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Beyond The Blue Gate: Recollections of a Political Prisoner

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Singapore lawyer Teo Soh Lung has written this careful account of her experiences and feelings when detained in Whitley Detention Centre 21 from May 1987 to 6 September 1987, and from April 1988 to 1 June 1990. Accused of involvement in the alleged "Marxist Conspiracy", Soh Lung discusses many legal aspects of the case, including Singapore's banning of London QC Anthony Lester and her various Appeal attempts. She tells of the regime and her physical and emotional suffering, as well as the strategies and beliefs which enabled her to retain her integrity and balance in circumstances intended to subdue her. Relevant official documents are appended.

392 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2011

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Teo Soh Lung

6 books4 followers
Teo Soh Lung, a lawyer, was detained for being involved in the alleged "Marxist Conspiracy" in 1987 by the Singapore government. She was held without trial for more than two years under Singapore’s Internal Security Act.

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Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews
Profile Image for Scribble Orca.
213 reviews371 followers
September 29, 2013
From a non-Oriental (or specifically Singaporean) perspective, this book demonstrates the struggle the author still has to question 'big brother'. All the more chilling for that reason. Recommended reading for any who consider the Merlion to be a cosy little utopia and successful social experiment.
Profile Image for Letitia.
303 reviews59 followers
February 15, 2019
Teo Soh Lung and her friends and fellow detainees are such courageous and admirable people.

This book has its issues, but is worth reading if only for the “Statement of Ex-Detainees of Operation Spectrum”, which is impeccably written––probably because it was jointly edited and thoroughly revised for fear of government reprisal. It was “the first time in Singapore's history that ex-detainees had issued such a statement.” I'll cut Teo some slack for the grammatical errors and sloppy editing since the book was probably published on a shoestring budget and it's impressive that she got it published at all.

I appreciate that Teo has painstakingly included many details and insights from the POV of a detainee, such as exacting descriptions of the cells, and:
“It was either the beginning of loneliness or the successful adaptation to prison life when one begins to talk to insects and little living creatures. A tiny lizard had just settled on my shirt and I struck up a conversation with it. It seemed to listen attentively although from the looks of its eyes, I think it was terrified. The familiar fat lizard which lived above the fluorescent-tube started to chuckle loudly. He was probably bored. Or perhaps he was attempting to attract flying insects. I had scolded him last night for being so noisy but I guess he didn't understand and was noisy again today.” (Chapter 12)

“But clearly, I was not at all calm for I had failed to pass my diaries and handbag containing personal properties to my staff for safe-keeping. Diaries and address books can be most detrimental to a detainee. A detainee who is confused, could sign many false statements under pressure when confronted with his diaries and address books.” (Chapter 18)

Teo had her detention order extended because she stood on the side of logic and the law and refused to be obedient and “repentant”. She insisted that the ISD / government admit that they had arrested her for political matters instead of national security ones, which of course they were unwilling to do.
“Often [the ISD] had asked me if I would issue another press statement. I did not understand how the issue of a press statement could be a security concern. I maintained that a press statement was a political issue and had nothing to do with national security.”

“[Lester] quoted the Reid's Constitutional Report where it was clearly stated that arrests and detention under the Internal Security Act did not deprive detainees of their right to seek judicial review from the courts. Lester argued that the amendments violated the basic structure of the Constitution. The Constitution, he said, is the supreme law of the land and any amendments which sought to usurp the power of the courts and thus do away with the doctrine of separation of powers under the Constitution was invalid.”

“[Lester argued that the amendments] purport retrospectively to deprive Teo Soh Lung of the benefit of the Court of Appeal's decision, and of the right of appeal to the Privy Council, in respect of her pending as well as any future claims. None of the amendments is designed to stop or prevent subversive action. Each of them is designed to authorize arbitrary acts and decisions outside the rule of law.”

“[Tjong said] that I had changed and that was why they were recommending my release. He said that they were not recommending Vincent's release because he had not changed.

By January, I had more or less understood the ISD's meaning of “change.” “Change” meant an acceptance of the fact that one is powerless and unable to effect any change in society. More than a year of detention had already made me realise that I was indeed powerless and that it was better for me to lead my own selfish life than to try and effect any change. A year ago, I had harboured the thought that should I be released, I would try and gather support to form a human rights group to campaign for the release of Chia Thye Poh from Sentosa Island. By Jan 1990, I had realised that it was not possible for me to do that and for that matter to do anything at all...I had damaged [PM Lee's] good name by my four rounds of legal proceedings. He couldn't possibly forgive and forget what I had done to him.”

As a bonus, Teo was very well-connected and as a Singaporean, I found it interesting to read about her experiences with many of my famous countrymen such as Francis Seow, Prof Tommy Koh, Subhas Anandan, Wong Souk Yee, etc. She also documents the SG govt's reaction to Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Profile Image for Lorraine.
383 reviews78 followers
May 5, 2015
creepy, esp for a Singaporean. Soh Lung is really a sensible optimistic person -- and it's like Kafka -- without realising it is. Because she's so eminently sensible. Can't decide what's more disturbing.
Profile Image for Tony.
1 review
May 30, 2012
Interesting with Shortcomings in Style

The author, lawyer Teo Soh Lung, narrated that she was wrongfully arrested and jailed based on guilty by association charges with dissidents and opposition politicians in 1980s Singapore, by the government of the day. The book then leads the reader through the few ups and many downs of being a self-proclaimed political prisoner at the Whitley Road Centre in Singapore.

The book starts off very well but ended with a whimper. It initially hinted of a story about dismal prison conditions, physical abuse and torture but the reader should not expect anything close to water-boarding, hidden interrogation camps or the prisoner being manacled with a hood on, images so familiar now in post-9/11 stories of interrogation. Instead, she admitted was only slapped once and shouted at during the first few days of interrogation in a cold air-conditioned room.

