Monday, December 31, 2007

Twice banned filmmaker submits third film

"All this censorship and so on makes no sense to me."- Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, dialogue with Young PAP, Apr 21 2007


Speakers Cornered, a documentary on the standoff between local activists and police during the IMF-World Bank Meetings in Singapore last year, has been submitted to the Board of Film Censors this morning. The application is for the purpose of classification. (Receipt number : A/0712/1018000L)

My two previous films, Singapore Rebel and Zahari's 17 Years, are banned in Singapore under sections [33] and [35] of the Films Act respectively. Both sections were invoked for the first time in the nation's history.

The counter staff at BFC pointed out to me that the timeline for the approval for local productions tend to take longer than imported videos, and that the process can only be expedited once I submit another letter indicating public screening date(s), venue(s), target audience and purpose of exhibition. No concession is made if the applicant is the filmmaker himself. The same spiel was presented to me in January this year when I applied for a licence for Zahari's 17 Years. Then, I had not followed up with any letter. Still, the Ministry issued a public statement three months later to ban the film.

Now I hear you ask - Speakers Cornered has already been uploaded on youtube, so why bother submitting it to the censors now? Am I not asking for more trouble?

Answer : Not at all. On the contrary, I am only acting in accordance to the law as it currently stands.

Section [14] of the Films Act states that "every film in the possession of any person shall be submitted to the Board without any alteration or excision for the purpose of censorship at the owner's risk and expense and at such time and place as the Board may appoint." In other words, the possession of any film or video in Singapore is illegal unless they are approved by the authorities.

The good news is, according to MDA's website, not all videos in Singapore require certification. Exemptions are made for "educational videos, documentaries, programmes for children and pre-1966 movies".

But here's the bad news - such exemptions are not automatic. To qualify for an exemption, one has to make sure that the material do not flout a set of guidelines, and only thereafter can he make an application to the BFC, who will be the final arbiter of what should or should not be exempted. (See here)

Which then brings us back to square one: If you possess a film or video in Singapore, be it imported or self-made, you are required by law to submit the material to the censors for classification, certification or exemption. By default, that makes anyone who possesses an uncertified video culpable of violating the law (and you think I'm the only one guilty of breaching the Films Act?).

Therefore, as we approach a new year, I will attempt to shed my "Singapore Rebel" tag and make like a law-abiding Singaporean by submitting Speakers Cornered to the authorities for classification, as required by law.

At the same time, I wholeheartedly extend my goodwill to all the senior civil servants at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts - by offering them this act of submission in order that they may use it to justify their salary hikes, and also provide an opportunity to make good on their pledge to get "creative."

How will they prohibit a video that's already on youtube? Under which section of the Films Act will they ban a video that essentially records an event in a manner no different from what broadcasters do all over the world? Will they target the filmmaker instead by subjecting him to another 15 months of police investigations? Or will they clear the video and consequently inspire a new wave of Singaporean political and activist cinema, including cause-related campaign videos such as this one? Or will they drag their feet until the newly-proposed media review committee submit their recommendations to the government?

While you hold your breath on this one, do drop by for updates, and have a great new year!

To read the entire Films Act, go to Singapore Statutes Online.

****************************************************

GUIDELINES ON CONTENT THAT CANNOT BE EXEMPTED

by Board of Film Censors

Videos declared for exemption should not violate any laws of Singapore. In addition, videos containing the following scenes /dialogues /themes are not exempted from censorship and should not be so declared.

1. SCENE

Violence
Violence refers to acts of force resulting in pain, injury or death. The following portrayals are deemed as violent acts:
• Repeated hitting/punching/kicking;
• Multiple slashing/stabbing/shooting;
• Blood-letting/flowing/spurting;
• Amputation/decapitation/dismemberment; and
• Any other form of torturous and/or sadistic acts.

Sex and Nudity
Sex and nudity relate to depictions of sexual acts and naked human bodies. Some specific examples are:
• Sexual foreplay;
• Sexually ecstatic facial expressions;
• Sexual intercourse; and
• Male and female frontal nudity.

Drug Abuse
• Scenes depicting or promoting drug abuse.

2. DIALOGUE
• Words with obscene and vulgar connotations.

3. THEME
The overall theme of the subject of the video is deemed to be objectionable on moral, social, religious grounds or detrimental to national interest.

Moral
Examples of morally objectionable themes:
• Depiction of deviant sexual behaviour such as incest, and alternative lifestyles such as homosexuality and lesbianism;
• Promotion of free love, sexual promiscuity etc.

Social
Examples of objectionable themes on social grounds:
• Anti-social behaviour such as gangsterism, vandalism and hooliganism;
• Portrayal of the commission of crimes with details of the techniques used.

Religious and Racial
• Propagating of religion.
• Denigrating any race or religion.

Public Interest
Subject or topic that undermine the interests of public security, national defence and public confidence in the law and its enforcement.

Note: If in doubt of the video's content, you are advised to submit the video for censorship.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Videos : Singaporean lawyers petition; Malaysian lawyers march



Singaporean lawyers M. Ravi and Chia Ti Lik submitting a petition to the Law Society of Singapore on South Bridge Road on December 10, 2007. Video by SgHumanRights.
AFP report.





Malaysian lawyers confronting the police in Kuala Lumpur on December 9, 2007. Video source unknown.
IPS report.

Latest : More arrested, including Anwar Ibrahim.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Speakers Cornered - Complete video now unleashed

I made this video a year ago. It has since been screened in human rights festivals in Taiwan and Malaysia.

Seeing how Singapore's state censors, a.k.a. the Media Development Authority (MDA), is currently pitching itself as a government agency with some serious creative street cred, I may jolly well submit Speakers Cornered for a rating and a public screening license. Let's see how creative they can get by banning a work that's already circulating online.

Watch the entire video here. Chinese subtitles are courtesy of Taipei's Urban Nomad Film Festival.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Video : Burmese citizens mount protest on Orchard Road

Al Jazeera's video report here.

Watch videos of Orcahrd Road protest here and here.

Burmese citizens staging arguably the biggest unauthorized public protest in Singapore since 1965.

Meanwhile, it's a different story for these two Singaporean activists..

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

One Country, Two Systems - Part ll

"Important for investors and economic growth is the rule of law, implemented through an independent judiciary, an honest and efficient police force, and effective law enforcement agencies."
- MM Lee Kuan Yew, speech at the IBA Conference, 14 Oct 2007


One law for them..

