Asked to be a snitch, law prof refuses to stay compliant

pic_201308_17It is widely believed that the surveillance state has tentacles reaching everywhere, but only now do we have a hint of it by someone recruited by the system. A short essay in the Australian magazine The Monthly (August 2013 edition) opens with Tey Tsun Hang’s experience.

Almost three years ago, Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) approached Tey Tsun Hang, a Malaysian-born law associate professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), about becoming a “listening post” – meaning that he would provide information about goings-on in the law faculty, including his own work. . . .  “It’s a necessary evil and compromise for me,” Tey wrote to a colleague in September 2010.

The weak point that the ISD exploited was the fact that Tey was a Malaysian citizen, yet with his career invested in Singapore since 1997. He was well aware that the ISD could revoke his permanent residency anytime.

However, there is a hint that the ISD wanted more from him than just spying on others. Tey seems to have felt that in contacting him, the ISD was just as much warning him to behave:

Tey sent copies of all of his academic work to his ISD contact, asking the officer “to let me know which parts/pages/paragraphs/lines are not allowed and must be taken out”.

Andre Dao’s article will disappoint those looking for more salacious details. No examples are given of what Tey told the ISD of his colleagues’ works and thoughts. In fact, it quickly shifts the focus to Tey’s own unease about the arrangement.

The reader may be forgiven in wondering how much of the article was driven by Tey’s attempt to paint himself as victim of official displeasure. Although no date of the interview was provided, it probably took place as he was facing trial for corruptly obtaining gifts and sex from former student. Yet, the record does show  that soon after being approached by the ISD, he published a book (2011) Legal Consensus: Supreme executive, Supine jurisprudence, Suppliant profession of Singapore that was highly critical of the Singapore system (link to my review of it). He must have known that he was burning his bridges.

Dao quotes what Tey wrote to a colleague: “I am no longer willing to self-censor . . . I certainly do not want any longer to compromise my intellectual honesty.” He was also beginning to prepare himself for the consequences. “I make my bed,” he wrote, “and I hope I shall have the courage to lie in it.”

In early June 2013, the corruption trial was concluded and Tey was sentenced to five months’ imprisonment, a sentence more severe than what the prosecution had asked for.

pic_201308_18The article then goes on to discuss the issue of academic freedom in Singapore. The author has some quotes from Simon Chesterman, Dean of NUS’ law school. Chesterman is also the son-in-law of Singapore’s president, Tony Tan. “No one’s ever had to run anything by me prior to publication,” he is quoted as saying — which is probably true, because that’s not how the system works. The system here goes to great lengths to create the kind of climate that maximises self-censorship so that higher authorities can maintain deniability when asked about overt censorship.

(Note to foreign journalists: Learn to ask the right questions, about the instruments creating a climate of fear and internalised censorship, not easily-deflected questions about external censorship.)

Chesterman also tells Andre Dao that gentle suggestions for improvement, all the while giving face to the political masters, is the way to go. “We’re not issuing shout-from-the-rooftops criticisms of the government,” he explains. “I’m not certain that would be the most effective way of bringing about change in Singapore anyway.”

(Another note to journalists: Ask why shout-from-the-rooftops is not effective; what is it about the Singapore government that closes off this avenue?)

More interestingly, no other quotes from Tey’s  colleagues in the law faculty are found in the article. The author writes:

His Singaporean colleagues have only been supportive in private. Few made it to his trial, and none spoke to me apart from Chesterman.

This 1,096-word article only manages to peek into the gory insides of Singapore through a tiny crack. We can’t make out much by way of detail but already the odour of putrefaction bursts through, repulsive as always.

Martyn See has put the entire article on Facebook. It is here.

19 Responses to “Asked to be a snitch, law prof refuses to stay compliant”

  1. 1 ;Annonymous 5 August 2013 at 09:51

    Snitches, whether for the ISD or the PAP, have always been around. In the early l960s LKY was talking about ‘black operations’ by the Americans.They even tried to bribe Mr. Yoong Siew Wah with $1million(yes, the Singapore Recalcitrant). The University of Singapore had several teachers, some of whom were suspected to be CIA operatives. One of the suspects was a teacher of Ms Chan Heng Chee. The other was a lady by the name of Dr. Shirle Gordon, She had socialist views and was thought to be a fake ‘Dr.’ and had a penchant for Arab men. The PAP recruited a married local Arab school teacher by the name of Zakaria who befriended her when he ‘attended’ law school classes in the University although he was never a matriculated student.(You may ask how he managed to fool everyone). Unfortunately for the PAP Zakaria fell in love with his quarry and left the wife. LKY was furious and outed Zakaria and the woman public. (You can read the expose in the ST archives, sometime in 1967) LKY made no apologies for the fiasco.

