(On January 1, 2015, I challenged myself to read twelve history books this Jubilee year to fill in the gaps in my knowledge, and blog about them.)
February’s read was Beyond The Blue Gate: Recollections of a Political Prisoner by Teo Soh Lung, a lawyer who was arrested in 1987 and detailed without trial on allegations that she was involved in a conspiracy to subvert existing social and political systems in Singapore with a view to establish a Marxist state, otherwise known as “Operation Spectrum.” Twenty-two people were arrested and detained, many of them from the Roman Catholic church, and social activists.
Beyond The Blue Gate is divided into two parts: the first is a record of her first detention experience (May 21, 1987 to September 26, 1987), written in the form of a dairy; the second is a narrative of her second detention experience (April 18, 1988 to June 1, 1990), written a year after her release.
The book reads as a thriller (it is a quick read), though it gets bogged down in legalese and such in parts. It is unabashed in its criticism of Lee Kwan Yew and the People’s Action Party (PAP). In his introduction, Dr. Yash Ghai, Professor Emeritus at Hong Kong University, writes, “[The book] is about the cruel and Kafka-esque world of Lee and his security staff with their devious and bureaucratic ways, prisons and detention centers, arbitrariness, and worse, torture, all flourishing under the judges and legislators who turned a blind eye to the violations of fundamental rights of citizens, and far from holding the government to accountability, took and enthusiastic part in chastising its victims.”
Beyond The Blue Gate was published in 2010 when, in Teo’s words, “Today’s more tolerant political environment would welcome such a publication. Furthermore, the young people are curious to know about Singapore’s past.” Teo also unsuccessfully contested a parliamentary seat in the 2011 General Election.
So, definitely a good and necessary read, though it assumes readers already have a lot of background information about this era in Singapore politics. I found myself Googling quite a bit while reading.
FYI: March’s read is The 1963 Operation Coldstore In Singapore by Poh Soo Kai, which will be a good partner text to Teo’s book.