PAP Members of Parliament from the post-65 generation performing a hip hop dance at the Chingay Parade on Orchard Road in February this year. The main objective is to "to laugh at yourself, to have a sense of humour about everything.. Trying to connect with the youth," explains MP Chris de Souza. Watch video of their rehearsal here.

Another for the rest of us.

Citing how "cause-related" events "have a higher potential to stir emotions and controversy", Singapore police has rejected an application for a permit to hold a "Peace For Burma Concert" at the Timbre Bar. Last month, an application by the Substation Arts Centre to hold an outdoor flea market to be manned by 19 civil society groups was also rejected by the police.


One law for him..

CASE executive director Seah Seng Choon campaigning for consumers rights in a march around the Singapore River to commemorate World Consumers Rights Day.


Another for him.

John Tan of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party is being arrested on Orchard Road opposite the Istana. He and three other members of the party were holding placards calling on the government to reveal their business links with the Burmese junta. More pics here.


One law for him...

First aired on CNA in 2002, this video is now being packaged and marketed by local company Innoform Media and is currently on sale in all major bookstores in Singapore. According to this website, the "89-minute two-part documentary takes a look at how Lee brought Singapore to independence, and interestingly gives viewers a glimpse into his personal life."

Somehow, the DVD managed to escape the clauses defined in Section 33 of the Films Act, which essentially prohibits any film that is "directed towards any political end in Singapore". That includes any film which "contains wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter", including references to the Government, a Member of Parliament, and "any body whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, or any branch of such party or body."

Click here for the rest of what constitutes a "film directed towards any political end".


Another for the rest of us.

Singapore Rebel, a 26 minute documentary about opposition activist Dr Chee Soon Juan, is banned by the Singapore Government and its filmmaker was subjected to 15 months of police investigation for alleged violation of the above Films Act. Anyone who is in possession of the video is liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $100,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.

See also Filmmakers on JBJ threatened

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Videos of bloody crackdown in Burma

Inside Myanmar : The Crackdown



Part ll of this AlJazeera report here.

More videos of crackdown here, here, here, here and here.

"In Rangoon, people say they are more frightened now than when soldiers were shooting on the streets."

The scale of the crackdown remains undocumented. The regime has banned journalists from entering Burma and has blocked internet access and phone lines.

Mark Farmaner of the Burma Campaign UK says the number of dead is possibly in the hundreds. "The regime covers up its atrocities. We will never know the true numbers," he said.

At the weekend the government said it has released more than half of the 2,171 people arrested, but exile groups estimate the number of detentions between 6,000 and 10,000.

In Rangoon, people say they are more frightened now than when soldiers were shooting on the streets.

"When there were demonstrations and soldiers on the streets, the world was watching," said a professional woman who watched the marchers from her office.

"But now the soldiers only come at night. They take anyone they can identify from their videos. People who clapped, who offered water to the monks, who knelt and prayed as they passed. People who happened to turn and watch as they passed by and their faces were caught on film. It is now we are most fearful. It is now we need the world to help us."
The full article
Only now, the full horror of Burmese junta's repression of monks emerges

And Singapore is not the only Southeast Asian country to practise the One Country Two Systems brand of governance.
Burma government holds rally, junta arrests prominent activists

Singapore and Burma: Such Good Friends
By Eric Ellis/Asian Sentinel

Thursday, October 04, 2007

One Country, Two Systems

Marching for consumer rights ...

A public assembly near Singapore's Parliament House to commemorate World Consumer Rights Day. "Thousands of participants" took part in the "nation-wide" march, including a ministerial guest-of-honour. Picture taken on 18th March, 2007 and can be seen here.


but not for human rights.

A member of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party is surrounded by police as she and five others attempted to stage a pro-democracy march towards Parliament House during the IMF-World Bank Meetings held in Singapore. The activists are currently under police investigation. Photo was taken at Hong Lim Park on 16th September, 2006.


White expats can protest ...


Expatriate women gathered on Waterloo Street in Singapore as part of a global action in to support the brave in Myanmar. No report of police videotaping in the vicinity. Not known if police are investigating. Picture taken on Friday, 28th Septermber, 2007 by AP and can be found here and here and here.


while Asians get harassed.

Police [left] are seen videotaping Burmese nationals gathered around the petition table outside the Burmese Embassy in Singapore. Police is investigating. Picture taken on Sunday, 30th September, 2007 by TOC and can be found here.

Police rejects permit for outdoor protest by S’pore student


While prostitutes openly solicits on Orchard Road, Singapore Police would rather harass Burmese petitioners.

------------------------------------------------------

Soldiers hunting down dissidents in Burma

"We have photographs. We are going to make arrests!"

Junta dragging residents from beds in terror patrols at night



Meanwhile, it's business as usual for Singapore Inc.


Tay Za(L), Chairman of Air Bagan and a close business associate of General Than Shwe, and Lim Kim Choon, Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, toast at the launch of Air Bagan’s maiden flight to Singapore after its arrival at Changi International Airport on September 7. Photo and report by AFP.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Guard dogs of St. Martin's Drive

For the past two days, residents in the upmarket apartments on St. Martin's Drive, located off Tanglin Road, have been enjoying free security reinforcements by courtesy of the Singapore Police Force. About a dozen plainclothes officers have been loitering at the road's entrance since Sunday in an attempt to intimidate members of the public from participating in a petition signing exercise outside the Burmese Embassy.

This video says it all.

The police worked on rotating shifts. I arrived at about 11pm on Sunday night and saw a different team from that shown in the above video. Asians arriving on foot or in vehicles had their identity cards checked and subsequently warned that they may be investigated for public assembly should they proceed to the embassy. Curiously, as officers continue to harass the Asians, most of them Burmese nationals, two cars carrying Caucasians whizzed by me. As one officer trained his video camera lens on me, I thought I repay the courtesy, and then some. Below were some members of the team from the Central Police Station stationed on St. Martin's Drive around between 11pm until 1am.


Ong Poh Tuck


Mohd Shafiee


Leng Han Ping


Chee Boon Heng


Neo Wei Kiat


Unidentified officer


Video cameraman handing over duties


Unidentified senior officer who took over shift






TOC Report: Over 400 visit Burmese embassy to sign petition

When a permit is required for compassion - disgusting

Pictures of vigil

More pictures

Thousands dead in massacre of the monks dumped in the jungle



Thousands of protesters are dead and the bodies of hundreds of executed monks have been dumped in the jungle, a former intelligence officer for Burma's ruling junta has revealed.

The most senior official to defect so far, Hla Win, said: "Many more people have been killed in recent days than you've heard about. The bodies can be counted in several thousand."

