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Template:Infobox Politician Chia Thye Poh (Template:Zh, born 1941[1]) was the longest-serving political prisoner in the history of Singapore and perhaps the longest-serving prisoner of conscience of the 20th century, if not one of its longest-serving political prisoners.

Detained under the Internal Security Act of Singapore for allegedly conducting pro-communist activities against the government, he was imprisoned for 23 years without charge or trial and subsequently placed under conditions of house arrest for another nine years — in which he was first confined to the island of Sentosa and then subject to restrictions on his place of abode, employment, travel, and exercise of political rights.

Prior to his detention, he had been a teacher, a physics lecturer, a socialist political activist and a member of the Parliament of Singapore.[1] Subsequent to it, he has been a doctoral student and an interpreter.

He traveled to Germany in 1997, and to the Netherlands at least as recently as 2000. The supervision of his PhD thesis in development economics was completed in 2006.

Early life

He read physics at Nanyang University and upon graduating he worked briefly as a secondary teacher and then as a graduate assistant at his alma mater.[1]

Political activism

As a member of the Barisan Sosialis he was elected member of Parliament for Jurong Constituency in 1963, being nominated as the candidate in replacement of a colleague who had been arrested by the government of Singapore.[1][2] Concurrent with his holding of parliamentary office, he worked as a university physics professor.

He was banned permanently from entering Malaysia in the wake of a political speech he delivered to the Perak division of the Labour Party of Malaysia on 24 April 1966.[2]

File:Old Parliament House 8, Singapore, Jan 06.JPG

The old Parliament House in Singapore. A venue for demonstrations forming part of the Barisan Socialis' extraparliamentary struggle in 1966.

In July 1966, he was convicted for publishing a "seditious article" in the Barisan's Chinese-language newspaper [1]. In the same month, he was arrested with 25 others and charged with unlawful assembly for his participation in a demonstration against United States involvement in the conflict in Vietnam that resulted in open confrontation with police.[3][4] It has been noted that he was active among peace campaigners calling for an end to the U.S. bombing of Indochina during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.[1]

In early October 1966, he and eight other Barisan Sosialis MPs boycotted the Parliament over the decision by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to split from Malaysia.[5] This was part of the Barisan's strategy to protest "undemocratic acts"[6] of the Government, by carrying their struggle against the PAP outside of Parliament.[6] He declared that the means of the struggle would be "street demonstrations, protest meetings, strikes".[7]

On 8 October 1966, he led an illegal protest march of 30 supporters to Parliament House and handed a letter to the Clerk of the House demanding a general election be held under eight named conditions, with the release of all political detainees and the revocation of all "undemocratic" laws.[6]

Arrest and imprisonment

On 29 October 1966,[8] he and 22 other Barisan Sosialis leaders were arrested pursuant to powers afforded by the Internal Security Act.[5] The official statement released by the Government alleged that Barisan's attempt to arouse a mass struggle outside of parliament was prejudicial to the stability of Singapore. The round of arrests was the second one conducted by the government, including those occurring as part of Operation Coldstore in 1963. Chia was specifically detained for his role in organising and leading the 8 October street procession.[6]

The other detainees were released eventually after they each signed a document promising to renounce violence and sever ties with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).[6] However, he refused as he felt that signing such a document would imply that he was affiliated with the CPM and, in his own words: "to renounce violence is to imply you advocated violence before. If I had signed that statement I would not have lived in peace."[2] Thus, in time, and without ever being the subject of an indictment or a criminal trial, he became one of the longest serving political prisoners in the world - with some consequent restrictions upon his civil rights remaining in place for a total of more than 32 years subsequent to his initial arrest. The length of his detention has been compared to that of Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for a total period longer than 27 years subsequent to his arrest, trial and convictions for treason, sabotage and other political crimes.[1]

He was deprived of Singapore citizenship in February, 1968 as he could not produce a birth certificate to substantiate his claim that he was born in Singapore in 1933. He was served with a Banishment Order in August, 1968. He remained detained in the Queenstown Remand Prison "awaiting deportation" until 1976, when the Banishment Order was dropped and he was served with a fresh detention order under the ISA in June that year.[3]

During his incarceration, he spent substantial time in solitary confinement at the Whitley Road Detention Centre.[3] In late 1978, Amnesty International confirmed that he was detained at the Moon Crescent Detention Centre located within the grounds of Changi Prison.[3]

In 1982, he was moved out of prison and into a series of government halfway houses.[9]

In 1985, the government of Singapore asserted that the purpose of his detention related to the allegation that he had been a member of the CPM and suggested that he was therefore willing to participate in anti-Singapore political violence and terrorism.[1]

