Francis Seow

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Francis Seow
Native name 萧添寿
Born (1928-10-11)11 October 1928
Died 21 January 2016(2016-01-21) (aged 87)
Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Occupation Writer, Lawyer
Known for Political dissidence in Singapore
Children 2 sons and 2 daughters

Seow, Tiang-Siew Francis (Chinese: 萧添寿; pinyin: Xiāo Tiānshòu; 11 October 1928 – 21 January 2016) was a Singapore-born American writer, political dissident and former lawyer. He lived in exile from Singapore after facing lawsuits from Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister. He was educated at Saint Joseph's Institution in Singapore and at the Middle Temple in London, and was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School.


Seow was born on 11 October 1928 in Singapore.[1] He joined the Singapore Legal Service in 1956 and rose through the ranks to become the Solicitor-General in 1969, a position he held until 1971. Seow was appointed as 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[citation needed].

For his work, Seow was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal. He eventually left the public service and entered private law practice in 1972.

Then, Seow was later suspended from law practice for 12 months under Lee Kuan Yew's instructions to his relative, Wee Chong Jin, Singapore's first Chief Justice, for allegedly breaching an undertaking given on behalf of his junior law partner to the Attorney-General, Tan Boon Teik.

Nonetheless, he was later elected as 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 (whose name was mistakenly reported as "Choo Choo" in the Malaysian press). She was Adrian Lim's first wife, and was Adrian Lim's accomplice in the Toa Payoh ritual murders. As a result, Tan was executed after an unsuccessful appeal against her conviction and death sentence.[2]

Seow's 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 comment on legislation that the government churned out without any meaningful parliamentary debate, to which Lee took special exception. As a result, Lee caused special legislation to be passed that deprived the Law Society of any power to comment on legislation unless specifically asked to by the government Seow stood for the 1988 general election as a member of the opposition Workers' Party team that contested in the Eunos Group Representation Constituency against the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). However, his team managed to secure 49.11% of valid votes and lost marginally to the PAP.[citation needed]

Just before the election, on 6 May 1988, Seow was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act for 72 days.[3] He was 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 intensely cold air conditioning. Later, while awaiting trial for alleged tax evasion, he left for the United States for health treatment and disregarded numerous court summons to return to stand trial.[4][5] Subsequently, he was convicted in absentia. While living in exile, Seow spoke at events organised by Singaporean 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.[5]

On 16 October 2007, Amnesty International issued a public statement mentioning Seow as one of two prominent Singaporean lawyers who were penalised for exercising their right to express their opinions. Amnesty International called him a "prisoner of conscience."[6]

On 8 October 2011, Seow and Tang Fong Har publicly addressed a Singapore Democratic Party forum via teleconferencing.[7] The Singapore police investigated the legality of the event on the following day.[8]

On 21 January 2016, Seow died, at 87. His death was announced by close friend Chee Soon Juan, the secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party on his Facebook Page.[9][10] Seow was survived by two sons and two daughters.[11]


In the semi-autobiography, To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison,[12] 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 Singapore government of authoritarianism and human rights abuse under Lee Kuan Yew's administration. The book also contains a foreword by Devan Nair, the third President of Singapore, that is equally critical of the Singapore government. Seow also wrote another book, The Media Enthralled, which describes how he believes the Singapore government undermined freedom of the media and turned the media into pro-government mouthpieces. He is also the author of Beyond Suspicion? – The Singapore Judiciary[13] that explores key cases in which the Singaporean judiciary has bowed to political pressure.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ John, Alan (1989). Unholy Trinity: The Adrian Lim 'Ritual' Child Killings. Singapore: Times Book International. ISBN 9971-65-205-6. 
  3. ^ "Newspaper Full Page - The Straits Times, 8 May 1988, Page 3". 1988-05-08. Retrieved 2016-01-22. 
  4. ^ "Newspaper Full Page - The Straits Times, 3 October 1989, Page 19". 1989-10-03. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  5. ^ a b "Newspaper Full Page - The Straits Times, 15 October 1989, Page 3". 1989-10-15. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  6. ^ "Document - Document - Singapore: International Bar Association urged to take action on restrictions on freedom of expression". Amnesty International. 16 October 2007. 
  7. ^ "Breaking News - Singapore". The Straits Times. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  8. ^ "Police investigating SDP forum". Channel NewsAsia. 2011-10-09. Retrieved 2012-09-28. 
  9. ^ "Chee Soon Juan received news on Francis Seow's passing". Chee Soon Juan. 2016-01-21. Retrieved 2016-01-21. 
  10. ^ "Stirring the conscience of the next generation: My farewell to Francis Seow". 2016-01-24. Retrieved 2016-01-24. 
  11. ^ "Top lawyers, law don recall late Francis Seow". The New Paper. 2016-01-23. Retrieved 2016-01-23. 
  12. ^ "Book Review: To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison". Project MUSE. 1996. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  13. ^ "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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