Read the rest

Sunday, September 30, 2007

By George, do you have blood on your hands?

A young demonstrator shot dead on 27 September in Rangoon.



General George Yeo expressing repulsion at the military crackdown during the United Nations General Assembly.


General George Yeo with Burmese General Thein Shin [left]. This picture was taken in April 2007.

Blood for sand
by John Aglionby

Web of cash, power and cronies
by Eric Ellis



Death by head-injury, bleeding from nose & mouth

Martyn See speaks out on police probe, foreign "interference" and Burma

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen's opening address

Speech at ASEM seminar on human rights

At the invitation of ASEF, I attended the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Informal Seminar on Human Rights in Siem Reap, Cambodia from the 26th to 28th September, 2007. Billed as a "non-confrontational debate" on freedom of expression, the event was officially opened by Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen. Needless to say, the human rights abuses in Cambodia received short shrift in the forum, although the military crackdown in Burma was put forward as an agenda from the outset. In attendance were over a hundred representatives from governments and civil societies of Asia and Europe, including human rights officials from the United Nations.

The other Singaporean participants were
- Ms Vanessa Chan, the Counsellor-Designate for the Singapore Embassy in Yangon.
- Mr Tan Yew Soon, the Director of Public Communications at the Ministry of Communications, Information and the Arts
- Dr Cherian George, an assistant professor of journalism at the Nanyang Technological University.

At the closing session on the 'Future of Freedom of Expression', I was asked to relate my Singapore experience.

Here's the full transcript.

----------------------------------------------------------------------


By no means am I an expert so I thought I'll regale you with my own personal Uniquely Singaporean experience of having been subjected to a law that restricts freedom of expression.

3 years ago, I made a documentary about a local opposition politician. I was rewarded with a double whammy. Not only did the censors banned the film, they went for the filmmaker. They filed a police complaint against me for alleged violation of section 33 of the Films Act - which basically prohibits the import, production, distribution and exhibition of any film which makes biased references to political matters. The offence carries a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment or a S$100,000 fine. So for the next 15 months, I was placed under police investigation. I was not arrested or detained. I merely had to present myself at the police station on a number of occasions for interrogation sessions. Some of my friends were also called in by the police over their relationship with me. In Singapore, the police are legally empowered to obtain phone records from telecommunications companies to assist their investigations.

I was born, educated and have lived all my life in Singapore. Over four decades, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the Cambridge-educated founding father who now goes by the title of Minister Mentor, repeatedly tells his people that human rights and democracy are ideals invented by Western liberals that bear no relevance to Asian Values. Such notions, he added, does not put a roof over my head or food on my table. Only good governance can provide these things. By that decree, Singaporeans have by-and-large traded our political and civil liberties for economic growth, although not everyone has benefited from increased GDP gains.

There are General Elections but the opposition are unable to put up enough candidates to contest all 84 seats in Parliament. Many Singaporeans live out their entire lives without the opportunity to cast a single ballot. Freedom House says, "Citizens in Singapore are unable to change their governments democratically."

The domestic media is State-owned or State-controlled. Committee to Protect Journalists says, "State control of the media in Singapore is so complete that few dare to challenge the system and there is no longer much need to arrest or even harass journalists. Even foreign correspondents have learned to be cautious when reporting on Singapore, since the government has frequently hauled the international press into court to face lengthy and expensive libel suits. "

Singapore is ranked at number 154th in press freedom rankings by Reporters Without Borders.

The US State Department says, "In practice the government significantly restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Government leaders historically have used court proceedings, in particular defamation suits, against political opponents and critics. Some judicial officials, especially supreme court judges, have ties to the ruling party and its leaders. It was widely believed that the authorities routinely conducted surveillance on some opposition politicians and other government critics."

Amnesty International says that Singapore executes more people on a per capita basis than any other country in the world. The death penalty and corporal punishment are legacies of British colonial rule.

It is a criminal offence for 5 or more persons to assemble in public for a cause without first obtaining a police permit. Again, this is a law that originated from British colonial masters. During the IMF-World Bank meetings in Singapore last year, the police threatened shoot-to-kill measures against violent protesters. Last month, a small group of Burmese nationals attempted to stage a march on Orchard Road, a downtown shopping belt. They were reportedly investigated by the police.

Now, coming back to my case. After 15 months, the police decided to drop all investigations by issuing me a "stern warning" in lieu of prosecution. In those 15 months, no lawyer in Singapore contacted me to offer legal assistance. (Although I did seek and received assistance from human rights lawyer Mr M. Ravi) The only public statement issued locally came from the opposition Singapore Democratic Party, of which its leader was the subject of my banned documentary.

Under this climate of fear and self-censorship, the only tool available to me by way of publicising my story was the internet. So I posted updates of the police investigation on my blog, and immediately it was picked up by news wire agencies based in Singapore. In the ensuing days and weeks, statements were issued by AI, RSF, CPJ and SEAPA. I believe then and now that international attention on my case was a key factor that led to the eventual withdrawal of charges against me.

In the letter of warning issued to me by the police, it stated that if I were to commit the same offence again, "the same leniency will not be shown." Well, since then I've made three more documentaries, all of which deals with political themes. The second of which - an extended interview with a former journalist detained without trial for 17 years in Singapore - has also been banned by the authorities. This time around, however, no police complaint has been filed.

The final twist to this almost farcical saga is that I had earlier sent out copies of my films to international human rights film festivals. Days after the ban was enforced, both the offending films appeared on youtube and google video. As we speak, the banned videos have generated a total of some 190,000 hits.

I'm not sure what the future holds for freedom of expression, especially in countries such as Singapore, but of this I'm certain - even as autocratic leaders accuse the west of interfering in their domestic politics, they DO listen to international opinions because their self-inflated egos demand that they do.

With regards to the situation in Burma, where each passing day of inaction from the international community will lead to more bloodshed, I reiterate this appeal made by Aung San Suu Kyi, whom the Burmese junta has labelled a traitor and foreign stooge. She had said, "Please use your liberty to promote ours."

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

After I spoke, MICA's Tan Yew Soon arose to assure the audience that laws in Singapore are applied equally. (Can somebody please file a police complaint against this DVD for possible violation of the Films Act pertaining to political films?)

