security threat to Singapore’s interests in the past to use media platforms such as films to make baseless accusations against the authorities, give a false portrayal of their previous activities in order to exculpate their guilt, and undermine public confidence in the Government in the process.’

— Straits Times, 13 July 2010, Ban on video recording of Lim Hock Siew speech

What jumped at me was the MDA’s use of the word “guilt”. The whole point of Lim’s speech was that he was never tried, yet imprisoned for 19 years. No court of law found him guilty. What hollow justification is that from the MDA?

In his speech, Lim reiterated his convictions as a socialist, pointing out that such ideals are still relevant today as capitalism wrecks more and more havoc. But mainly, he described the cruelty and ridiculousness of the process he was subjected to, including the time when the charge sheet he was called to answer contained numerous deletions (too sensitive to even let him know what he was accused of, he was told), and the periods of solitary confinement detainees like him suffered for daring to seek legal challenges to their detention.

However, as Siew pointed out, the words, the speech, are not the issue. So, what’s the difference between Lim standing at a rostrum and speaking to a gathering of people and a video of it?

I guess the difference is that one is more permanent than the other. The ban therefore is not a challenge to the opinions and facts as recounted by Lim. It is in essence a defence of the government’s monopoly to write history.  They intend to do it not by contesting Lim’s points, but by erasing them from the record.

Of course a formal ban is the clumsiest way to do it. Promptly, the video, which had been available online for some 8 months, saw its viewership spike; plenty of copies were made and virally distributed (source: Martyn See’s blog). It also gave legitimacy to Lim’s account as Singaporeans asked themselves: Now, why is the government so determined to prevent us from hearing what he said?

In other words, there’s something really strange about the decision-making process within the government that led to this.

Firstly, did nobody anticipate that further publicity, distribution and legitimisation would be the consequences of a formal ban? Did no civil servant advise his minister this is how the new media age works? (And here I assume that the ban decision was not made by a civil servant but by the Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts, or the entire cabinet together).

Secondly, the minister is Lui Tuck Yew, who was only a child when Operation Cold Store, under which Lim and others were detained, took place. Why did he feel a personal stake in defending one version of history from another? Why did he make the decision that he did? The same question can be asked of all other cabinet ministers, save one. None of them were in politics when those events took place.

For analogy, when a tribunal under Lord Saville reported that the British Army was trigger-happy and should be held responsible for the 13 deaths on 30 January 1972 (“Bloody Sunday”) in Northern Ireland, current British Prime Minister David Cameron stood up in Parliament to say, “What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong.” He then went on to quote from the report: “The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of the those deaths and injuries” adding his view that “these are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say.

“But Mr Speaker, you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible.”

He concluded with these words: “The Government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the Armed Forces. And for that, on behalf of the Government – and indeed our country – I am deeply sorry.”

Are the thought processes of this generation of cabinet ministers so stunted that taking a similar a position with respect to the use of detention without trial in the decades past never crossed their minds?

Even if they could not bring themselves to go so far, could they not have just let the video be? Did they never seriously consider this option?

The decision that they made therefore looks neither rational nor considered. Of the choices open to them, they picked the one that did themselves the most harm from the way it predictably boomeranged. It smacks of obsessive compulsive behaviour, in sharp contrast to the image of analytical competence they try to give themselves.

Some might argue that among of present cabinet ministers are not a few who have a personal stake in never allowing the political use of detention without trial to be questioned. While Lee Hsien Loong, Goh Chok Tong, Wong Kan Seng, Lim Boon Heng, for example, might not have been party to the 1962 arrest decision, they were party to the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy” detentions. So, permitting the 1962 decision to be contested might open the floodgates to the 1987 case.

Yet, they must surely be aware that even with 1987, the battle is lost. No serious historian or intellectual in Singapore gives any credit to the government’s version of events. Under the circumstances, a smart politician would take whatever opportunities that arise to begin distancing himself from the indefensible. In other words, once again, the smart decision would be to let Martyn See’s video stand, so as not to call too much attention to it. The stupid decision would be to try (and fail) to ban it.

So once again, I’m back to my obsessive compulsive behaviour theory. Which is another way of saying: Our government is half mad. Like Hitler.

23 Responses to “Compulsive history”

  1. 1 Beast 17 July 2010 at 00:53


    Unfortunately, it seems, our government is indeed complacent.

