Chia Thye Poh


Chia Thye Poh (b. 1941–) is a former member of parliament and political detainee. He was arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in October 1966, and was not charged or tried until his conditional release in May 1989. The government attributed Chia’s detention to his alleged membership in the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and involvement in violent subversive activities  allegations that Chia has denied.1

Early life and education
Chia attended both an English and a Chinese primary school before proceeding to the Chinese High School for his secondary education. In an interview, Chia ascribed his political consciousness to events during his secondary-school days, such as the anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa, the independence movement in Singapore and perceived colonial discrimination against Chinese education in Singapore. Chia went on to Nanyang University in 1958, where he was vice-chairman of the students’ union.2

After graduating from Nanyang University with a degree in physics, Chia taught briefly in Chung Cheng High School before returning to Nanyang University as a graduate assistant in the physics department.3

Political career
Chia had initially planned to further his studies overseas, but instead stood as a candidate for the Barisan Sosialis (Malay for "Socialist Front”) political party in the 1963 Legislative Assembly elections after a number of the party’s leadership were detained under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO; later the ISA) in February 1963. Standing in the ward of Jurong, he was elected after winning a four-cornered contest.4

With Singapore then a part of Malaysia, Chia was both a member of the Legislative Assembly in Singapore and the Malaysian Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives).5

While a member of the assembly, Chia raised topics such as the detention of Barisan members, trade unionists and those opposed to the formation of Malaysia, the revocation of Tan Lark Sye’s citizenship, the government’s plans for those affected by urban renewal and the banning of rural and hawkers’ organisations. Chia also criticised the merger with Malaysia as causing hardship for the populace and called on the Malaysian government to negotiate an end to hostilities with the Indonesian government.6

Chia was a member of the Barisan’s central executive committee and the editor of its Chinese-language party organ, The Barisan. When Barisan chairman Lee Siew Choh resigned from his post in May 1964, Chia was described as being part of a group of Nanyang University graduates who had taken control of the party.7

In September 1964, Chia and the Barisan were sued for libel by Yap Bor Lim, the chairman of the Nanyang University Students’ Fellowship. The suit referred to statements about Yap in the Barisan’s Chinese-language party organ. In May the following year, the High Court awarded Yap S$5,000 in damages, with the amount reduced to S$3,000 upon publication of an apology.8

After Singapore’s separation from Malaysia and independence in August 1965, Chia was one of eight Barisan members of the Legislative Assembly who boycotted the first sitting of the Parliament of Singapore in December. They justified the boycott on the grounds of what they termed the “undemocratic acts” of the People’s Action Party government.9

On 15 April 1966, Chia was arrested with fellow Barisan member of parliament Koo Young on a sedition charge. The charge related to an article in the 11 December 1965 issue of The Barisan, which alleged that the government had plotted to murder Barisan secretary-general Lim Chin Siong, then a political detainee. After a trial that included testimonies from political detainees including Lim, Lim Hock Siew and Said Zahari, Chia and Koo were found guilty and fined S$2,000 each.10

Chia then spoke at the annual delegates’ conference of the Labour Party of Malaya’s Perak Division in Ipoh on 24 April, where he called for armed struggle in Malaysia along the lines of what was happening in Vietnam at the time. As a result of his speech, the Malaysian government banned Chia from entering the country.11

On 3 July 1966, Chia was part of a demonstration to protest the United States’ war with Vietnam. He was arrested with 19 others at Nankin Street and charged with unlawful assembly. Chia was found guilty on 12 October and sentenced to a fine of S$500 or three months’ jail. He chose to go to jail until the Barisan paid the fine for his release on 24 October.12

Resignation from parliament and arrest
Having boycotted parliament since December 1965, the Barisan announced the resignation of all eight of its members of parliament on 7 October 1966. Chia was quoted by The Straits Times as saying, “We cannot remain in Parliament because parliamentary democracy is dead. You can say we are now taking our struggle to the streets. We are going to strengthen our extra-parliamentary struggle. It takes various forms – street demonstrations, protest meetings, strikes.” He also called for the government to hold general elections under eight conditions, including the release of political detainees and the revocation of “undemocratic” laws.13

Chia tendered a letter of resignation on behalf of all eight members, but the mass resignation was rejected by Speaker of Parliament Punch Coomaraswamy, who decided that the members had to tender their resignations individually. Chia’s resignation, however, was accepted on 26 October.14

On 29 October, Chia was arrested at 4.15 p.m. at the Barisan’s Victoria Street headquarters and detained under the ISA, which allows for detention without trial. The Straits Times reported that Chia, along with other leftist leaders and trade unionists, were arrested before carrying out a planned demonstration against the Vietnam War that was to coincide with the visit of then United States president Lyndon Johnson to Malaysia.15

Political detention
Over the next two decades, Chia was remanded at Queenstown Prison, Moon Crescent Detention Centre and Whitley Road Detention Centre.16 Chia stated that he was not physically assaulted or tortured throughout his detention, but suffered the psychological effects of being placed in solitary confinement.17 On a number of occasions, the authorities sought to persuade Chia to sign a statement renouncing the use of violent methods to overthrow the government in order to secure his release. He refused these offers, saying in a 1989 interview, “To renounce violence is to imply you advocated violence before. If I had signed that statement I would not have lived in peace.”18

