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Nanyang Siang Pau

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 5 months ago

Four executives and editorial staff were arrested under the Internal Security Act after Lee’s speech during the “Seminar on Communism and Democracy” on April 28, 1971, which marked the start of the government’s crackdown on the print media, according to Seow (1998).


The Internal Security Department operation started at 3a.m. on May 2, 1971, netting in Lee Mau Seng, the former general of the newspaper, and whose family owned and controlled the pan-Malaysian daily; Shamsuddin Tung Tao Chang, the editor-in-chief; and senior editorial writer Ly Singko. Public relations officer Kerk Loong Seng was picked up the next day.


Lee said in his same speech that Tung had ‘played up’ crime in Singapore but ‘played down’ government news in the Singapore edition - the opposite to the Malaysian edition. This was also followed by attempts to bring in a Malayan Chinese Association activist from Kuala Lumpur to be the Singapore news page editor and the playing up of more communist-related news to the point where it got ‘bold’ when Singko was brought into the team.


Singko was ‘a well known opportunist and Chinese chauvinist’, noted Lee. He had been warned previously by the authorities for his editorials for the Sin Chew Jit Poh, and was offered more money to join the Nanyang Siang Pau ‘to work up, to stoke up heat over Chinese language, education, and culture’. However, no specifics were mentioned (Seow, 1998).

This, Lee opined, was because the city-state was doing ‘too well’. In his words, ‘some people wanted to sour up our ground’ for the important centre in Southeast Asia, which would have created unsettling effects of considerable emotions.


The government made its arrests on the basis that Lee Mau Seng had briught Shamsuddin into the newspaper that led to a change in editorial policy slanted towards ‘glamourizing communism and stirring up communal and chauvinistic sentiments over language and culture’. A similar allegation was made about Ly Singko, which the authorities contend as another person who would ‘reinforce the new Nanyang policy’.


This was reflected in a government statement released on the same day where the above three were arrested:


“The Nanyang Siang Pau has made a sustained effort to instill admiration for the communist system as free from blemishes and endorsing its policies, while highlighting in the domestic news pages the more unsavoury aspects of Singapore life. The glamourizing of the communist way of life at this juncture of Singapore’s history is made all the more sinister by the fact that both Shamsuddin Tung and Ly Singko are journalists with a Kuomintang and anti-communist background.


“A study of the Singapore and Malaysian editions of the paper in the last six months shows that the policy in regard to Singapore was deliberate and calculated. In the Malaysian edition, no attempt is made to play up communist achievements or to stoke communal sentiments over Chinese language and education.


“On the contrary, in the Malaysian edition there is general support for that government’s educational policies. On the other hand, in the Singapore edition, not only are communist achievements played up but the impression is built up of Chinese language and education fighting desperately for survival against a hostile environment.


“None of the editorials which appeared in the Singapore edition to work up fears over Chinese language and education appeared in the Malaysian edition. These propaganda changes first started in the last quarter of 1970, several months before the recent spate of news about China and the American ping-pong team visiting China in April 1971. In its campaign to work up disruptive and dangerous emotions, the paper continuously echoes the pro-communist cry that Singapore’s independence is ‘phoney’ by maliciously referring to Singapore as having undergone 150 years of colonial fetters, and that Singapore has not ‘in fact enjoyed real political freedom’.


“In a deliberate campaign to stir up Chinese racial emotions, the paper sets the mood of tension, impending conflict and violence by persistently reminding its readers of the violence, turmoil and unrest of the turbulent 1957-59 period of Singapore’s history.


“By April 28 the Nanyang had reached the stage in the campaign when it was prepared to use conscious falsehoods to whip up communal fears. In its editorial of that day, the paper, under the pretext of criticism, openly incited communal hatred against the government. Having over the weeks depicted the government as the oppressors of Chinese education and language, it went one step further. It branded the government as “pseudo-foreigners” who forget their ancestors. This is the battle ry that was once used by Malay Chauvinists in Singapore against their multiracial compatriots before the island plunged into communal violence.

“The policymakers of Nanyang are determined and appear to be in a hurry to create trouble in Singapore. While he was general manager, Lee Mau Seng, who does not read or write Chinese, employed two formerly anti-communist journalists to work up pro-Chinese communist news and stoke up emotions on Chinese language and culture which will, if unchecked, lead to a communal explosion.