  2. 2 Tan Tai Wei 5 August 2013 at 10:44

    Don’t you feel it odd that ISD would be checking on him via the imaginative and complex route of asking him, and his agreeing (despite the “exploiting of his weak point”), to tell on his colleagues? However smart our “talents” are at ISD, you think they had that devilish genius to concoct such an affair? And he agreeing, and yet publishing those things that would “burn his bridges” so soon after? The latter must have taken some heroism for self-sacrifice, incompatible with the succumbing to ISD threats and pressure to betray his colleagues. And how is his sex encounter with his student connected with all that for the suggestion that the law has been used by ISD to punish him? They planted the girl, like in James Bond, and he taken in? Reads like a thriller he concocted after the event?

  3. 3 Serene 5 August 2013 at 12:01

    He is not the only snitch here. The PAP government is a hypocrite. It disallows foreign funding on socio-political websites but at the same time hires foreign hands to interfere in local politics to its own advantage. Many new citizens and PRs are brought in to support the party through numerous grassroot and PA-sponsored activities to recruit and cultivate loyalty to the party and act as means of induction and political indoctrination. You can see many of these “dogs” (sorry for lack of better word) at RC, CC and PA events.

    They were very amazed that PAP is absent everywhere but present everywhere. In China, the Communist Party will typically have a very dominant or prominent building in every city. But in Singapore, you cannot find the party building… But they realise that the party’s manifesto and value system are operationalised in every part of the Government and society.

  4. 4 Duh 5 August 2013 at 13:02

    I have known cases where the PAP govt placed ‘spies’ at the various levels of the universities to monitor the political leanings of its staff and students. Chee Soon Juan has talked about this in NUS in one of his books and he has also quoted other academics who have said the same thing and fled Singapore – and it is so very true. Many academics know this, hence the hush-hush over publicly discussing this.

    These ‘spies’ include both academics and students. I know of such cases where these PAP ‘spies’ would go on the pretense of casual chatting with the said person (e.g., student seeking consultation with a Professor or trying to establish a working relationship with one) in the attempt to find out whether that person is discussing anti-PAP retorts. These people are then watched by the powers that be and you will see that their careers or stay in the universities becomes increasing difficult, let go, or in Tey’s case, jailed. The strategy is to find an opportunity to kick these anti-PAP people out of the system. This is not really difficult because no human is perfect and sooner or later, there WILL be a mistake made by that person – all the one has to do is to monitor and wait for it. Not only particular individuals, some departments in the universities are particularly watched; for example, Philosophy, and of course Political Science. No prizes for guessing why.

    The whole strategy of the PAP reminds me of Communist China during the Cultural Revolution and also during Japanese Occupation in Singapore where locals act at Kempeitai spies. You get the idea – the concept of oppression, fear-mongering, and control over the masses.

    The fact that there are Singaporeans who act for the ruling party against their own citizens pains my heart for this little nation. These Singaporeans are not helping to build a nation, they are helping the PAP to further oppress their own countrymen and women. Singaporeans need to differentiate between the govt (PAP) and the nation (Singapore). The PAP is the ruling party governing the nation, it is not the nation. It is the PAP’s aim (starting from LKY) to blur the line between these two.

  5. 6 JG 5 August 2013 at 13:32

    Trust me : When the good Prof is freed and leaves the country, I’m sure we will hear A LOT more salacious details on this (and other stuffs) from him. Heaven hath no fury than an ex-ISD informant scorned …

    • 7 Duh 5 August 2013 at 21:50

      I won’t be surprised that before Prof Tey is released after serving his jail term, he will be ‘forced’ to sign an agreement to prevent him from commenting about Singapore judicial/political system and perhaps threatened with an extension of his jail term should he refuse. Weren’t those ISA detainees made to do the same thing?


      Cherian was *not* always compliant – *that* was the problem. PAP wants obedient lackeys not ones that display potential for independent thought – thinking is reserved for the select PAP cadres.

  6. 8 nick 5 August 2013 at 14:46

    I admire Tey for his courage. Cherian George who got a role at IPS pales in comparison. How did he got kick out of NTU inspite of being compliant?

    • 9 Anon Fk8s 5 August 2013 at 22:17

      You admire Tey for his courage? For screwing an undergrad and making her pregnant? Or for making the girl pay for his meals and buying him expensive tinkets after having sex with him? Tey has zero credibility after his trial. He might be telling the truth for all I care but he is just another lecherous man who cannot control his dick.