Vanessa Chan of the Foreign Affairs Ministry also took to the floor. She reiterated her earlier statements that Singapore does not claim to be a model for anyone and that all rights should be judged by its results. She said that she would never be caught using the term "Asian Values". (Instead, she spelt out "A-s-i-a-n-V-a-l-u-e-s" alphabet by alphabet). She also said that fear is sometimes necessary to avoid worse-case scenarios. Finally, she rounded off her reply by deriding an earlier criticism of Singapore made by a Filipino/Thai participant by saying that "he does not even live in Singapore."

In the spirit of ASEM's promotion of non-confrontational dialogue, I later announced to the audience that the Singapore Government has issued a strong statement condemining the use of force by the Burma's military junta. I said that I fully support the statement and pointed out that it was issued by the Ms Chan's employers, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ms Chan is due to take up her appointment at the Singapore Embassy in Burma next week. I wish her well.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Banned film to screen in Johor Bahru

Freedom Film Festival, Malaysia's only human rights film festival, will make its debut in Johor Bahru from 28 - 30 September.

Among the Singaporean works to be featured is Royston Tan's short film 15, the precursor to his feature film debut of the same title. The short film was first screened at the Singapore International Film Festival in 2002 but subsequent applications for public screenings has since been denied by the censors.


Other notables to watch include Royston's Cut!, Martyn See's Speakers Cornered, Asia Witness Productions' I Love Malaya and other stories marking the often treacherous terrain of activist cinema.

Click here for the complete schedule. All screenings in Johor Bahru will be held at the JOTIC auditorium located on No. 2, Jalan Ayer Molek, a short ride from the causeway.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Singaporean works feature in Malaysian human rights film fest


Into its fourth year, Malaysia's independent Freedom Film Festival 2007 will operate under the banner of "50th Merdeka: The Untold Human Rights Stories".

The festival will run from September 14 - 16 in Kuala Lumpur, September 21 - 23 in Penang and September 28 - 30 in Johor Baru. Click here for the venue details.

Singapore films shown in previous FFF includes Tan Pin Pin's Singapore Gaga and Moving House (2006), and Martyn See's Singapore Rebel and Zahari's 17 Years (2005/2006). On this year's roster are a total of 32 films, including seven works by Singapore-based directors.

Below are the screening schedule of the Singapore films in KL. Click here for the complete film listings and screening schedule in KL.

All screenings at the Central Market Annexe in Kuala Lumpur.

1. 24 hrs, directed by Royston Tan, Friday 13th Sept, 4.30pm
2. 15(short version), directed by Royston Tan, Friday 13th Sept, 4.30pm
3. I Love Malaya , directed by Asia Witness Production, Friday 13th Sept, 8pm
4. Speakers Cornered , directed by Martyn See, Saturday 14th Sept, 11.30am
5. Cut! , directed by Royston Tan, Saturday 14th Sept, 11.30am
6. Exodus , directed by Sherman Ong, Saturday 14th Sept, 9pm.
7. Passabe , directed by James Leong and Lynn Lee, 15th Sept, 3.30pm

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Said Zahari's book available in Singapore

Despite the government's ban on Zahari's 17 Years, Said Zahari's latest memoir, The Long Nightmare - My 17 Years As A Political Prisoner, is now retailing at Select Books for S$19.30 a copy.

Even though both the film and book espouses similar content and opinions, the discrepancy of banning one but not the other was explained by the Board of Film Censors as such : "The impact of a book and a film is different. A film is more likely to reach a wider audience than a book and can more easily arouse emotive responses." (Straits Times Life!, April 14 2007)

Select Books is located at #03-15, Tanglin Shopping Centre, Tanglin Road. The film Zahari's 17 Years can be viewed in its entirety at google video.

And according to this post, the book is also sold at Borders and Kinokuniya (Ngee Ann City).

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Nation Builders - A new video by Martyn See

The wealth generated by Singapore's much-touted economic success story has not benefited everyone, least of all its senior citizens, a.k.a. the nation builders. Filmed on the streets and back-alleys of downtown Singapore in July 2007, this video does not contain any enactments or acting. Directed, shot and edited by Martyn See. Running time : 14 minutes.



Link to google video.

Martyn See's previous works, 'Singapore Rebel' and 'Zahari's 17 Years' are banned by the Singapore Government for their political content. The former was also the subject of a 15 month-long police investigation for alleged violation of the Films Act. Both films, however, are freely available for viewing on google video. See has gone on to make 'Speakers Cornered', which has yet to be submitted to the local censors. 'Nation Builders is his fourth video and the first to be made available on the web by the director himself. So far, the Singapore authorities has not sought any orders to have locally-banned videos removed from the internet.

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Long Nightmare - Foreward excerpts

The Long Nightmare: My 17 Years as a Political Prisoner is the second memoir written by Pak Said Zahari after Dark Clouds at Dawn. Though the title sounds poetic, it is written as a memoir, which notes the writer's experiences, observations and thoughts - the worldview, without distortion, of a veteran journalist and former political detainee held in Singapore prisons in the 1960s and 1970s.

Said Zahari's anti-colonial, anti-imperialist political stand is unmistakable in this book, as in his first book published in 2001. Similarly, his stand towards the PAP regime, under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, who was responsible for his arrest and imprisonment for 17 years, is very much unmistakable too.

In a brave and unflinching manner, Said Zahari reveals the cruelty of the PAP regime, especially towards its political opponents, whom they arrested and detained without trial, using laws inherited from the British colonial government. The tortures and persecution inflicted upon these political detainees are explained in detail by Said. It is hard to believe that such cruel acts happened, and we would not know, had they not been related by those who were tortured and persecuted.

Said Zahari was imprisoned without trial for 17 years. His guilt has never been proven despite his being imprisoned for so long. If this is not travesty, what is? However, after reading this book, we find a man who holds no rancour towards the person who slandered him and threw him in jail. What type of a person is this?

This second volume of Said Zahari's memoirs also tells the story of the
poignant sufferings of his wife and young children - whom he had to leave on 2 February 1963 when he was dragged to prison by the police of "Lee Kuan Yew's regime supported by the British colonialists".

Readers will find the story of the sufferings faced by Said Zahari's family during his imprisonment, awe-inspiring. We see how Said held on firmly to his principles and had no fear in defending justice and truth. But he is, in fact, a person with feelings and emotions. Like any other human being. He confesses, "I was shocked and overwhelmed. My soul was in turmoil when I heard, about the immeasurable sufferings of my wife for the first time, while in exile at Ubin Island before release."

He was deeply torn and burdened by his "sins" towards his wife and children. Said Zahari's introspection and admission of guilt is unequivocal. He asks for forgiveness from the Almighty for "breaking his oath when he betrothed" his wife, Salamah.

