There’s An Exiled Singaporean For Every Generation, From Tang Liang Hong To Amos Yee And Li Shengwu
What’s life like for Singaporean political dissidents?
Probably not very sunny, since they’re likely not in the country anymore.
Over the years, many Singaporeans have paid the ultimate price for their outspokenness: being exiled from home.
And unlike medieval times, people are no longer ordered into exile by kings or queens.
Instead, the modern exile often leaves his/her country out of their own free will, in a bid to escape imprisonment or perceived danger.
That’s what these 10 individuals did when they felt the heat for their political views and actions.
1. Amos Yee (United States: 2016 – Present)
Let’s kick off this list with probably the most infamous case in recent memory, that of l’enfant terrible himself, Amos Yee.
Mr Yee first shot to fame and notoriety in 2015, when he celebrated the death of Singapore’s first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
He was eventually jailed for 6 weeks for insulting Muslims and Christians, as well as repeatedly breaching bail conditions.
In 2016, the then-18-year-old fled to the United States to seek political asylum.
Many speculated the move was an attempt to avoid serving National Service (NS).
But his detractors had the last laugh after Mr Yee was jailed for nearly 10 months when he arrived in the United States.
That’s not an uncommon fate, since asylum seekers are sometimes detained while their cases are being reviewed.
Since his release last September, the former YouTube personality has been up to various shenanigans in Trump’s America.
Singapore’s loss? We’ll let you decide.
2. Roy Ngerng (Taiwan: 2016 – Present)
Blogger, failed politician, activist. Mr Roy Ngerng wears many hats, despite being just 37.
Mr Ngerng kickstarted his political career at the 2015 General Election.
Instead of contesting a PAP backbencher, Mr Ngerng and his Reform Party teammates went straight for the big guns, taking on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in Ang Mo Kio GRC.
But the men in yellow couldn’t get their act together and Mr Ngerng’s team earned less than 25% of the vote.
Later that year, Mr Ngerng accused PM Lee of misappropriating Central Provident Fund monies, a move which swiftly earned him a lawsuit from the Prime Minister.
The Court ordered Mr Ngerng to pay Mr Lee $150,000 in damages, which he will be doing in instalments over the next 17 years.
The lawsuit was covered extensively in local media and Mr Ngerng later fled to Taiwan in a self-imposed exile, citing difficulties in finding employment.
3. Tan Wah Piow (United Kingdom: 1976 – Present)
Mr Tan Wah Piow may have been a prominent student activist at the National University of Singapore in the 1970s, but it’s for his alleged involvement with 1987’s Operation Spectrum that he is remembered.
In 1975, Mr Tan was arrested for allegedly participating in an industrial riot. He was due to start his NS after release but he fled to London, where he sought political asylum.
11 years later, the Government accused Mr Tan of being the mastermind of the alleged Marxist conspiracy that Operation Spectrum sought to foil.
That covert operation led to the arrest of 22 for their alleged intention to establish a Marxist state in Singapore.
4. Francis Seow (United States: 1988 – 2016)
In May 1988, Mr Francis Seow was arrested under the Internal Security Act for “investigations into foreign interference in internal affairs”.
The Government alleged Mr Seow of receiving funds from the United States to promote democracy in Singapore — a charge that led to Singapore requesting for an American diplomat to be withdrawn.
After his 72-day detention, Mr Seow contested the 1988 General Election as a candidate in Eunos GRC. His team lost, although they secured an impressive 49% of the vote.
Mr Seow subsequently left for Boston in the United States, disregarding court summons to stand trial on charges of tax evasion.
He never returned to Singapore but spoke extensively to foreign universities about civil liberties here.
Mr Seow passed away in 2016.
5. Ho Juan Thai (United Kingdom: 1977 – Present)
During the 1976 General Election, the Workers’ Party candidate for Bukit Panjang Mr Ho Juan Thai was accused of inciting racial tension in his speeches.
The police sought him for questioning, but with the help of a connection in the Communist Party of Malaya, Mr Ho fled to Britain in 1977 after expressing concerns about his safety.
He was back in the news in 2014 after writing an op-ed in The Online Citizen. In it, he claimed that he was accused of crimes that he did not commit.
Minister of State Sam Tan countered these allegations, calling them unconvincing and contradictory.