    After attempting to silence oppositions so effectively with the unlawful gag (i.e the ISA), they are now resorting to the same tactics to block out dissenting speech.

    Well, guess what? Censorship really doesn’t work anymore (I am hearing three cheers in my head as I type). People can hook themselves up online and just like magic, everything appears on that erstwhile computer screen.

    To the PAP’s detriment, they seem a tad too slow to catch up (you can actually see them fumbling their way clumsily as they attempt to censor the internet……), and they don’t seem to garner the kind of support from the online masses as they used to during their good ole-fashioned rallies.

    The more such incidents happen, the more the ruling incumbent will feel threatened. And this is just one more excuse to utilize the erstwhile sedition as well as the internal security act.

    I just hope that this time round, everyone can see the true colors of the devious chameleon.

  2. 2 Rockeye 17 July 2010 at 03:22

    I 101% believe the video recording of a 20-minute speech by Lim Hock Siew. PAP would have sued him till his pant drops to the bottom if Dr Lim’s story turned out to be false.

  3. 3 Kate 17 July 2010 at 04:49

    Haha.. they tried to ban it and instead, the video ended up being featured on Yahoo SG and other multiple sites. And of course, Twitter and other Social networking services. Way to go, man! If it hadn’t been for the ban, I wouldn’t have found out about the vid. Kudos to Singapore govt! =)

    And of course, I who rarely sheds tears, was deeply moved by the punishment and trauma he underwent.

  4. 4 Divali 17 July 2010 at 06:50

    ST Forum : July 17

    “Ex-cop remembers communist subversion”

    Lionel De Souza

  5. 5 mahb 17 July 2010 at 08:37

    I guess this is similar to the ban of 100(?) porn websites by MDA. Totally useless and dumb but they do it anyway just for the “principle”.

  6. 6 John 17 July 2010 at 09:11

    LKY was behind Operation Coldstore. As long as he is still around, who would dare criticise his decisions? LTY knows which side of his bread is buttered.

  7. 7 George 17 July 2010 at 09:51


    Puppets and robots don’t or are incapable of independent thoughts. They move according to the strings manipulated or programming made by the master. They have not been selected for the ability to think out of the box. They have been
    selected for their high servile ‘quotient’. LKY
    need every good proxy he can buy to ring fence
    himself against the siege of the masses.

  8. 8 Robox 17 July 2010 at 09:51

    I recall now the term that I have been searching for that describes the PAP’s brand of politics to a tee, specifically the actions it takes against its adversaries: obstructionist politics. While I first encountered the use of the term to describe just one action by a foreign politician in his country, obstructionist politics describes the PAP in its entirety.

    Whether it is:

    1. the banning of Martyn See’s film on Lim Hock Siew to prevent widespread exposure of its contents;

    2. the order to a bookstore to restrict the sales of the death penalty book to prevent the truth from surfacing;

    3. the issuing of a fine against the NSP member who was merely doing what the ruling party as well as other opposition parties do by selling their party newspaper which is to disseminate their parties’ message and raise funds;

    4. the bankrupting of politicians to prevent them from being able to contest for a seat in Parliament; or,

    5. the long series of actions agaisnt the SDP, and JBJ specifically from the WP before that, from performing a multitude of legitimate activities. Oh, like speak to a constituent while selling his party newspaper and get slapped with a charge of ‘speaking in public without a permit’.

    However, at this point, the truly most cruel play of obstructionist politics is in denying Yong Vui Kong’s Malaysian lawyer access to him so that she may advice him on his rights as a Malaysian; it’s made that much more poignant because it is a matter of life and death, apparently too frivolous a matter to the PAP that they have to politicize this as well.

    It’s why they fully earned the dubious accolades as the lowest forms of life on earth.

  9. 9 Alan Wong 17 July 2010 at 10:22

    Essentially Dr Lim is accusing our present govt of abetting one man in having manipulated the whole govt machinery towards abusing his political opponents so that that man alone is cleared of all obstacles to rule Singapore the way he chooses or pleases.

    Wow, isn’t it such a scary accusation ? If it is true, we are not talking of only one powerful man acting alone but a whole bunch of collaborators who are willing to obey orders blindly in return for some kind of recognition, presumably.