That was indeed a heavy "price" to pay his struggle against the slander and trumped up accusations made by Lee Kuan Yew, who conspired with the British colonialists. The challenge was to fight slander (in prison) on the one hand, and to fulfil one's responsibility towards the family (outside prison) on the other.

PROFESSOR DR NIK ANUAR NIK MAHMUD
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Born and educated in Singapore, Said Zahari went on to work and reside in Kuala Lumpur. In 1961, the Malayan authorities imposed a ban on his re-entry to the peninsula, thereby banishing him to the island republic. Less than two years later, the Singapore authorities arrested and detained him, a detention which was to extend for almost 17 years until his release on 22 August 1979. His detention spelt the end of his journalistic career. Said's prolonged detention became a cause celebre, and he was adopted as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. In 1994, he applied and obtained permission to re-enter Malaysia to live near his children and grandchildren in Subang Jaya.

This is the second volume of Said Zahari's projected trilogy. This volume, originally subtitled "My 17 years in Lee Kuan Yew's prisons", was intended to chronicle his detention in Singapore. As part of this volume, Said has included a selection of his prison poems and translations in English written during the course of his long detention, which eloquently re-create the setting and mood of those years.

This volume also contains an account of the hunger strike by the political prisoners in Moon Cresecent detention centre in the early 1970s when they were housed in the newly-completed complex in separate small blocks, with not much opportunity to communicate and interact. The hunger strike was little publicized by the mass media at the time, and therefore, the general public in Singapore has remained largely unaware of the causes and duration of the strike.

Over the last decade, Said has emerged as an icon in both Singapore and Malaysia. He has come to symbolize, together with long-term political detainees in Singapore like Chia Thye Poh and others, an enduring profile of courage and human spirit rising above adversity and tragedy. In his own way, Said Zahari is waging an often lonely, but no less determined struggle to focus public attention on some ugly and less known aspects of Singapore's history, particularly the harsh repression against democratic and anti-colonial activists.

TAN JING QUEE

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This volume of Said's memoirs, which centre on his 17 year incarceration in Singapore's prisons, serve as a poignant reminder to Singaporeans and Malaysians of the political abuse of detention-without-trial laws such as the ISA.

The PAP government repeated abuse of the ISA is highlighted by the 1987 detention of Singaporean church and political activists accused of engaging in a Marxist conspiracy. Recalling his shock at the crude and fanciful web of fabrication spun the PAP leadership, Said wrote, "I guffawed at such foolish lies... How could LKY pull the wool over Singaporeans' eyes with such blatant lies... This so-called Marxist conspiracy was created by LKY when he realised the existence of a new breed of political antagonists". Said observes that the detention and public 'confessions' of the so-called 'Marxist conspirators' was expected to reinforce "the culture of fear among the people of Singapore", thereby 'nipping in the bud' this new breed of antagonists.

Corroborating Francis Seow's experience of torture in Singaporean jails, Said's second memoir is strongly focused on exposing the mental and physical torture of political dissidents deprived of their civil liberties under the ISA. During their initial period of incarceration, detainees are often subjected to severe mental and physical torture. Said recalled the torment of a young detainee who was severely beaten for 22 days when he refused to betray his friends. He also denied being involved in an underground movement, carrying firearms and planning to overthrow the government. To shatter the spirit of detainees, prolonged periods of solitary confinement were enforced when they refused to 'confess' to crimes alleged by the government. Worn down by mental and physical stress, some agreed to public 'confessions' to secure their release. Confessions were also 'negotiated' by promises of attractive jobs upon release. Said has suggested that psychotropic drugs may have been prescribed to Operation Cold Store detainees, rendering them emotionally erratic and suicidal. The strain of detention was compounded further by the emotional and financial toll incurred by the families of detainees. In the 17 years of Said's incarceration, his late wife Salamah Abdul Wahab and their children suffered immense hardships. She struggled to make ends meet by running a food stall while the children often went to school without a cent in their pockets. Said's memoirs includes heartfelt snippets of the camaraderie, courage and dedication of many other political detainees who have become lifelong friends.

What will the political future hold for a post-Lee Kuan Yew Singapore? Will a post-PAP government unleash the ISA on former PAP government leaders known to have used the ISA against dissenting voices? Or will detention-without-trial laws be pronounced unconstitutional by a newly formed Constitution Court and Human Rights Commission? Will a post-authoritarian Singapore see the formation of a Truth Commission, set up to fully investigate the persecution of Singaporeans detained without trial, legally harassed and persecuted for their political convictions? Will a national apology be issued to political detainees incarcerated under the ISA? Will a post-authoritarian Singapore adopt foreign and security policies that are independent from the dictates of Washington, and acknowledge that the PAP government's support of the invasion and occupation of Iraq was a mistake? Will relations with neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand improve in a post-authoritarian Singapore not plagued by a kiasu mindset? The possibilities are endless.

I am deeply honoured to have been invited by Said to write a Foreword for the English edition of his second memoir. Said's moral courage, intellectual integrity, irrepressible spirit and multiracial ethos provide us with the inspiration to work towards a truly democratic Singaporean society. In this era of the so-called 'war on terror', which has enabled governments to resuscitate the existence of, and draw up even more, draconian laws, Said's plea that "these outdated, restricted laws such as the ISA are abolished" is particularly salient. Terima kasih Pak Said for showing us the way!

LILY ZUBAIDAH RAHIM
University of Sydney, Australia

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The book is now available in Malaysia at RM25. Select Books in Singapore may be be arranging to stock it but there is no confirmation as yet.

Book review of 'Ousted!"
How To Make Enemies and Alienate People . . . In Malaysia

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Don't shade the past, tell it like it is, says LKY


Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin launching the book "Dalam Ribuan Mimpi Gelisah" and its English version "The Long Nightmare" authored by a former detainee, Said Zahari (next to Zainuddin). Pix: Noraini Ahmad







Said Zahari, a former journalist detained for 17 years without trial in Singapore, launches the English and Malay editions of his memoir in Kuala Lumpur. Officiating the launch is Malaysia's Information Minister Zainuddin Maidin, who elected to break into song midway into the proceedings and then quipped about sending Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew a copy of the book.

Watch the video here.



Malaysian opposition activist Tian Chua's blistering take of the launch

Kakiseni's report - complete with lyrics of song crooned by the Info Minister

Bernama's report - topped by a headline that bears no relevance to Said Zahari

Meanwhile, encouraged by an upcoming publication of memoirs to be written by former MPs, including those of the opposition, MM Lee Kuan Yew has written to the Straits Times to urge the authors not to fudge history, and to tell it like it is.