Confinement on Sentosa

File:Sentosa locator map.png

Location of Sentosa (in red), relative to Singapore

On 17 May 1989, he was released from 23 years of imprisonment[6] without charge or trial on the mainland, and instead confined to a one-room guardhouse on Sentosa[2] where he was required to pay the rent on the pretext that he was then a "free" man. He was also required to purchase and prepare his own food. As he had no money, he was offered a job as the assistant curator of Fort Siloso on the West of the island. He refused the offer on the understanding that it was a government civil service position in which he may, as a result, be "muzzled"[2] from talking to the media without official permission.[1] Instead, he negotiated an arrangement where he worked as a freelance translator for the Sentosa Development Corporation.[1] About that time he made the following remarks about the circumstances of his continuing detention and the culture of politics in Singapore in general:[10]

I am confident that no matter how much difficulties I face, and how long it will take, the government will have to release me unconditionally one day... I hope that with continued support from the people, I can one day gain my complete freedom.

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... There is always the danger of one-party rule slipping into one-man rule, and worse still, into dynastic rule. 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.

Chia's low security detention in Sentosa left the public bewildered as to the purpose of his original and continued detention. Was Chia being punished for his political opposition or was he a genuine internal security threat. If the former, then surely this was a travesty of justice, and if the latter, then why such low security? Sentosa is more noted as a leisure and resort island rather than an Alcatraz, so this only added to the puzzle. The question often asked was if he was put on this leisure island to belittle his political stance as a political prisoner or was this some mysterious form of prison rehabilitation regime for political prisoners?

Final release

In 1990, there was some relaxation of the restrictions applying to him.[2] Chia has stated his belief that representations by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany in the mid-1980s [11] played some part in the Singaporean government's decision to soften its stance in regard to him.[2]

In 1992, he was allowed to return to the mainland and visit the home of his parents,[1] but was still placed under restrictions on travel, activities and associations.

In November 1997, restrictions were further relaxed to an extent that allowed him to accept a fellowship from the Hamburg Foundation of the German government for politically persecuted persons. He subsequently spent a year in Hamburg studying economics, politics, and German language.[1][12] He was also permitted to change his address and to seek employment without prior permission of the director of Singapore's Internal Security Department.[2]

In August 1998, he underwent a prostate operation in Singapore.[2]

In November 1998, it was reported that the source of his income was the work that he performed as a freelance translator.[2]

On 27 November 1998, all remaining restrictions were nullified.[2] He thus formally regained rights to make public statements, address public meetings, and participate in political activity.[2] He immediately called upon the Government to repeal the Internal Security Act[11] and expressed his interest in becoming involved in political activity.[2][13]

Since release

In late 2000, he was pursuing a Master's degree in development studies at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague[1] and expected to complete those studies and return to Singapore in December of that year.[14]

In 2006 the supervision of his PhD thesis through the Institute was completed.[15]

A March 2008 version of his staff profile at the ISS describes his position as "Project assistant to the project MPA in Governance, Surinam".[16]


  • Transplanted or Endogenized? FDI and Industrial Upgrading in Developing Countries. Case study of Indonesia (2006), Shaker Publishing

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See also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 Ang Hiok Ga (October 14–15, 2000). "Spirit of Asia's Mandela" (reprint). Malaysiakini.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 Barry Porter (30 November 1998). "Singapore's gentle revolutionary" (reprint). South China Morning Post.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Report of an Amnesty International Mission to Singapore, 30 November to 5 December 1978. Amnesty International Publications. 1980. ISBN 086210002X.
  4. Straits Times; October 26, 1966 (as cited in Mutalib)
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Looking Back". Asiaweek 26 (47). 2000-12-01.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Hussin Mutalib (2003). Parties and Politics: A Study of Opposition Parties and the PAP in Singapore. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press. pp. 70, 106–107. ISBN 981-210-211-6.
  7. Plebian (newspaper of the Barisan Socialis), 8 October 1966
  8. Template:Cite press release
  9. Template:Cite press release
  10. James Gomez, Susan Chua (August 1989). "Chia Thye Poh? The Man Himself" (reprint). PHILOTIN (Newsletter of the Philosophy Society, the National University of Singapore) (2): 4.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Security act must go, says victim of 32-year ordeal" (reprint). Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 1998-11-28.
  12. "Ex-detainee Chia Thye Poh muzzled for trip" (reprint). Associated Press. 1997-07-19.
  13. "Chia Thye Poh a free man". The Straits Times. 1998-11-27.
  14. - News for a Vibrant Political Society
  15. "Peter Knorringa - Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Institute of Social Studies.
  16. "Staff Profile - Chia Thye Poh". Institute of Social Studies. March 14, 2008.

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