    Now if our govt chooses to act blur, what can be more worse than moral corruption of the worst kind ?

  10. 10 What is ISA position 17 July 2010 at 11:14

    I am always puzzled by the use of ISA on its “wing brothers” and “Marxists”.

    If ISA is against Communism or Marxism as an ideology, its position shall remain regardless the economic or pragmatic position. As such, I do not understand why Singapore continue to be friendly with country like China, which is prospering now. I love China, but I just don’t understand ISA’s position.

    If ISA is against the military threat of Communism or Marxism, it must prove the link of the ISA detainees with these organizations, in a military sense. We cannot put a person to detention without trial just because “he is likely to hold a knife”, you have prove that “he holds the knife”. For that matter, all of us are “likely to hold a knife”, and we are a potential target of ISA.

    Furthermore, I find it hard to see Dr Lim or Vincent Cheng having the power or influence to launch a military strike. For that matter, they cannot even defend against the ban on the film or speaking in National Library. They are indeed powerless old men – respectful though weak.

  11. 11 Mat Alamak 17 July 2010 at 11:29

    Where the govt has the authority and control, it will ban such video if they think it needs to be banned. Just like they make the mainstream media pro govt. It is only natural. If they cannot control, like the Internet, then let it be and doesn’t matter too.

    Does the govt really care or concerned about what people think of the ban? Or what the consequences as pointed out in the blog? No!

    No because their power has been entrenched! Who can challenge them on this and the many other things that people disliked?

    As long as wise Old Man of politics thinks 98% seats for PAP can be repeated at next election, what’s the issue?

    In fact wise Old Man once told a foreign audience that there is very little that he does not know about Singapore. Which is a polite way of telling them “don’t teach your grandmother how to suck eggs”.

  12. 12 George 17 July 2010 at 12:53

    Indeed there is little that he doesn’t know that’s because he made it that way. But, it is very clear that he has not created or been able to create another like him. So it is also very clear that there is very little that he has created which is against the normal grain of humanity will survive after him. Nature will reclaim and re-assert itself as soon as the conditions are right. In that sense, LKY is a monster of an overbearing big fool who surrounds himself with court jesters willing to do his bidding for a few gold coins.

  13. 13 Jack Jack! 17 July 2010 at 13:19

    Well, they rather be obsessive compulsive then getting the wrath from “The Old Man”!

  14. 14 Jaka 18 July 2010 at 02:21

    Are they making a big mistake, or being cunning? I have been pondering this ever since it was made known that the film is banned. It is unlikely that they made a mistake.

    Here is my analysis (which might have holes in it; I am willing to consider rebuttals)

    1. There was a revamped of the censorship rules. The Government knows it need to open up slowly, at it’s own pace.

    2. Not opening up is not an option, because of increasing popularity of Internet new media channels.

    2. Martyn See summit the film for vetting, a per the new rules.

    3. Caught with how to deal with it, they chose the least damaging path of banning the film.

    Now, why is banning the least damaging option?

    1. Dealing directly with Dr Lim will involve court case. News of this will invariably leaked into mainstream media. Meanwhile, they still have to vet the film. The publicity will be greater.

    2. Passing the film with some grading will enable Martyn See to legally distribute offline (i.e. other than in Youtube).

    3. Banning outright will lead to short term spike in online distribution, but in the long run, will prevent offline distribution.

    Now, the key is to prevent offline distribution. I believe that despite high internet penetration in Singapore, there are a large percentage of Singaporeans that don’t get their news online.

  15. 15 Anonymous 18 July 2010 at 16:46

    i believe that the government is unconcerned of the viral spread of the video, as the reach is still very limited compared to our newspapers when reporting about the ban.

    The newspaper reporting of the ban is part of a campaign of fear to ensure that as many undecided voters as possible will continue to vote for the ruling party or may end up like lim hock siew or others.

  16. 16 jwl 18 July 2010 at 18:19

    Infighting within the establishment? This is what happens when one faction wants to backstab the other. Same goes for what happened in the recent floods (Wanbao v.s. Police).

  17. 17 Robin Low 18 July 2010 at 18:54

    I would say instead of “banning”, if there is enough attention on this, there should be an apology for wrongful detention, and it should suffice.