6. Cherian George (Hong Kong: 2014 – Present)
Dr George was very recently seen back in his home country, giving testimony to the Select Committee On Deliberate Online Falsehoods.
That doesn’t mean that he’s not an exile though.
Unlike the other exiled folk on this list, Dr George is an “academic” exile.
His less-than-friendly views towards the Government, reflected in books like Freedom From The Press, Singapore: The Air-conditioned Nation and Singapore: Incomplete, made it nearly impossible for him to find a position at a local university.
Take Nanyang Technological University (NTU), where he used to teach.
Dr George’s many attempts to get tenure were turned down by NTU, which allegedly cited a possible risk to the University’s reputation.
But NTU has since defended its tenure process, calling it a “purely a peer-driven academic exercise”.
In 2014, Dr George’s contract with NTU ended, without the option of an extension or recontract.
Dr George is currently an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University.
7. Bernice Wong and Anton Casey (Australia: 2014 – Present)
You may or may not recognise Ms Bernice Wong as the winner of the 2003 Miss Singapore Universe pageant.
On the other hand, her husband Mr Anton Casey probably rings many more bells.
In 2014, Mr Casey — then a Singapore PR with a fancy car — broke the Internet by remarking that our public transport reeked with the stench of poor people.
This naturally didn’t go down well with our SMRT-loving public, who began baying for blood.
Mr Casey’s comments were so repulsive that even Law Minister K Shanmugam joined in to condemn them.
Things only went downhill when local vigilantes SMRT Feedback revealed Mr Casey’s personal information to the angry cybersphere.
His subsequent apology was deemed insincere and Mr Casey eventually packed up and left to Perth.
The only good thing to come out of the saga?
This hilarious ad from Scoot:
8. Tang Liang Hong (Australia: 1997 – Present)
The former WP politician is nowadays perhaps best known for not being Goh Chok Tong’s brother.
Here’s how Mr Tang got his pants sued off.
In the 1997 General Election, WP fielded Mr Tang to contest Cheng San GRC, which was the one of the most hotly-watched races that year.
Then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s own Marine Parade constituency was uncontested, allowing Mr Goh to throw himself into campaigning against former WP Secretary-General J. B. Jeyaretnam‘s team.
The Workers’ Party lost the election, obtaining only 45.2% of the vote.
But that was not the end of Mr Tang’s troubles. In fact, it was just the beginning.
He found himself the target of lawsuits from prominent PAP ministers, including Mr Goh, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lee Hsien Loong and Dr Tony Tan.
As the litigation costs piled up, he had to “flee Singapore for his life“.
He has been living in Australia since and judging by this 2006 interview, seems to be plotting a comeback:
Do I intend to go back? I have intended for a long time to come back. When? I can’t tell. I am waiting for an opportune time.
9. Francis Khoo (United Kingdom: 1977 – 2011)
Mr Francis Khoo was a human rights lawyer who lived in exile in London for 35 years, until his untimely death in 2011.
The reason for his exile?
Mr Khoo had previously been incarcerated after representing a group of workers and students under suspicion of rioting.
Other dissident acts include opposing the abolition of the jury system in Singapore, attempts to save the liberal English-language paper Singapore Herald, and disagreeing with the introduction of the Suitability Certificate.
He fled to England when his friends were arrested and imprisoned without trial under the Internal Security Act in February 1977.
Mr Khoo in happier times.
Mr Khoo continued his humanitarian work in England, famously becoming a hero of a miners’ strike in Camden Town.
He is survived by his wife, Dr Ang Swee Chai, an accomplished orthopaedic surgeon and humanitarian.
10. Li Shengwu (United States: 2017 – Present)
The son of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s second son Lee Hsien Yang, Li Shengwu made the news when he refused to back down after being accused by the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) of attacking Singapore’s judiciary.
The whole thing started when a leaked Facebook post written by Mr Li appeared to describe the Singapore government as “litigious” and the court system as “pliant”.
This didn’t go down too well with the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), which threatened to sue.
Not long after, Mr Li left Singapore out of concerns that he might be detained. He is currently in the United States, working as an economist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, according to Al Jazeera.
In the documentary, he rather ominously stated:
When I see my parents outside of Singapore, I feel a sense of relief that they are not there. And that’s a very odd thing to feel about home.