Though Lee Mau Seng handed over the management of Nanyang to his brother, Lee Eu Seng, in February this year, he still maintained a close working relationship with Tung Tao Chang. There are all the signs of what in Special Branch terms is called a ‘black operation'.

“Lee Mau Seng may have been emboldened by the belief that his family wealth gives him power and immunity. They may also be under the delusion that by posting as champions of Chinese language and culture they could inhibit the government from action to stop them in their mischief. The Singapore government must, and will continue to take action against all those who allow themselves to be used by outside sources to the detriment of Singapore. The government will not be deterred by the wealth, professional, social or political status, or the protective patronage of powerful groups outside Singapore.


“The government has taken action to prevent these men, who, under cover of defending Chinese language and education, are letting loose forces which will sharpen conflict along race, language and cultural lines. (Straits Times, 3 May 1971).



Lee Mau Seng’s brother, Lee Eu Seng, subsequently made public a personal statement commenting over the arrests of the four newsmen executives the next day.


“As chairman and chief executive, I have always been responsible for the policy of Nanyang Siang Pau and I have never allowed it to be influenced by any group or organization from either here or abroad. It is necessary to state very clearly that in Singapore, the newspapers have a clear and definite duty to bring to attention of the government (since there is no opposition in Parliament to do so) the wishes, criticisms, and legitimate grievances of the general public. If the government uses the Internal Security Act to silence all criticisms they are depriving the people of Singapore the right of expression and dissent.” (Straits Times, 4 May 1971)


The newspaper itself published an editorial on the same day expressing its protests over the arrests. It called on the government to withdraw ‘all grave accusations’. It also demanded


‘the respect due to us as an independent newspaper’ and ‘clarification after careful study of the incident’


It was the government’s turn to take to the stage as ministers met journalists at a press conference to address the rising tensions on the afternoon of May 3, 1971. Led by the city-state’s first foreign affairs minister, S.Rajaratnam, the Culture Minister and the home affairs minister sought to alleviate concerns and worries about the media industry in light of the arrests made.


Rajaratnam assured those present that ‘the government was not against any newspaper which was critical of government’. There would also be ‘no change in its liberal attitude towards newspapers’, he said.


Seow (1998) noted that it was the concurrent acting minister of labour who was calling the shots and directing the show, apart from a few statements by Jek. This, despite the fact that Culture Minister Jek Yuen Thong’s ministry oversaw all media-related matters; and Dr Wong Lin Ken’s home affairs ministry (MHA)which handles the Internal Security Department (ISD). The latter also answers directly to the Prime Minister then.


Seow opines this reflected the level of trust and faith that Lee had in Rajaratnam instead of Jek and Wong – both who should be the ones to answer and address the audience. Wong subsequently returned to academia after being told by Lee senior that he did not ‘want a liberal’ (Straits Times, 5 May 1971) in his cabinet, and later committed suicide.


The Straits Times broadsheet editorialized the arrests the next day.


'The Singapore government’s action must be judged not by the canons of freedom of the press, but the purpose of regulations expressly designed to maintain security, to prevent subversion and to guard against communal conflict.


‘The paper’s policy in Singapore, the government said, gradually changed until glamourised Communism and stirred up ‘communal and chauvinistic sentiments’. This is the essential accusation, although it is not proof – while it may invite suspicion – of what the Special Branch calls a ‘black operation’ organized from outside the country.


The Nanyang complains in its editorial that its policy has been misunderstood,and it is difficult to justify the assumption of ‘misunderstanding’ with the disclosure that cabinet ministers on two occasions last year warned the paper’s general manager that the Nanyang’s policy had become a security problem. That is the whole gravamen of the government’s case. It acted in the direct interests of security (Straits Times, 4 May 1971).


On the same day, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued a brief reply to Lee Eu Seng’s statement. It seemed as a mere acknowledgment of what the former had said.


