19 people worth remembering but sadly, nearly forgotten

These 19 people were all imprisoned, some for Operation Coldstore, others for their art. However, they have one major similarity: our school history books have forgotten all about them.

In remembrance of these people, many who were detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA), here are their life stories, and of what happened after they were finally released from prison.

1. Lim Hock Siew


Before: Lim was once part of Lee Kuan Yew’s PAP and even campaigned in the 1955 and 1959 General Elections. However, he left the PAP in 1961 and joined Barisan Sosialis. He was arrested in Operation Coldstore along with other leftists and unionists.

After: He worked as a general practitioner and was generous, giving out free medicine to poor patients and even transport money to get back home. He was admitted to Parkway East Hospital after he bumped his head at home in 2012. Although originally in stable condition, he had a fatal heart attack and died on 4 June 2012.

2. Lim Chin Siong


Before: Believe it or not, Lim Chin Siong founded the PAP together with Lee Kuan Yew in 1954. He was a popular politician, namely because of his strong command of the Hokkien dialect which allowed him to appeal to the masses. Even LKY himself acknowledged Lim’s prowess.

…a ringing voice that flowed beautifully in his native Hokkien. The girls adored him, especially those in the trade unions. Once he got going after a cold start at the first two meetings, there was tremendous applause every time he spoke.

However, he was arrested in Operation Coldstore and detained under the ISA.

After: Lim was released from prison on 28 July 1969 after he renounced politics and went into exile in London. He returned to Singapore 10 years later and eventually died of a heart attack on 5 February 1996.

3. Poh Soo Kai


Before: Dr. Poh Soo Kai hails from an illustrious family. Tan Kah Kee (who has a MRT station named after him) was his maternal grandfather, and Lee Kong Chian (whose name adorns several libraries at least two separate faculties) was his uncle. Dr. Poh was the assistant Secretary-General of the Barisan Sosialis, and implicated in the Operation Coldstore crackdown.

After: He set up a clinic at Upper Serangoon and practised for eight years until he emigrated to Canada in 1990, living there for nearly 20 years. Poh returned to Singapore in 2007.

He currently lives in a two-storey terrace house in East Coast and no longer has plans to return to politics.

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4. Fong Swee Suan


Before: Dr Fong Swee Suan was classmates with Lim Chin Siong at the Chinese High School. He joined the Singapore Bus Workers’ Union (SBWU) in 1952. Fong was part of the PAP as their convener.


After: Operation Coldstore took away four years of Fong’s life. After his release in 1967, he started working in Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru. Fong started his own company in 1976.

He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Kensington University in 1991, and a Masters and PhD in business administration through a distance learning programme. Fong was allowed to enter Singapore again in 1990, and he returned as a permanent resident. He officially retired in 1996.

5. Said Zahari


Before: Said Zahari was a writer and newspaper editor before he joined politics in the 1960s. He was also one of the editors for Rakyat, the Malay paper for the Barisan Sosialis. Zahari was placed in solitary confinement, which he later described as “psychological trauma”. He spent a total of 17 years in prison as a result of Operation Coldstore, and was only released in 1978.

After: Said continued to be an editor. He suffered a mild stroke in 1994, and joined his family in Malaysia in 1995. Zahari became a guest writer at the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 1996 and published two memoirs.

6. James Puthucheary


Before: Puthucheary was one of PAP’s founding members, but broke away from PAP to form the Barisan Sosialis. He spent six months in solitary confinement due to Operation Coldstore.

After: He was banned from Singapore until 1990. During that time, he practiced law in Kuala Lumpur at a firm called Skrine & Company. Puthucheary suffered a stroke that left him speechless for the remaining five years of his life, while a second stroke suffered caused his death.

7. Dominic Puthucheary


Before: Dominic Puthucheary is the brother of James Puthucheary. Lee Kuan Yew wanted Dominic to stand for the 1959 General Elections but he rejected as he did not want to become a Singaporean citizen.

After: He was detained for ten months and eventually released after he pledged to quit politics. He studied law at Queen’s University and moved back to Kuala Lumpur in 1970 to practice. He married in 1971 and he has two sons, three grandsons and a granddaughter. The Dato is currently a partner at Malaysia law firm Puthucheary Advocates and Solicitors.

Fun Fact: His son, Janil Puthucheary, is a PAP politician and MP for the Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC.

8. Ho Kwon Ping


Before: A former Stanford student, Ho admitted to being a Marxist and engaging in pro-communist activities while he was studying there.

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After: He is currently the Chairman of Wah Chang International and the Banyan Tree group of hotels and resorts. Also, Ho is the 2014/15 S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.


9. Tan Wah Piow


Before: Tan Wah Piow was a former University of Singapore Student Union leader. He was accused of being the mastermind behind a conspiracy to make Singapore a Marxist state, and arrested in a covert mission known as Operation Spectrum in 1987.

After: He has been living in London since 1976 in political exile.

10. Chia Thye Poh


Before: Chia Thye Poh was a physics lecturer, political activist, and a member of the Barisan Sosialis. He was detained for alleged pro-communist activities for a total of 23 years without charge or trial, and had another nine years under house arrest, thus making him one of the longest serving political prisoners in the world.

