In May 1987, Operation Spectrum was launched in Singapore. In this period, activists, lawyers, journalists, community workers and entrepreneurs were arrested and detained without trial. They were labelled as Marxists and accused of participating in a conspiracy to overthrow the government and establish a classless society in Singapore. None of the detainees were ever allowed to defend themselves in a court of law.
In May 2012, evidence still has not surfaced to show that any of the detainees were Marxist conspirators. Operation Spectrum is now seen as a symbol of political repression, a dark period in Singapore’s history when the Internal Security Act (ISA) was abused to interrupt the activities of activists and community workers.
As the 25th anniversary of Operation Spectrum approaches, civil society and political groups are organising events to commemorate the arrests and educate Singaporeans on the ISA.
Function 8, an initiative calling for the abolishment of the ISA, along with human rights NGO Maruah are organising an exhibition at Speaker’s Corner on 19 May 2012 entitled ‘In Search of Truth: Remembering the 25th anniversary of the 1987 “Marxist Conspiracy”‘ where people will be able to learn about Operation Spectrum as well as speak to the ex-detainees in person. Throughout the year, Function 8 will also be releasing videos and written accounts of the ex-detainees’ experiences.
On 20 May, the Singapore People’s Party – in conjunction with student initiative Achtung Productions – is organising ‘That We May Dream Again: Chiam’s Finest Hour’, a staged re-enactment of opposition politician Chiam See Tong’s 1987 debate in Parliament against numerous People’s Action Party (PAP) politicians on Operation Spectrum. At that time, Mr Chiam was the sole Member of Parliament not from the PAP.
These events hope to reach a new generation of Singaporeans too young to remember the original spate of arrests, and who may not have learnt about these episodes of Singapore’s history in school.
With more and more Singaporeans learning about the ISA and the potential for abuse – as seen in Operation Spectrum – and with the news of neighbour Malaysia repealing the ISA, it is the hope of civil society organisations and the ex-detainees that the ISA in Singapore will be abolished someday soon.