‘Mr. Lee Eu Seng, chairman and chief executive of Nanyang Sian Pau, who was away in Europe the past year and reassumed control of the paper in February this year in a statement issued yesterday asserts that he has always been responsible for the policy of Nanyang Siang Pau. The government has taken note of this.’ (Straits Times, 5 May 1971)


The Nanyang Siang Pau rebutted with a second editorial,‘The Journalist’s Bounden Duty’, on May 5, 1971. The paper ‘categorically opposed racialism and that it had never supported communism,’ and replied seriatim to the government’s ‘three grave allegations’ placed on it.

Lee Eu Seng also took his turn. He issued another statement denying the charges made against the newspaper by the administration. He again called for the release of his brother and the three other newspaper executives.


He included evidence to refute the allegations made. His brother had returned on January 22 before the May 13 riots in 1969 because of his wife’s illness. Both later left for Hong Kong in the same month to seek medical assistance. This was used to counter the allegation that the Lee Mau Seng had played a part in inciting the riots. (Polsky, 1971)


Lee Eu Seng also said the decision to hire Shamsuddin Tung and Ly Singko was made by him. His brother had not met both of them before they were hired. ‘It was absurd’, Lee Eu Seng concluded in his letter, that the Nanyang Siang Pau, which had ‘no foreign capital participation, and widely known for its fierce independence should be mentioned in the same context as papers receiving foreign funds by the prime minister, who recently spoke on 'black operations’.


Seow (1998) noted that the then ISD director had apparently reported to the Prime Minister that there was no evidence found that the executives wanted to disrupt the city state’s internal security. However, he was later replaced.


The government later offered to release the executives if the newspaper changed its editorial policy. (Straits Times, 1 May 1971)


However, the Nanyang Siang Pau rejected the offer – stating that it was ‘fighting for a principle’ and accused the authorities of ‘depriving the people of Singapore of freedom of speech’. This act of defiance was to be a watershed that led to the newspaper coming under the control of the government.


The newspaper’s three executives were subsequently detained without trial. They were alleged to have glamourized and stirred up communism, as well as ‘communal and chauvinistic sentiments over language and culture’.


This was ironic, considering that Tung was a Chinese Muslim and Ly a Roman Catholic. Both also supported the anti-communist Kuomintang – a political party based in Taiwan whose leaders fled to the coastal province after losing the 1949 civil war against the communists on mainland China (Seow, 1998).


The case against Ly was even more ironic because he had sent his children to English schools. The accusations of Ly being a Chinese chauvinist would certainly run against the government’s case. Nevertheless, the government pressed on with its claims. On May 15, 1971, Rajaratnam said the newspaper had ‘glorified the communist system’ and had gone ‘out of its way to confirm the allegations of unfriendly external forces that Singapore is becoming a Third China’. (Sunday Times, 23 May 1971).


A week later, the MHA announced Lee Mau Seng and the other three executives had confessed under interrogation to ‘glamourizing the communist system and working up communal relations over Chinese language and culture.’ Their public confession coincided with formal detention orders made against them. However, they were denied their right to counsel.


The allegations made against Lee Mau Seng resulting in a two year detention period were:


1. Under your management of control, the Nanyang Siang Pau had deliberately and systematically instilled admiration for the Communist system. This had been achieved by presenting the Communist system as one free from blemishes. And whilst endorsing its policies, you had highlighted in the domestic new pages the more unsavoury aspects of Singapore life


2. You had insulted the Nanyang Siang Pau to arouse communal sentiments over the Chinese language, education and culture, and created the impression that Chinese language and education were fighting desperately for survival in Singapore against a government hostile to the Chinese.


3. In your campaign to work up disruptive and dangerous emotions, you had continuously echoed in the Nanyang Siang Pau the pro-communist cry that Singapore’s independence was ‘phoney’ by maliciously referring to Singapore as having undergone ‘150 years of colonial fetters’ and that Singapore had not ‘in fact enjoyed real political freedom’.


4. You had used deliberate falsehood to whip up communal fears and openly incite communal hatred against the government. (Legal Cases, 1971)


The three executives – Shamsuddin, Ly and Kerk – also faced similar, if not, the same allegations in the orders made against them.


The Nanyang Siang Pau ran a blank editorial column the next day in protest. Lee Eu Seng went one step further at a conference (Straits Times, 27 May 1971). He demanded that an open trial be held for the four executives on account of what the prime minister said once before which he repeated. ‘The Singapore government does not flinch from any face to face encounter when the truth is involved,’ said Lee Eu Seng.


