As many readers of this blog are aware, I act as counsel to Dr. Chee Soon Juan, the persecuted leader of the Singaporean opposition party. Dr. Chee recently wrote an open letter to strongman Lee Kuan Yew, whose family has had control of the tiny city state for some five decades. This letter, which describes the circumstances of a number of political prisoners and the generalized state of intolerance and abuses of basic rights by the government, is recommended reading.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Dear Mr Lee,
As you grieve over the loss of Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, many Singaporeans grieve with you. Everytime someone dear to us passes away, the pain is deep. Losing a loved one is the cruelest act that life can inflict on humans.
Even as you mourn the loss of Mdm Kwa, I am certain that you think of the happier moments that the both of you shared and that you, of all the people in this world, were the one to have had the pleasure of spending a lifetime with her. That, at least, is to be celebrated.
But while you had Mdm Kwa on whom you cultivated your affection,there were others who were deprived of that very same joy. They were notseparated from their loved ones by that surly grasp of death, but bypolitical power with which you wielded, and wielded so ruthlessly andunjustly.
You had Mr Chia Thye Poh locked up for most of hisadult life. He was incarcerated when he was only 25 and regained hisfreedom only when he turned 57. Even Nelson Mandela spent less yearsunder detention. The best years of Mr Chia’s life was so inhumanelytaken away. He had a girlfriend who could not wait for him and who lefthim when he was still in prison.
Dr Lim Hock Siew married DrBeatrice Chia. When I met them recently, I saw the love – unspoken butabiding – that they had for each other despite the fact that you hadkept them apart for 20 years.
Then there is Mr Said Zahari whomyou also imprisoned for years, 17 years to be exact. He spoke lovinglyof his late wife, Salamah, whom he adored. She faithfully and lovinglytended home while waiting for her soulmate to return and to hold her andto talk with her. She struggled with their four children, running afoodstall to eke out a living while Said languished in prison. Theirchildren often had no money to go to school.
To this day, he asksfor God’s forgiveness for breaking the oath he made with Salamah to betogether when they married each other. When she died in 2004, his heartmust have broken into a thousand pieces, just like yours is breakinginto a thousand pieces.
While you loved your wife, they loved theirs too.
Thereare scores of others who cannot be reunited with their families becauseyou have made it so. Ms Tang Fong Har, who was detained in 1987 and whosubsequently fled to Hong Kong, has been wanting to return to Singaporeto see her ailing mother. But she cannot because there is still thethreat of her being re-arrested if she returns.
Others like MrTang Liang Hong are also separated from their families because theycannot return to Singapore without facing incarceration.
I, too,have family. My wife wishes for me to return to Taiwan with her to bewith her family. I cannot fulfill that obligation because you have madeit so. I did go to Taiwan last year, but only to attend myfather-in-law’s funeral. He had asked about me before he died but by thetime I got to his bedside after I managed to get the OfficialAssignee’s approval to leave the country, he had lost consciousness. Inever got to say goodbye.
It pains me to think that the only time I can be with my wife and children in Taiwan is when someone in the family dies.
Youhave taken away much of what I have but despite all that you have doneto me and mine, I bear you no ill-will. As I said to you during ourtrial in 2008, you are an intelligent man, I only hope that you willbecome a wise one. I meant it then and I mean it now. Love and therelationships we have with family and friends are what matter most.Riches and power mean little when those dearest to us leave us.
Iextend to you my deepest sympathies on the demise of Mdm Kwa. I want toexpress my condolence in the sincerest manner I know how. But while Icommiserate with you on your loss, I would be remiss if I did not takethis opportuinity to tell you, if you don’t already know, how much painyou have inflicted on your political opponents and whose families youhave torn apart, the same kind of pain that you presently feel.
Inthe remaining time while you still walk this earth with us, turn fromyour ways. Free yourself from the prison of wealth and power that keepsyou from cherishing that most precious of life’s qualities – humanity.It is still not too late.
Chee Soon Juan