Strange call, this one. Almost as surreal as the one about allowing 'Singapore Rebel' if it was left up to him, and this recent one about decriminalising gays and senseless censorship.

In any case, the publishers should take his statement at face value and invite ex-political prisoner Chia Thye Poh to write his side of the story. After all, he was a MP from 1963 until his arrest three years later.

MPs should tell it like it is when writing memoirs

July 17, 2007

I READ ST, July 11th 2007, the views of Dr Chiang Hai Ding and former PAP MPs on their writing of their memoirs.

They would refresh their memories if they read up old written materials, speeches, press cuttings, notes, letters and photos. It is worth the effort.

MPs are important actors in determining Singapore's history. I encourage all MPs, including those who opposed the PAP, to give their accounts of the past.

They will give a multi-dimensional view of past events and provide richness and texture to the story.

World War II accounts, whether in books, on TV or on film, that draw on sources from all parties, the Allies, Germans, Russians and Japanese, make fascinating reading because they give a three-dimensional depth to past events.

When writing memoirs, you are talking to posterity. Among them will be historians who will check what you write against the accounts of others. So do not shade the past.

I read Chin Peng's memoirs in English and the Plen's (Fang Chuang Pi) unfinished memoirs in Chinese.

I respected Chin Peng, so I asked to see him when he was in Singapore.

However, the Plen was a disappointment. He avoided the facts. Chin Peng did not.

Lee Kuan Yew
Minister Mentor

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Founding PAP member and ex-political prisoner to pen memoirs

James Wong Wing On
Malaysiakini
Jul 9, 2007

Encouraged by the determination of fellow former political prisoner Said Zahari to unveil the other side of history, Singapore’s Dr Lim Hock Siew has also decided to publish his memoirs.

“Although I have told my story in a documentary film many years ago, I have decided to write it down myself in the form of memoirs like my ‘good brother’ Said,” he told malaysiakini during an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur.

“I am now conducting research to find out more newly declassified materials in London to link up more dots,” added the 76-year old founding member of Singapore’s now ruling People’s Action Party (PAP).

Lim was detained without trial for almost 20 years from 1963 to 1982. (Which makes him the second longest-held political prisoner in Singapore after Chia Thye Poh)

According to him, although he was alleged to have participated in the activities of the so-called ‘Communist United Front’ in Singapore from the mid-1950s to early 1960s, he was never formally charged in any open court of law for the allegation.

“I still remember even my police interrogators told me that they knew I had never been a member of any communist party or group,” said Lim who was a central committee member of the opposition Socialist Front in Singapore at the time of his arrest.

He was detained during the 1963 Operation Cold Store, which saw more than 130 leaders of opposition parties, labour and student unions and journalists deemed to be left wing held as well.

Serving British interests


“Now, from all the already released records in London as well as other historical researches, it is clear that in launching Operation Cold Store, Lee Kuan Yew was serving the then strategic interests of Britain which wanted Singapore to continue to provide a forward military base in Southeast Asia,” said Lim

“It is also now an undeniable fact that Lee worked earlier for the Japanese military during the Occupation making Britain’s English materials available in Japanese-language for the occupiers,” he added.

Lim was a graduate of Singapore’s prestigious Raffles College and a medical doctor trained in University of Malaya, which was then located in Singapore.

“I was also a founder of University of Malaya’s Socialist Club which became the cradle for many politicians and intellectuals in both Malaysia and Singapore who fought for independence,” he recalled with a sense of pride.

“In those days, anti-colonialism was a very powerful and popular sentiment even in Singapore … I helped found the People’s Action Party (PAP) to fight for the freedom of Singapore from British rule and to reunite it with Peninsula to form an united, non-communal and progressive Malaya but when Lee turned right wing and started serving British interests, the party split and I left to join the Socialist Front,” he explained.

“We certainly opposed to Singapore being maintained as a military base for Britain and that was why Lee had to crush the Left in Singapore at all cost … The Left in Singapore also opposed to the 1963 merger because we thought it was an opportunistic adventure on the part of Lee who wanted to exploit Tunku Abdul Rahman’s anti-communism to suppress the Left in Singapore … we wanted merger but not in the 1963 version which proved to be an utter failure just two years later in 1965.

“I was completely English-educated,” stressed Lim, which was obviously a sarcastic and subtle rebuttal to the now stereotyped and widespread notion that the Left in Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s was a “Chinese-educated” phenomenon.

Political conviction

As for his detention, Lim said he did not suffer any physical torture.

“But, detention without charge or trial for an uncertain period of time is itself a form of torture, albeit a psychological one,” Lim said.

“When I was first arrested in February 1963, my son was only five-months-old but when I was released in 1982, he was already studying at the Cambridge University in Britain.

“I wish to thank my wife Dr Betruce Cheng for her understanding, fortitude and solidarity for the entire period of my 20-year detention and also for bringing up our boy,” he added.

Quizzed on what helped him preserve his sanity during his detention, Lim replied: “Political conviction, intellectual integrity and moral conscience”.

“I certainly have no regret for my involvement and participation in politics although I had to pay a heavy price for it. I am still a socialist who believes in democracy for the people and social justice for the working classes,” he stressed.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Video : Said Zahari launches book

Said Zahari, a former anti-colonialist newspaper editor, launches the Chinese edition of his autobiography 'The Long Nightmare - My 17 Years As A Political Prisoner' at the Southern College in Johor, Malaysia on 1st July 2007. The video includes an introductory speech by Dr Lim Hock Siew, a founding member of the PAP who broke ranks in 1961 to form the Barisan Sosialis, but was subsequently arrested and detained without trial for 20 years under the Internal Security Act in Singapore.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Former political prisoner Said Zahari to launch book

After a year-long delay, Said Zahari will finally launch his much-awaited book.

Originally slated as 'The Long Nightmare - My 17 Years of Life in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison', the book's title has since been amended, at the behest of Utusan Publications, to 'The Long Nightmare - My 17 Years As A Political Prisoner'. Its contents, however, remains unchanged. The autobiography is the second installation of a planned trilogy by the former editor of the Malay-language daily Utusan Melayu, for whose brief involvement with the anti-colonial political opposition in Singapore culminated in his arrest and detention under Operation Coldstore in 1963.