      • 10 nick 6 August 2013 at 00:22

        It takes two hands to clap. The girl is an adult with an IQ above average to get into law faculty. She is intelligent enough to think for her self. What makes you think she is less culpable and less devious than Tey? So what if he cannot control his dick? End of the day is, did he give her a better grade?

      • 11 The 6 August 2013 at 09:52

        May be she’s a Mata Hari, or a snitch used as for entrapment?

      • 12 janice 6 August 2013 at 14:10

        “You admire Tey for his courage? For screwing an undergrad and making her pregnant?”

        My question to you why is Tey been center of attention ? Why is he so special , and are you sure that Tey is the only one doing that , and why did others get away ? I believe that it is to do with his criticism of the ruling party through research and book, and thus he is been fixed.

        I believe that It is nothing but a warning to those elite not go against the ruling party and so must make someone the center of a show to put forth the message, and now the whole affair has been backfired onto the ruling party since Tey could reveal even more info about what is going on behind the scene.

      • 13 AH LEONG 6 August 2013 at 14:38

        if having sex and affair is wrong and must be brought to court, why dont we see CPIB charging Michael Palmer for having sex with Laura Ong? Michael Palmer was an MP while Laura Ong was working for PA and Michael Palmer could influence Laura Ong salary and promotion and Michael Palmer did not declare the relationship?

      • 14 Ttp 8 August 2013 at 11:28

        U have swallowed the PAP version; hook, slinker and line. One just cannot believe the Straits times (PAP) version blindly.

  7. 15 Tan Tai Wei 5 August 2013 at 23:12

    That, and those other stories contributed here, can be only, at best, some persons’ interpreting of some event/s that suggest, in their minds, the stories. Unless the tellers saw related classified documents, etc. They never claimed they did. Then how come all the purported factual details of doings and motives? And would ISD go through all that trouble just to prevent occurrences such as that law professor’s saying this or that about the judiciary in papers nobody knows about if not for the publicity now given them? So, probably, it has been some isolated cases of ISD dealings with suspected real threats to national security, such as racism (if not “terrorism”), that has fuelled the imaginations of these story spinners.

    • 16 Duh 6 August 2013 at 13:33

      It is naive to think that behaviours and motives will leave evidence and a paper trail. Did you frankly think that the ISD officers will be stupid enough to leave a paper trail of their bullying tactics? Did it not occur to you why (i) police interrogations have resisted being video taped and independently recorded and archived?, and (ii) suspects are denied legal representation during interrogation? Nobody, besides the suspect and the interrogator knows what happens in the interview room. Verbal intimidation leaves no physical marks and are not recorded – does it mean it doesn’t occur? Having the organisation itself (be it PAP or the Police Force) do its own internal audits and checks smacks of conflict of interest – NO ONE is convinced of the authenticity of such internal checks. AIM anyone?

      Here’s an hypothetical example based on a true case – several ISD officers walked into an academic’s room. Nobody notices because it is very common for academics to be consulted by others on a regular basis. The academic’s office only has the academic and the ISD officers. ISD officers bully and intimidated the academic to the extent the academic fear for his/her safety – academic leaves Singapore in a hurry. The academic has no evidence to prove this event happen (ISD officers are not going to admit they bullied and intimidated him/her) because it is the academic’s word against the ISD’s.

      Did this event happen? Yes. Was there evidence that it did? No. Did it meant just bcos there was no paper trail or witnesses then hence, this event didn’t happen? Hell, no.

      You really must have a lack of street smarts if you thought paper trails and witnesses are the sole defining elements of whether something happened. PAP has MANY reasons to curb anti-PAP sentiments – pick any one.

      If these are imaginations of academics, why the *consistency* of silence among the intellectual elite known to voice objections (i.e., academics)? When this affects *several* people, it is not a random event but an *organised* attempt to instill a climate of fear and self-censorship.

      • 17 Tan Tai Wei 7 August 2013 at 12:56

        You knew that case? Happened to you exactly as you detailed, motives and all, insidious and what surfaced, nothing being your perceptions only? And you are willing to swear on oath, not hiding behind pseudonym? Or is that story what someone else told, and you have verified along similar paths as described? That’s what I meant by “seeing classified documents, etc.” But, if as you say, ISD wouldn’t be that foolish as to “leave a trail”, then how can you know all those details?

  8. 18 yuen 8 August 2013 at 18:30

    > “It’s a necessary evil and compromise for me,” Tey wrote to a colleague in September 2010.

    so besides the sender and recipient, who else knew about what Tey wrote? if would be nice if the recipient or a third party confirms it

    I would have thought it quite feasible to collect phone conversations, SMSs, emails, etc, like the USA PRISM program; assuming such a program exists here, then Tey’s message, assuming it exists too, would be somewhere in there, waiting to be located

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