He even suggested alternatives. ‘Let the government face the people. Or they could set up a public commission of inquiry into these so-called black operations in Singapore.’ This would be the first of many fruitless calls.


Lee also denied that the paper set out to glamourise communism. He used readership surveys to back up what he said – one that was conducted in March that year among residents staying in public housing. The surveys showed that readers wanted to read more about China and crime stories. ‘Is that influencing policy or is it reflecting what our readers want to read? In this particular case, I certainly detect McCarthyism, that is, guilt by association,’ said Lee Eu Seng.


He also denied stirring up racial feelings. ‘Singapore consists of a majority of Chinese. And being a Chinese-language paper, we naturally would encourage the study of the Chinese-language.' The government made its serve back. On May 25, 1971, authorities produced the photocopy of a document. It was purported to be an editorial directive sent by Shamsuddin Tiung on the instructions of Lee Eu Seng. The recipient was Lin Pin, the editor of the ‘Important News Page’ section of the newspaper on April 2, 1971.


It read:


The managing director has directed that as from today, all news reports about China, except those that are libelous and slanderous, should, irrespective of their length and importance, be translated in full and printed on the front page. Should there be insufficient space on the front page, they may be printed in other pages (Straits Times, 26 May 1971).


Lee Eu Seng rebutted on the same night. ‘It was issued at the peak of the international ping-pong competition when teams from Canada, Britain and the U.S. were all invited to play in China. The world would be watching the coming events with great interest and furthermore, by issuing a signed memo, it clearly showed there was nothing secret or sinister.’ (Straits Times, 26 May 1971)


The government replied the next day. ‘If this is so, then why did Mr. Lee give instructions to destroy this memo?’ (Straits Times, 27 May 1971). No evidence was adduced, which Seow compares akin to a classic non sequitur: ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’


The newspaper’s executives applied for writs of habeas corpus while they were detained. Lee Mau Seng, Shamsuddin Tung and Ly Singko applied on May 5, 1971, three days after they were arrested. Kerk Loong Seng did so six days later. However, their applications were grounded as their constitutional right of access to counsel was denied.


This case only received its attention on May 26, 1971. A preliminary hearing on the right of access to counsel was held for their applications (Seow, 1994).The hearing was adjourned after the attorney general argued that those under ISD arrest can be denied for access for up to a month. The four executives were held incommunicado for three weeks.


The hearing was later resumed on June 8, 1971. The four detainees repudiated ‘in very categorical terms’ that they had ‘admitted glamorizing the communist system and working up communal emotions over the Chinese language and culture' (Straits Times, 9 June 1971).


Lee Mau Seng, in his affidavit, affirmed that he had planned to emigrate to Canada with his family. He received clearance in 1969, but his wife’s illness delayed their departure. He re-applied in 1971 and agreed to take over the reins at the newspaper while waiting for the new permits. This took place from January 1970 to January 1971. It was also to allow his brother Lee Eu Send to take an extended holiday.


Lee Mau Seng’s affidavit also exposed authorities’ efforts to manipulate the newspaper. It read:


I was deeply dissatisfied in the course of the following months by interference and attempted interference in the publication of the paper by Mr. Li Vei Chen, press secretary to the prime minister, who casued me and my paper a great deal of trouble because we refused to obey orders issued by him. Because of refusal to comply with those unwarranted interferences, I incurred the wrath and displeasure of this office, and the Nanyang Siang Pau came under a ban which prevented it from receiving government press releases and notices. (Straits Times, 9 June 1971)



Lee Mau Seng’s reply, though not direct, implied that it was actually the prime minister who had directed these efforts (Seow, 1998).


Shamsuddin stated that it was ‘farcical’ to suggest that he was ‘ever a party to a campaign to work up disruptive and dangerous emotions'. Singko, on the other hand, said that he had never thought of engaging in any black operations, and also claimed that his detention was mala fide.


Kerk cited the nature of his public relation duties that created little contact for him when it came to the newspaper’s editorial policy. He added that he never sought to influence or change that policy.