Said Zahari is the only former long-term political prisoner to publicise his experiences of detention under the ISA in Singapore. His first book, 'Dark Clouds At Dawn', was published in 2001 and is available locally. ' Zahari's 17 Years', a documentary I had made about his years in detention, has been banned by the Singapore Government. In a recent statement explaining the reason for the film ban, the censors said that unlike a book, a film is likely to reach a wider audience and can easily "arouse emotive responses." 'Zahari's 17 Years' has since been uploaded for viewing on google video; and then uncharacteristically anchored two weeks later by a public remark from Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew that "all this censorship makes no sense."

Although Said is now a Permanent Resident of Malaysia, he has retain his Singaporean citizenship. In a recent conversation over the phone, he expressed his wish to visit Singapore soon to promote the book. It is unlikely that the Singapore Government will impose any official ban, but local distributors and retailers may be fearful of carrying the title.

'The Long Nightmare' is published in three languages - English, Mandarin and Malay. There are two launch dates - one for the Chinese edition and another for the English and Malay editions.


Launch of 'The Long Nightmare' (Chinese edition)
Date : Sunday 1 July, 2007
Time : 2 pm
Venue : Southern College, near Giant Supermarket off Skudai Road, Johor Bahru
Speakers : Dr Lim Hock Siew and Professor Chia Ai Ping

Launch of 'The Long Nightmare' (English and Malay edition)
Date : Monday 16 July, 2007
Time : 9.30 am
Venue : Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Institute of Language and Literature)
Jalan Dewan Bahasa, Kuala Lumpur
Guest-of-honour : Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin, Minister of Information Malaysia

The author will be present on both dates.



Said Zahari shows his latest memoir in front of his books collection at his home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, March 25, 2006. Said Zahari, who was arrested in 1963 and detained without trial by Singaporean authorities for 17 years has written a memoir detailing his experiences as a political prisoner and hopes the book will provide a different perspective of the political events that shaped Singapore's road to independence in 1965 and its first decades of nationhood. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Friday, June 15, 2007

'Singapore You Are Not My Country'

"If you care too much about Singapore, first it’ll break your spirit, and finally it will break your heart." - Alfian Sa'at

Mr Alfian Sa'at, one of Singapore's brightest literary luminaries, was recently dismissed from his relief teaching job by the Ministry of Education. And it happened in spite of the fact that some of his writings have been approved, lauded and taught in classrooms run by the government. Much debate has since ensued, inspired no less by the Ministry's reticence in stating any specific reason for this abrupt termination of service.

Playwright's relief teaching application rejected
Alfian Sa'at's blog
Teacher unaccountably terminated
Stop Right There, Mr Alfian Saat
Changing the information landscape

Alfian Sa'at (right) at A Night with Gay Poets, 2005










Rather than chipping in my five cents worth into the fray, I thought I'll just re-produced three of my favourite poems by Alfian here.

But first I'll let you in on a little-known fact about the current Minister for Education, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam: In his days as a student at the LSE, he would visit the home of exiled dissident Tan Wah Piow to engage in an 'underground study group', along with other Singaporean students residing in UK at that time. Upon his return to Singapore during the early 80s, he was immediately hauled up by the ISD for a series of interrogations, but no arrests were made at the time. However, some of the other members of the 'study group' were eventually arrested and detained in 1987's 'Marxist conspiracy'. It is not known if Mr Shanmugaratnam was questioned again in 1987.

---------------------

The Interrogation Room
I imagine they took you to a room.
You were led to a chair
And there might have been a table.
There was a pen scathing
Or a tape recorder spool twisting
Your words back on itself.

"Are you a Marxist?
Which hand would you use
To hold the Constitution?
Do you talk in your sleep?
Which of the stars
Of the national flag
Represents death?
What kinds of friends
Have shared your cigarettes
Or rolled over in bed
Stretching his or her hand
To find you absent,
And believed that
You had been taken away?"

You swallowed your trembling
With the help
Of a cup of coffee
They had placed
In your trusting hands

You finally cleared your throat
As if pushed
Onto a funeral podium
To deliver a eulogy
For a man you did not know.

What is a word?
A needle's ballet
Stitching the chasm
Between a yes and a no.

- Alfina Sa'at, A History of Amnesia, 2001


Mr Chia Sits In His Dark Cell
For Chia Thye Poh, detained without trial under the ISA for 32 years

"I was put in solitary confinement in what was called the 'dark cell'. It's not an ordinary prison cell. It's totally dark, totally quiet. usually you could not hear or see anything either inside or outside your cell. To intimidate me, the Internal Security Department officers told me that prisoners held in such cells go totally insane in just a few days. One of my first nights there, I could hear someone in the next cell violently kicking his cell door. Hearing that noise, I thought someone really had gone insane." - Chia Thye Poh


Mr Chia sits in his cell
In complete darkness
Telling his right hand
From his left foot

He tries to recall
Which side he is on
He does not know
Which side has betrayed him

He pulls a blanket over his body
He has no idea what colour it is
Each time he takes in a breath
The room draws its bosom near

Mr Chia closes both his eyes
Then struggles to open them again
Or perhaps there was no struggle at all
Perhaps they had been open all this while

Mr Chia dreams his skin is a shroud
For the blood's conspirational hymns
Mr Chia prays for something to puncture him
An ice-clear circle on a pane of soot

Grasping in the dark he recognises shapes
His freedom the size of a keyhole's pupil
Fate in the cross-hatched lines of a palm
Wrapped around the barrel of a pen

Mr Chia slowly recites numbers
And is assured that all of them are present
There are more than enough for all his fingers
Just barely enough for the counting of hours

When the sun finally greets him like a stranger
Mr Chia will keep his mouth firmly sealed
A man who has eaten darkness will not let any light enter
The cave of his blind organs his speechless bones.