    Till today ISA is still against Communism but we are partners with Communist China. Media is tightly controlled, but we have “streetwalkers” and legal prostitutes, “illegal prostitutes” — possibly from Human trafficking.

    I want a government who can admit mistakes and take responsibility.

  18. 18 ouch indeed 19 July 2010 at 09:02

    seriously, after seeing this, I wonder if the incarceration of ‘self radicalised’ Muslims justified? Who is watching out for these people?

  19. 19 Lucky Tan 19 July 2010 at 11:10

    Going after Dr. Lim who is roughly 80 yrs old (?) for his speech would simply be too unkind even by PAP standards so the authorities go after video copies of the speech.

    I consider this a relative improvement of human rights in Singapore…and you guys are asking for Dr. Lim to be arrested…hmmm.

  20. 20 Alan Wong 19 July 2010 at 14:49


    Nobody here is calling for Dr. Lim’s blood. We can’t be so inhumane as the old bully. What we are actually calling is for the old bully’s bluff to be exposed!

    The old bully can’t just wants the cake and eat it too. It is so cowardly to hide behind some archaic law and accuse people of being guilty of something when you don’t even want to go through the courts of law to prove it.

    Not only is the old bully enjoying his millions now, he is actually getting away scot-free with committing murder, literally. And you call that an improvement of human rights ?

  21. 21 Mat Alamak 19 July 2010 at 21:17

    The people of Singapores deserve to be ruled by the type of govt like the PAP.

    Liekwise the PAP also deserves to rule the type of people like the Singapore people.

    Because the govt and the people deserve each other, or like they say compatibility between a couple, we have a peaceful, prosperous SIngapore and for many years to come.

    If the govt or the people changes, then there may be instability and ruin for all. Everyone will lose.

  22. 22 KiWeTO 20 July 2010 at 03:58


    but what guarantee that either the people OR the government will remain in the same power relationship for time to come?

    To fight against change is to fight against life itself; Is it better to fight the losing war against change, or prepare for the impact of change by energizing the people to take charge of their reality rather than wait for the nanny to feed them?


  23. 23 jayjonathan-reeves 20 July 2010 at 18:27

    CONGRATS..MDA..Now the worlds media is talking about it – Today, 05:24 PM
    Thanks to MDA for getting the police to arrest Alan Shadrake for his book “Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.”, the international media is now buzzing with this story. Instead of trying to censor this book, MDA has unwittingly given it international fame.

    This is the latest list up-to-date:

    Singapore arrests British author – The Sydney Morning Herald
    Singapore arrests British author of death penalty book – The Guardian
    British journalist arrested for book on Singapore hangman – Monsters and Critics
    Briton arrested for defamation in Singapore –
    British author Alan Shadrake arrested in Singapore over death penalty book –
    Singapore arrests UK author – BigPond News
    Singapore arrests UK author on defamation charge – The Malaysian Insider
    British journalist arrested for book on Singapore hangman – Earth Times
    British author of death penalty book held in Singapore – BBC News
    UK author arrested in Singapore – IBNLive
    Singapore arrests author after release of book criticising use of death penalty – The Australian
    Author arrested in Singapore over death penalty book –
    Singapore arrests ‘Hangman’ author – Al Jazeera English
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation – eTaiwan News
    UK reporter held in Singapore – News24
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation – The Associated Press
    British Author Held In Singapore On Defamation Charges – RTTNews
    Alan Shadrake ¨C the author of ¡®Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock¡¯ arrested –
    British author Alan Shadrake arrested in Singapore over death penalty book – Iran Book News Agency
    Shadrake arrested over Singapore death penalty book – ABC News
    British author arrested for defamation in Singapore – The First Post
    Author Alan Shadrake arrested in Singapore over death penalty book –
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation –
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation – The Washington Post
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation – San Francisco Chronicle
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation – Malaysia Today
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation – Vanakkam Malaysia
    Singapore arrests British author – Gulf Daily News
    Singapore arrests British writer of death penalty book in defamation probe – Brandon Sun
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation –
    Singapore arrests British writer for defamation – The Globe and Mail
    British Author Held In Singapore On Defamation Charges –
    British author arrested in Singapore over death penalty book – Asian Correspondent
    But they say its difficult to find a bookshop that stocks it. Maybe one needs to get it from Amazon. Or available in Malaysia.

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