Their lawyer, David Marshall, argued that the government’s accusation of glamourising communism and stirring up Chinese chauvinistic sentiments were intentionally left vague and obscure.

The allegations were false and there were no details, he added. Besides, all news reports carried in the newspaper were translated from foreign and western news agencies. Marshall even suggested a trial in camera under the Sedition Act.


This would allow the defendants to rebut allegations made about their efforts in arousing communal feelings and disaffection towards the government, he said, as they can produce copies of the offending editorials to make their point.


However, the attorney-general’s argued that as this was an executive act, no court was able to inquire into reasons for a detention order. This would only be allowed if the country’s president ordered it to be so suspecting mala fide. Hence, no presidential action was akin to a fatal blow to the applicants’ case and chances of success.



This proved true on July 13, 1971, as the chief justice ruled that ‘the constitution had clearly provided beyond a shadow of a doubt the right of an arrested person to consult his lawyer if he so wished and that this right must be accorded to him by the by the relevant authority within a reasonable time after he arrest’ (Straits Times, 14 July 1971).


However, the court ruled also that it was not open to them to examine whether the detention orders brought against the four executives of the newspaper were wrongly issued. Hence, this meant that it was not a justiciable issue.


Lee Eu Seng observed the chief justice’s ruling in disbelief:


The judgment of the Chief Justice shows clearly that the Internal Security Act overrules the basic principles of human liberty without allowing any recourse to existing legal institutions. The Internal Security Act should only be utilized under the most exceptional of circumstances. This is not so in the case of the arrest of the four top executives of the Nanyang Siang Pau. It has been clearly shown that the original chages of ‘black operations’ are totally unfounded. To detain people for an indefinite period of time without trail is a clear act of injustice and in this case clearly shows indifference to public opinion. Mr Lee Kuan Yew during the course of debate in the Legislative Assembly in 1955 expressed similar sentiments, and I quote: “If it Is not totalitarian to arrest a man and detain him when you cannot charge him with any offence against any written law – and if that is not what we have always cried out against in Fascist states – then what is it?’(Chauvinism and Mr. Lee, 1974) and (Farrow, 1974).


The case against the newspaper’s executives was at best tenuous. The prime minister had acknowledged that Lee Mau Seng was illiterate in Chinese. This implied that it was questionable as to whether knew or was aware of what was being printed or published.


It was also clear that Lee Mau Seng had not hired the two Nanyang newspapermen. His connection with the newspaper was temporary, and he was brought in to only cover duties for his brother who was away on leave in Europe.


More importantly, most of the ‘so-called offensive articles, which precipitated the press crisis of 1971, appeared long after his resignation from the paper’. It was a fact he confirmed in a letter to the Hongkong Standard from Canada.


The case against Shamsuddin Tung and Ly Singko, both who have had a long history of anti-communism has also been touched upon, while that of Kerk, is simply too bizarre for words (Seow, 1998). Perhaps the main problem that faced the newspaper was that it was fiercely independent in editorial policy. It was also owned by a wealth family, which had no need, and refused to kowtow to the government. And such a publication could work the people against the administration.


On January 28, 1973, Lee Eu Seng was finally arrested. The reason:‘using his newspaper to incite the people against the government over issues of Chinese culture’ (Straits Times, 29 Jan 1973).


Apparently, the prime minister had not forgotten him: ‘People with long histories have long memories. And I happen to have a long memory’ (Straits Times, 29 Jan 1973).


No charges were brought in court against Lee Eu Seng, similar to what the other four newspapermen faced. Lee was detained under the ISA for five years.


Soon after, the newspaper’s publishing and printing permits under his name were revoked. These were reissues under the name of Tan Chin Har, a senior editorial writer. The prime minister also introduced amendments to the press law to deprive Lee Eu Seng of his shares in and control of his newspaper.


Lee Mau Seng was later released two-and-half-years later in October 1973. This came after he made a ‘public statement admitting his past mistakes’, pending emigration to Canada . En route, Lee Mau Seng disclosed in an interview at Hong Kong that he had signed a ‘Russian Confession’ to obtain his release. He said: ‘I never understood the meaning of raw power and the nuances of politics in Singapore until I was hit. This had been an education.’ (Predicting unrest, 1973)

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