- Alfian Sa'at, A History of Amnesia, 2001


Singapore You Are Not My Country

Singapore you are not my country.
Singapore you are not a country at all.
You are surprising Singapore, statistics-starved Singapore,
soulful Singapore of tourist brochures in Japanese
and hourglass kebayas.
You protest, but without picketing, without rioting,
without Catherine Lim,
but through your loudspeaker media, through the
hypnotic eyeballs of your newscaster,
and that weather woman who I swear is working
voodoo on my teevee screen.
Singapore, what are these lawsuits in my mailbox?
There are so many sheafs, I should have tipped the postman.
Singapore, I assert you are not a country at all.
Do not raise your voice against me,
I am not afraid of your anthem
although the lyrics are still bleeding from
the bark of my sapless heart.
Not because I sang them pigtailed pinnafored
breakfasted chalkshoes in school
But because I used to watch telly till they ran out of shows.
Do not invite me to the podium and tell me to address you properly.
I am allergic to microphones and men in egosuits and publicwigs.
And I am not a political martyr, I am a patriot
who has lost his country and virginity.
Do not wave a cane at me for vandalising
your propaganda with technicolour harangues,
Red Nadim semen white Mahsuri menses
the colourful language of my eloquent generation.
Your words are like walls on which truth is graffiti.
This has become an island of walls.
Asylum walls, factory walls, school walls,
the walls of the midnight Istana.
If I am paranoid I have learnt it from you,
O my delicate orchid stalk Singapore.
Always thirsty for water, spooked by armed archipelagoes,
always gasping for airspace, always running to keep ahead,
running away from yourself.
Singapore why do you wail that way, demanding my IC?
Singapore stop yelling and calling me names.
How dare you call me a chauvinist, an opposition party,
a liar, a traitor, a mendicant professor, a Marxist homosexual communist
pornography banned literature chewing gum liberty smuggler?
How can you say I do not believe in
The Free Press autopsies flogging mudslinging bankruptcy
which are the five pillars of justice?
And how can you call yourself a country, you terrible
hallucination of highways and cranes and condominiums ten minutes'
drive from the MRT?

Tell that to the battered housewife who thinks happiness
lies at the end of a Toto queue
Tell that to the tourist guide whose fillings are pewter
whose feelings are iron
whose courtesy is gold whose speech is silver whose
handshake is a lethal yank at the jackpot machine.
Tell that to my imam who thinks we are all going to hell.
That that to the chao ah beng who has seven stitches a
broken collarbone and three dead comrades but who
will not hesitate at thrusting his tiger ribcage into another fight
because the lanterns of his lungs have caught their own
fire and there is no turning back.
Tell that to the yuppie who sits in meat-markets disguised
as pubs, listening to Kenny G disguised as jazz
on handphone disguised as conversation and loneliness
disguised as a jukebox.
Tell that to all those exiles whose names are forgotten but
who leave behind a bad taste in the thoughtful mouth,
reminding us that the flapping sunned linen shelters a
whiff of chloroform.
Tell that to Town Council men who feed pigeons with
crumbs of arsenic.
Tell that to Maria Hertogh a.k.a. Nadra who proved to us
that blood spilled was thicker than water shed as she
was caught pining under a stone angel in the nunnery
for her husband.
Tell that to Ah Meng, who bore five hairy bastards for our nation.
Tell that to Lee Kuan Yew's squint.
Tell that to Josef Ng, who shaves my infant head admidst a
shower of one-cent coins, and both of us are pure again.
Tell that to my Warrant Officer who knew I was faking.
Tell that to the unemployed man who drinks cigarettes
smokes tattoos watches peanuts
unselfconscious of his gut belch debts and wife having an
affair with the Salesman of Nervous Breakdowns.
Tell that to Maya Angelou's who are screeching like
witches United Nations-style poems populated by
Cheena Babi Bayee Tonchet Melayu Malas Keling
Garagok Mat Salleh.
Tell that to the fakirs of civil disobedience, whose head-
phones are pounding the hooving basslines of
Damyata Damyata Damyata
Tell that to the statue of Li Po at Marina Park.
Tell that to the performance artists who need licences like
drivers and doctors and dogs
when all they really need is just three percent of your love.
Tell that to the innocent faggot looking for kicks on a
Sunday evening to end up sucking the bit-hard pistol-
muzzle of the CID, ensnared no less by his weakness for
pretty boys naked out of uniform.
Tell that to the caretaker of the grave of Radin Mas.
Tell that to Chee Soon Juan's smirk.
Tell that to the pawns of the Upgrading Empire who
penetrate their phalluses into heartlands to plant Lego
cineplexes Tupperware playgrounds suicidal balconies
carnal parks of cardboard and condoms and before we
know it we are a colony once again.
Tell that to Malaysia whose Desaru is our spitoon whose
TV2 is our amusement whose Bumiputras are our
threat whose outrage is our greater outrage whose
turtles are weeping blind in the roaring daylight of our cameras.
Tell that to the old poets who have seen this piece of land
slip their metaphors each passing year from bumboats
to debris to sanitation projects to drowning attempts
to barbed neon water weeds on a river with
no reflections a long way off from the sea.
O Singapore your fair shores your garlands your GNP.
You are not a country you are a construction from spare parts.
You are not a campaign you are last year's posters.
You are not a culture you are poems on the MRT.
You are not a song you are part swearword part lullaby.
You are not Paradise you are an island with pythons.

Singapore I am on trial.
These are the whites of my eyes and the reds of my wrists.
These are the deranged stars of my schizophrenia.
This is the milk latex gummy moon of my sedated smile.
I have lost a country to images, it is as simple as that.
Singapore you have a name on a map but no maps to your name.
This will not do; we must stand aside and let the Lion crash
through a madness of cymbals back to that darkjungle heart
when eyes were still embers waiting for a crownless
Prince of Palembang.

- Alfian Sa'at, One Fierce Hour, 1998

--------------------------------------------------

Finally, a more recent work
Death of a Tyrant

it will not rain on the day of your passing.
the ground will be the sort that will not yield a grave.
fountains will be turned off, men will arrange chairs
near sun-dusted windows, watching as if expecting
your black-suited procession to visit their streets.
you will refuse, of course, to fit into your coffin,
and they will have to anchor down the eclipses
of your eyelids over those outraged suns.
they will parade you, a gulliver,
with one hundred corpse-bearers taking turns,
because anyone within three feet of you
will sweat at the palms. there will be
junctions where citizens will want to spit
at your passing, but the memory of fines
will keep them mum. what an entourage
it will be, with the walkie-talkied mourners
throwing affidavits like hell money,
(for nobody but you could endure so much
damages in one lifetime), the sunglassed
actresses turning your acronym
into orgasms of mourning, and the cwo
sweepers blushing from behind.
and heading it all, a frisky lettuce-lion, to yap
at the invisible (unlawful?) gathering of hanged ghosts
who will weave for you, like a mute band of brothers,
a wreath of nooses, soiled as stillborn snakes.
your eulogy will be an edifice of fire,
sheer lightning in a cloudless sky,
(O architect of charisma, glorious historical weeper)
a baptism that will char dead trees into totems.
in life, your snort was a decree, your fart a sermon.
in death, a nation's silence will follow you to the grave.
only then will you know what it means to be exiled,
only then will they know what they have
been holding their breaths so long for:
the stench of your corruption,
and the clear, newborn coughing,
on a dawn-rinsed, tearless morning.

- Alfian Sa'at