Jailed without trial in Singapore, Poh Soo Kai tells his story

Singaporean Poh Soo Kai spent 17 years in jail without trial under Lee Kuan Yew, costing him both his family and a career in medicine. Now, more than 50 years after Operation Coldstore, which saw 100 people with communist links detained, he exposes in his historical memoir what the ‘Father of Singapore’ did to political opponents

Kirsten Han
April 4, 2016
Jailed without trial in Singapore, Poh Soo Kai tells his story

Singaporean Poh Soo Kai spent 17 years in jail without trial under Lee Kuan Yew, costing him both his family and a career in medicine. Now, more than 50 years after Operation Coldstore, which saw 100 people with communist links detained, he exposes in his historical memoir what the ‘Father of Singapore’ did to political opponents

What motivated you to write your memoirs after so long?
I wanted to write the memoirs right from the beginning; I wanted to write my memoirs while I was in prison. In fact, it was one of the reasons that kept me in and not come out [of prison] on their terms. Because if I did come out on their terms, whatever I said would have less credibility.

poh soo kai
Prisoner of conscience: Poh Soo Kai. Photo: Tom White

How did you decide on the title of your book?
I called it Living in a Time of Deception because we were being deceived all the time. And [the British Commissioner in Singapore] Selkirk used that word. He said: “We will take no part in this deception.” And that was because Kuan Yew wanted the Internal Security Council to countermand [Selkirk’s] request to release political prisoners. He said the PAP [People’s Action Party] would order the release of all political detainees, but he wanted Selkirk to override it. Selkirk described it as deception, and I also call it deception.

What was the most challenging part of writing the book?
I think the most challenging part in writing the book was how to get my ideas across to one to two generations, to young people below the age of 50 who have no concept of what happened.

Do you find that younger Singaporeans are becoming more curious?Lately, after the [2015] general election, I think they are. They are much more interested in what’s happening, although there’s always the fear factor. But they are keen to know. I was surprised the edition is sold out. They’re printing a second edition. That’s what I was told.

What was it like in prison?
Nobody wants to be in prison. I was kept in solitary for half a year. Half a year in a small room. In fact, most of the time I was not in the small cell. I was taken out of the cell at six in the morning until 12 at night. Then I came back to the cell. The cell was very, very hot. It cools down only about 2am, because it’s a concrete roof. And the interrogation room was very, very cold.

Most of the time, people in prison know how long their sentence is. But you didn’t because you were simply detained without trial…
That’s right. For most of us, indefinite imprisonment was a real threat. We all wanted to come out. Many of them had more financial worries than I had. For me there was still some hope, because they kept on giving me hope of coming out.

What did the authorities want you to do to gain your freedom?
They said that we were against merger [the integration of Singapore into Malaysia], and therefore we must recant and say that our stand was wrong. We must condemn the Communist party, and then we must go on TV to say these things. And on the private side, you must talk about your friends. They’re not interested in facts. They know a lot, but they want you to say something about your friends that is not factual.

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