Chia Thye Poh

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Chia Thye Poh
Member of Parliament for Jurong SMC
In office
1963[1] – October 1966[2]
Preceded byChor Yeok Eng
Succeeded byHo Kah Leong
Leader of the Barisan Sosialis
In office
1961 – October 1966
Preceded byLee Siew Choh
Succeeded byLee Siew Choh
ConstituencyJurong SMC
Personal details
Born1941 (age 77–78)
Political partyBarisan Sosialis (1961-1966)
Chia Thye Poh
Traditional Chinese謝太寶
Simplified Chinese谢太宝
Hokkien POJChiā Thài-pó

Dr Chia Thye Poh (born 1941) is a Singaporean former political prisoner.

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.[2] Subsequent to it, he has been a doctoral student and an interpreter.

He travelled 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[edit]

He read physics at Nanyang University and upon graduating he worked briefly as a secondary school teacher and then as a graduate assistant at his alma mater.[2]

Political activism[edit]

As a member of the Barisan Sosialis he was elected member of the Legislative Assembly for Jurong Constituency in 1963, being nominated as the candidate in replacement of a colleague who had been arrested by the government of Singapore.[2][3] Concurrent with his holding of 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.[3]

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.[4] 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 Vietnam War that resulted in open confrontation with police.[5][6] It has been noted that he was active among peace campaigners calling for an end to the US bombing of Indochina during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.[2]

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.[7] This was part of the Barisan's strategy to protest "undemocratic acts"[8] of the Government, by carrying their struggle against the PAP outside of Parliament.[8] He declared that the means of the struggle would be "street demonstrations, protest meetings, strikes".[9]

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.[8]

Arrest and imprisonment[edit]

On 29 October 1966,[10] he and 22 other Barisan Sosialis leaders were arrested pursuant to powers afforded by the Internal Security Act.[7] 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 street procession on 8 October.[8]

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).[8] 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."[3] 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.[2]

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.[citation needed] 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.[5]

During his incarceration, he spent substantial time in solitary confinement at the Whitley Road Detention Centre.[5] In late 1978, Amnesty International confirmed that he was detained at the Moon Crescent Detention Centre located within the grounds of Changi Prison.[5]

In 1982, he was moved out of prison and into a series of government halfway houses.[11]

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.[2]

Confinement on Sentosa[edit]

Location of Sentosa (in red), relative to Singapore

On 17 May 1989, he was released from 23 years of imprisonment[8] without charge or trial on the mainland, and instead confined to a one-room guardhouse on Sentosa[3] 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"[3] from talking to the media without official permission.[2] Instead, he negotiated an arrangement where he worked as a freelance translator for the Sentosa Development Corporation.[2] About that time he made the following remarks about the circumstances of his continuing detention and the culture of politics in Singapore in general:[12]

Final release[edit]

In 1990, there was some relaxation of the restrictions applying to him.[3] Chia has stated his belief that representations by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany in the mid-1980s[13] played some part in the Singaporean government's decision to soften its stance in regard to him.[3]

In 1992, he was allowed to return to the mainland and visit the home of his parents,[2] 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.[2][14] He was also permitted to change his address and to seek employment without prior permission of the director of Singapore's Internal Security Department.[3]

In August 1998, he underwent a prostate operation in Singapore.[3]

In November 1998, it was reported that the source of his income was the work that he performed as a freelance translator.[3]

On 27 November 1998, all remaining restrictions were nullified.[3] He thus formally regained rights to make public statements, address public meetings, and participate in political activity.[3] He immediately called upon the Government to repeal the Internal Security Act[13] and expressed his interest in becoming involved in political activity.[3][15]

On 27 November 1998, Amnesty International issued a public statement that restrictions on "Singapore's longest serving prisoner of conscience" had been lifted. Amnesty International considered the announcement to be more than thirty years' overdue.[16]

Since release[edit]

In late 2000, he was pursuing a master's degree in development studies at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague[2] and expected to complete those studies and return to Singapore in December of that year.[17]

In 2006 the supervision of his PhD thesis through the Institute was completed[18] and he has been conferred his doctorate.[19]

A March 2008 version of his staff profile at the ISS describes his position as "Project assistant to the project MPA in Governance, Surinam".[20]

In late 2011 he was awarded the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award at a public ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.[19][21][22]

In 2015 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.[23]


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

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "1963 Legislative Assembly Election Results". Elections Department Singapore.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Ang Hiok Ga (14–15 October 2000). "Spirit of Asia's Mandela" (reprint). Malaysiakini.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Barry Porter (30 November 1998). "Singapore's gentle revolutionary". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original (reprint) on 17 January 2013.
  4. ^ Seow, F.T. (1998). The Media Enthralled: Singapore Revisited. Lynne Rienner Publishers. p. 130. ISBN 9781555877798. Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  5. ^ a b c d Report of an Amnesty International Mission to Singapore, 30 November to 5 December 1978. Amnesty International Publications. 1980. ISBN 0-86210-002-X.
  6. ^ Straits Times; 26 October 1966 (as cited in Mutalib)
  7. ^ a b "Looking Back". Asiaweek. 26 (47). 1 December 2000.
  8. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  9. ^ Plebeian (newspaper of the Barisan Socialis), 8 October 1966
  10. ^ "Ministry refutes Chia Thye Poh's claim that he was never under any communist party and that he was merely performing duties as a MP, 30 November 98" (Press release). Ministry of Home Affairs. 30 November 1998. Archived from the original on 13 January 2010.
  11. ^ "Restriction on Chia Thye Poh lapse, 26 November 98" (Press release). Ministry of Home Affairs. 26 November 1998.[permanent dead link]
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ a b "Security act must go, says victim of 32-year ordeal" (reprint). Deutsche Presse-Agentur. 28 November 1998.
  14. ^ "Ex-detainee Chia Thye Poh muzzled for trip" (reprint). Associated Press. 19 July 1997.
  15. ^ "Chia Thye Poh a free man". The Straits Times. 27 November 1998.
  16. ^ "Document – Singapore: Restrictions on Singapore's longest-serving political prisoner lifted". Amnesty International. 27 November 1998.
  17. ^ "News for a Vibrant Political Society". Retrieved 26 February 2015.
  18. ^ "Peter Knorringa – Curriculum Vitae" (PDF). Institute of Social Studies. Archived from the original (PDF) on 27 September 2007.
  19. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 December 2011. Retrieved 2012-10-28.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link) Longest-Serving Political Prisoner Chia Thye Poh Received Award
  20. ^ "Staff Profile – Chia Thye Poh". Institute of Social Studies. 14 March 2008. Archived from the original on 2 June 2008.
  21. ^ "SINGAPORE: Chia Thye Poh long time prisoner of conscience is honored". Asian Human Rights Commission. 19 December 2011.
  22. ^ "Award for ISS alumnus Chia Thye Poh". Institute of Social Studies. 20 December 2011. Archived from the original on 22 February 2014. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  23. ^ "Nobel gesture: Singapore's longest-held political prisoner Chia Thye Poh nominated for Peace Prize". South China Morning Post. 3 October 2015.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Chor Yeok Eng
Member of the Parliament of Singapore representing Jurong constituency
Succeeded by
Ho Kah Leong