“Under the PAP rule, there is no genuine parliamentary democracy. In essence, it has been practicing a one-party rule. It seems to want to remain as the sole, dominant party, with other smaller parties acting as marginal opposition and ‘sparring partners’ for new PAP MPs. The opposition parties will never be allowed to grow strong… The PAP… seems elitist and arrogant, regard themselves as the best and the most suitable to rule Singapore. And they rule with iron-handed policies.”

After: He pursued a Master’s degree in development studies at the Institute of Social Studies in the year 2000 and completed a PhD in 2006 through the same Institute. Chia was awarded the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award in Kuala Lumpur in 2011.

11. Wong Souk Yee

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Before: A playwright, she presented Esperanza at the local art festival fringe in 1986. She was arrested in Operation Spectrum a year later.

After: She left for Hong Kong to work for various publishing companies. She then went to Australia to finish her post graduate studies in creative writing, and later returned to HK to lecture for three years. Wong is now back in Singapore and her latest play, Square Moon, centres on Singapore’s famous terrorist Mas Selamat.

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12. Teo Soh Lung


Befroe: Teo Soh Lung graduated from the University of Singapore with a law degree in 1973, serving under the late David Marshall. She was detained in 1987 for four months, and her second detainment came in 1988. She was released in June 1990.

After: She published her memoir Beyond the Blue Gate: Recollections of a Political Prisoner in 2010 and has since retired from legal practice. She entered politics under the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and was fielded for the singles-seat wards at Yuhua in the 2011 General Elections.

13. Lim Chin Joo

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Before: Lim Chin Joo, brother of Lim Chin Siong, was accused of pro-communist activities in the 1950s. He was detained for nine years during 1957-1966, but made use of his time in there to read law.

After: He joined the civil service after his release and started to practice law in 1973. He retired in 2002. Lim published a 442-page Chinese memoir last year (2014), My Youth in Black and White and is now the vice-president of the Ee Hoe Hean Club.

14. Francis Khoo


Before: Francis Khoo was a human rights lawyer who lived in exile in London for 35 years. He fled to England when his friends were arrested under the ISA in February 1977.

After: Khoo worked as a cleaner at a London hotel but continued to fight for the release of political prisoners. Khoo was the Chairman of RADICLE, a London charity for teenage mums and the elderly, and also set up Medical Aid for Palestinians with his wife.


Francis suffered from renal failure. According to his wife, he died unexpectedly and suddenly in 2011 at his London home, aged 64.

15. Kuo Pao Kun


Before: Kuo Pao Kun was a playwright and theatre director. During the 1970s, Chinese theatre had grown increasingly influential and political in nature, thus resulting in a clampdown by the authorities. Kuo was one of those detained under the ISA for four years and seven months.

After: He was released in 1980 and resumed the teaching of drama in 1981. He wrote his first English play The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole in 1984. Kuo was diagnosed with kidney cancer in July 2001 and died on 10 September 2002 at the age of 63.

16. Goh Lay Kuan


Before: Goh Lay Kuan is the wife of Kuo Pao Kun, and an artist in her own right, studying ballet at 15. She was accused of communist activities in 1976. Funnily enough, Goh thanks the authorities for detaining her as she became “more forthright”.

Goh paints a different picture of her detainment as the rest of the prisoners.


She was also unafraid of the police, and claimed to have “overturned their tables”. Goh was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1995.

17. Yeng Pway Ngon

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Before: The story of Yeng’s detention under the ISA is slightly different from that of the others mentioned in this article. Yeng was accused of being a communist by one of his friends, which led to him being locked up for four years.

After: He set up two Chinese bookstores: one in 1995 at Textile Centre and the other at Golden Mile Tower. The Textile Centre bookstore was sold, but has now reopened at Bukit Pasoh Road. Yeng is a 2003 Cultural Medallion recipient, 2013 SEA Write Award winner and a prostate cancer survivor.

18. Ho Piao

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Before: He was a keen trade union activist, to the point that he chose to withdraw from university education in order to commit full-time. He joined the Singapore National Seamen’s Union, one of the “happiest and most meaningful part of his life”. Another victim of Operation Coldstore, Ho Piao holds the dubious honour of being the third longest detainee (18 years) under the ISA.

After: He left for London soon after his release and was known to have a close friendship with fellow exile Francis Khoo. Ho Piao died in 2007 in London.

19. Lee Tee Tong


Before: Lee Tee Tong was a Barisan Sosialis politician who won the 1963 elections in Bukit Timah. However, he was arrested before he could be sworn in. He spent a total of 17 years in prison, and ranks fourth in the list of Singapore’s longest serving detainees under the ISA.

After: He has been relatively low-key since then, although he made a public speech at a launch of the book, The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore.

Many more…

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Singapore’s political climate was dangerous back then. Thankfully, the situation is much better now, and we envision a greater and stronger opposition in the years to come.

Featured Image via The Online Citizen
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