After the opening riveting accounts of her sudden arrest and insights about her interrogators playing good cop and bad cop, and her musings of experiencing Stockholm Syndrome, the book's pace slowed tremendously. One third into the book the narration thereafter was mostly about her appeals and legal proceedings, introspection on injustice, and it was even peppered regularly with her poems she wrote and drawings she doodled during prison, albeit these were frivolous fillers which distracted the reader and should have been omitted from the book.

The book is very recommended for someone keen in exploring the experiences of boredom, hopelessness and frustrations through the eyes of a self-proclaimed political prisoner in Singapore in the 1980s. However, the reader has to be prepared for the book's plodding pace, frequent disjointed meanderings in narration and like all autobiographies, the objectivity and accuracy in the accounts.
Profile Image for Juwi.
19 reviews5 followers
August 30, 2015
A brilliant, eye-opening account of a Singaporean woman who valiantly fought her incarceration under the Internal Security Act (ISA). That Blue Gate is perhaps one of the less known barricades in Singapore - the gate itself serves as a metaphor to repeal any opposing forces by swallowing these forces behind it. WHile I particularly enjoy reading this book, I must admit there are some painful parts to read and even digest. The book reveals the other side of the PAP regime, which, behind all the grandeur and state propaganda, has been monstrous and intrusive under the cover of the ISA. It disgusts me to know there are people today who glorify this regime with such positivism that they virtually ignore ANY alternative views. This book is definitely both an eye- and mind-opener.
November 27, 2013
Although a bit repetitive, it is a good book to read for a balanced view of recent Singaporean history.
Profile Image for Ruth Quah.
27 reviews
February 11, 2016
Important to know about Singapore ISA, but the writing is slow and plodding. Boring being in detention and boring reading about it.
Profile Image for Francesca Forrest.
Author 20 books85 followers
March 15, 2012
I have to return this without finishing it because it's an interlibrary loan book. I'm going to buy a copy for myself, though, so I can finish it (and have access to it for research). The rest of the review duplicates what's up on LJ

It's the memoir of Teo Soh Lung, a Singaporean lawyer who was detained in the late 1980s on charges of being a Marxist conspirator. Teo Soh Lung was not a Marxist conspirator. She had connections with the Workers' Party, but she and her friends and colleagues weren't interested in overthrowing the government. She was too busy offering free legal aid to the poor and volunteering teaching English. But the government was able to use the sorts of police tactics described above, along with harsh interrogation methods (though nothing compared to what is sanctioned by the American government in the post-9/11 world), to get a confession.

First came lies to gain entry to her house, late at night:

There was a car outside the gate with headlights on and many people were milling around. The thought that they were robbers disappeared. They could not be robbers. Who were they and what do they want? ...

They flashed their cards and said they were from the immigration department looking for illegal immigrants. I felt relieved as I was sure there were no illegal immigrants in the house ...

They threatened to break down the glass door if I did not let them in. I was horrified at the thought that the glass door would be broken. The house belonged to my friend and I was just a caretaker ... Not wanting to disturb my neighbours and not afraid of a charge for harbouring illegal immigrants, I opened the door. Inspector W and his team quickly moved in. When they were all in the house, I was coolly told: “You are under arrest under the ISA [Internal Security Act].”1

Then comes the initial interrogation. The security officers want Soh Lung to incriminate Paul Lim, a Singaporean expat living in Belgium:

“Well, can you remember who was doing most of the talking at the meeting? Don’t you think Paul was vocal and that it was he who was doing most of the talking and he could have made the suggestion?”

It seemed logical to me. Paul was a talkative and knowledgeable person ... I thought there was nothing wrong with admitting that Paul was the one who did most of the talking. And so I agreed.

“Well, Paul suggested that you all help the Workers’ Party.” “Ok,” I said. “He suggested that. What’s wrong with that? If we did help the Workers’ Party at the end of it, so what?”

“Paul gave the impetus to all of you to help the Workers’ Party. Prior to that meeting, all of you were just talking. No one took any action. Then Paul came. He made the suggestion that you help the Workers’ Party. All of you then made a positive move and helped the Workers’ Party.” …

I cannot understand why I agreed to that suggestion. How could Paul have been so influential? We have minds of our own.

My state of mind at the time was, I would say, disorientated. I never anticipated that it was crucial to the charge levelled against me subsequently that I should agree to the suggestion that it was Paul who gave the impetus.2

And so it went on. Eventually, after being coerced into making televised statements of contrition, Soh Lung and her colleagues were released. They were redetained when they issued a press release denying the truth of the government's accusations and affirming their innocence--and describing the interrogation methods they had been subjected to, which included being forced to stand for 20 hours at a time, being denied sleep for 70 hours, being slapped in the face, and, in one person's case (not Soh Lung's), being doused with cold water during interrogation in a cold room.

Interestingly enough, throughout her detention, Soh Lung remained concerned for the welfare not only of her colleagues but also of those people who are questioning her. She felt bad about giving them a hard time. That human sympathy was also taken advantage of to gain her cooperation and self-incrimination.

It's all very eye-opening. I knew these things happened, but it's something else again to read someone's personal account.
Profile Image for Angelin.
238 reviews23 followers
September 14, 2015
Personally felt that the book was subjective, and the details of conversation and such, make me question the accuracy of it as one simply could not remember that much over the course of 2 years.
It was rather biased in my opinion, with the author justifying her decisions and in some instances "praising herself". Perhaps it's just that I am not used to this form of writing, but I thought this account was a little self-obsessed.
However, I do feel that it is a book that one could love or hate, and it is just a matter of personal preference. One will have to start reading it to know.
Displaying 1 - 9 of 9 reviews

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