Reflection on the 50th Anniversary of Operation Coldstore
By Teo Soh Lung
The 50th Anniversary of Operation Coldstore was to have been commemorated at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry on Saturday, 2 February 2013. The organisers were exceedingly pleased that that day fell on a weekend. More people would be able to attend and they were expecting a crowd of perhaps 400. Speakers were invited and a commemorative publication was prepared; photographs and refreshments were arranged for and everything was in place. Suddenly they were informed that the auditorium was not available to them. They were exceedingly disappointed and at a loss as to what they should do.
The organisers were a group of Operation Coldstore survivors, the majority in their late 70s. It was a great blow to them. They could not understand why such an event which meant so much to them could not be held at the auditorium. The Chinese Chamber of Commerce as it was earlier known, used to be the leader of the Chinese community and was always at the forefront of Chinese education, business and activism in its early days. Chinese school students held the leaders of the Chinese Chamber in high esteem and listened to their advice in the 1950s.
Operation Coldstore which took place in the wee hours of 2 February 1963 or as the survivors call it “2.2” wiped out the cream of the opposition parties. Almost the entire leadership of the Barisan Sosialis led by Mr Lim Chin Siong ，Dr. Lim Hock Siew and Dr Poh Soo Kai were imprisoned without trial under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance or PPSO, the forerunner of the Internal Security Act (ISA). More than 130 leaders of the opposition parties and trade unions were incarcerated, many for decades because they refused to sign any statement. That massive abuse of power by the Internal Security Council comprising the government of Singapore, Malaya and Britain have resulted in Singapore’s ridiculous state of democracy with miniscule presence of the opposition in parliament today.
The organisers of the event were despondent and sought the views of younger activists. There was an easy solution – use Hong Lim Park.
The organisers were worried for they have never held any commemoration in public. What if they were trailed and “marked” by personnel from the Internal Security Department and the police? What if their families suffer in their workplace? To the younger activists, it was heaven sent opportunity to publicise an important event! But to the older generation who have gone through decades of imprisonment, hardship and stigmatisation, it was not that simple.
After much deliberation, the organisers agreed. They had no choice. Hong Lim Park, the historic park where many political leaders have given important speeches became the venue for the most important historic event, the 50th anniversary of Operation Coldstore.
Activists started work from the early hours of the morning. A stage and sound system were set up, banners calling for the abolition of the ISA and the return of the exiles were strung, boards on which long lists of names of ISA detainees were mounted.
Tents were pitched for the display of the commemoration book “We Remember”.
A wheelchair complete with first aid kit was also made ready, just in case any of the elderly participants fall ill.
Finally hundreds of chairs were wiped clean and neatly arranged in rows.
Two huge mats were placed on the ground for younger participants.
All was set at about 3.45 pm but there was no audience! The activists were worried. What was happening? Then at about 4 pm the MC invited the people to sit as the event was about to begin. Suddenly, from all corners of the park, people descended on to the field and the chairs were quickly occupied.
Fear has disappeared in that very instant. The stigma of having been imprisoned under the unjust ISA decades ago was gone.
To hell with the secret police. Let them take note that survivors of Operation Coldstore are alive and have not forgotten what the PAP government had done to them in 1963 and continue to do to them in 2013 by depriving them of an indoor venue at the Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry. They are the victors not the victims. They have spent their youth in prison but their conscience is clear.
As Dr Poh Soo Kai said in his speech,
“They have been vindicated for their youthful idealism.” They are vindicated for their stand on Malaysia. They have not committed any wrong. They fought against the colonial master, the British. They fought against injustice and suffered under the PAP.
And so the survivors of Operation Coldstore conquered FEAR. More than 700 people attended the 50th Anniversary of Operation Coldstore.