Francis Seow

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Francis Seow (Chinese: 萧添寿; pinyin: Xiāo Tiānshòu; born 1928) is a Singapore-born American political dissident who is in exile from Singapore after lawsuits by the former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew. He was educated at Saint Joseph's Institution in Singapore and at the Middle Temple in London. Seow is currently a United States citizen residing in Massachusetts, and was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School.


Seow joined the Singapore Legal Service in 1956 and rose through the ranks to become Solicitor-General in 1969, a position he held until 1971. During his career he served under the administration of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and was appointed senior counsel to a Commission of Inquiry in the Secondary IV examination boycott by Chinese students in 1963 prior to Singapore's entry into Malaysia. For his work, Seow was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal. He eventually left public service and entered into private law practice in 1972.

He was later suspended from law practice for 12 months by Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin for breach of an undertaking given on behalf of his junior law partner to the Attorney-General while in private practice. Nonetheless, he was later elected a member of the Council of the Law Society in 1976 and eventually became its President in 1986.

In 1985, Seow acted for Tan Mui Choo, one of the co-conspirators in the infamous Toa Payoh ritual murders, in which Adrian Lim killed 2 children, in her unsuccessful appeal against her death sentence.[1]

His new appointment led to a falling out with Lee Kuan Yew after he became embroiled in the politics surrounding the role of the Law Society. He had envisaged a restoration of the role of the Law Society to, inter alia, comment on legislation that the government was then churning out without any meaningful parliamentary debate, a role which Prime Minister Lee took special exception to. In the result, Prime Minister Lee caused special legislation to be passed depriving the Law Society of any powers to comment on any legislation unless the government specifically asks the Law Society for its comments. He ran for the Parliament of Singapore as part of the Workers' Party team that contested the Eunos Group Representation Constituency in the 1988 general election. However, his team managed to secure 49.11% of valid votes, losing marginally to the PAP stronghold.

Just before the election, he was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act for 72 days, accused of having received political Campaign finance from the United States to promote democracy in Singapore. According to his account, he was subjected to torture, including sleep deprivation and intense cold air-conditioning. Later, while awaiting trial for alleged tax evasion, he left for United States for health treatment and disregarded numerous court summons to return for trial.[2][3] Subsequently, he was convicted in absentia. These events are speculated to have been politically motivated, and part of a pattern of lawsuits and criminal proceedings against dissenters in Singapore. Despite his exile he has spoken at events organized by Singapore student societies in universities outside of Singapore.

In a 1989 interview in London, Seow told The Sunday Times that he would return to Singapore to face tax evasion charges.[3]

On 16 October 2007, Amnesty International issued a public statement that mentioned Seow as one of two prominent lawyers who had been penalized for exercising their right to express their opinions. Amnesty International named him a "prisoner of conscience."[4]

On October 8, 2011, Seow with exiled dissident lawyer Tang Fong Har publicly addressed a Singapore Democratic Party forum from abroad via teleconferencing.[5] Singapore Police were investigating the legality of the event the following day.[6]

Seow has two sons and two daughters.


In the semi-autobiographical To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison,[7] Seow wrote about his career in the legal service, opposition politics and his personal experience of being detained by the Internal Security Department. He also accuses the government of Singapore of authoritarianism and human rights abuses under then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The book also contains a foreword by former President Devan Nair that is equally critical of the Singapore government. Since then Seow has written another book, The Media Enthralled, which describes how he believes the Singapore government undermined freedom of the media and turned them into pro-government mouthpieces. He is also author of Beyond Suspicion? - The Singapore Judiciary.[8] which explores key cases in which the Singaporean judiciary has bowed to political pressure.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John, Alan (1989). Unholy Trinity: The Adrian Lim 'Ritual' Child Killings. Singapore: Times Book International. ISBN 9971-65-205-6. 
  2. ^ "Newspaper Full Page - The Straits Times, 3 October 1989, Page 19". 1989-10-03. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  3. ^ a b "Newspaper Full Page - The Straits Times, 15 October 1989, Page 3". 1989-10-15. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  4. ^ "Document - Document - Singapore: International Bar Association urged to take action on restrictions on freedom of expression". Amnesty International. 16 October 2007. 
  5. ^ "Breaking News - Singapore". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  6. ^ "Police investigating SDP forum". Channel NewsAsia. 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  7. ^ "Book Review: To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison". Project MUSE. 1996. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  8. ^ "Book Review: Beyond Suspicion". The Online Citizen. 2014. Retrieved 2014-05-01. 


  • Seow, Francis T. (1998). The media enthralled: Singapore revisited. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-1-55587-779-8. 

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