In legal challenges to his detention in 1967 and 1971, Chia’s lawyer T. T. Rajah failed to get his detention overturned.19 Chia was later represented by member of parliament and lawyer J. B. Jeyaretnam, who raised his detention in parliament and publicly a number of times in the 1980s. Throughout his detention, Chia declined to appear before the ISA advisory board to contest his detention.20

The government did not provide an explanation for Chia’s detention until May 1985, when then Minister for Home Affairs S. Jayakumar stated in parliament that Chia was a member of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and had engaged in illegal activities to destabilise the government. Jayakumar added that the government would release Chia if he issued a public renunciation of the CPM and the use of violence to overthrow the government.21 In reply, Chia wrote a letter to the minister protesting the allegation that he was a member of the CPM.22

In 1987, the Canadian government offered political asylum to Chia after his detention had been publicised by the Canadian branch of the human-rights group Amnesty International. Chia declined the offer.23

Chia was then released from prison in May 1989, but was restricted to residence on the island of Sentosa along with restrictions on public speech and political activity. The following year, the restrictions were amended to allow him to visit the mainland of Singapore between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m. daily, and to allow him employment with the permission of the Internal Security Department. He later worked as a freelance translator for the Sentosa Development Corporation.24

In November 1992, Chia was allowed to live on the mainland and moved into his parents’ flat in Ang Mo Kio. His travel restrictions were lifted in November 1996, allowing Chia to take up a one-year research fellowship in Hamburg, Germany, before the government removed all restrictions on him in November 1998. That same month, he called for the abolition of the ISA. Chia went on to study for a doctorate at the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, the Netherlands, and resided mainly in Europe.25

Award
In December 2011, Chia received the Lim Lian Geok Spirit Award in Kuala Lumpur. The award is considered one of the highest honours in the Malaysian Chinese community and is bestowed on individuals who have served the Chinese culture or people.26



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Anand, R. (2011, December 19). Award for Asia’s ‘forgotten’ man. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
2. Gomez, J., & Chua, S. (1989, August). Chia Thye Poh – The Man Himself. The Philotin: The official newsletter of the Philosophy Society, 2
3. Gomez, J., & Chua, S. (1989, August). Chia Thye Poh – The Man Himself. The Philotin: The official newsletter of the Philosophy Society, 2; Porter, B. (1998, November 30). Singapore’s gentle revolutionary. The South China Morning Post. Retrieved from Factiva.
4. This is the way the voting went. (1963, September 22). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Gomez, J., & Chua, S. (1989, August). Chia Thye Poh – The Man Himself. The Philotin: The official newsletter of the Philosophy Society, 2; Anand, R. (2011, December 19). Award for Asia’s ‘forgotten’ man. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
5. Barisan’s three for Parliament. (1963, October 23). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Barisan move to amend motion. (1963, December 9). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore’s four major targets. (1963, December 10). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Sam, J. (1964, May 5). Barisan split. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Sam, J. (1964, September 27). Libel writ filed against Barisan M.P.. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; The venom in Barisan libel – by a judge. (1965, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Barisan MPs won’t be there. (1965, December 8). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Anand, R. (2011, December 19). Award for Asia’s ‘forgotten’ man. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
10. Two Barisan leaders arrested on sedition charge. (1966, April 16). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Cheong, Y. S. (1966, July 13). Chia makes defence on why he printed article. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Sedition trial: MPs guilty. (1966, July 27). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Government restates its case against long-time detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1988, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Jaya explains why Chia is still under detention. (1985, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Government restates its case against long-time detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1988, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Anand, R. (2011, December 19). Award for Asia’s ‘forgotten’ man. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
12. Barisan M.P. prefers jail to fine. (1966, October 13). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Barisan’s Chia held in security round-up. (1966, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Government restates its case against long-time detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1988, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Chandran, R. (1966, October 8). Barisan MPs quit. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; ; Sam, J. (1966, October 9). The B-I-G Barisan flop. The Sunday Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Government restates its case against long-time detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1988, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
14. Speaker rejects ‘we quit’ letter by Chia. (1966, October 27). The Straits Times, p. 11. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Barisan’s Chia held in security round-up. (1966, October 30). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Government restates its case against long-time detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1988, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lamb, D. (1999, February 13). Freed dissident tries to understand the past while figuring out future Singapore. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Anand, R. (2011, December 19). Award for Asia’s ‘forgotten’ man. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
16. Judgment is reserved on detainees’ application. (1967, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Plea to free political detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1985, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG
17. Lamb, D. (1999, February 13). Freed dissident tries to understand the past while figuring out future Singapore. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
18. Porter, B. (1998, November 30). Singapore’s gentle revolutionary. The South China Morning Post. Retrieved from Factiva.
19. Judgment is reserved on detainees’ application. (1967, October 25). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Hwang, T. F. (1971, April 21). Surprise move by counsel in detainees case. The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Plea to free political detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1985, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Jaya explains why Chia is still under detention. (1985, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Detainee Chia Thye Poh refused ‘freedom in Canada’ offer – ministry. (1988, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Porter, B. (1998, November 30). Singapore’s gentle revolutionary. The South China Morning Post. Retrieved from Factiva;
21. Plea to free political detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1985, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Jaya explains why Chia is still under detention. (1985, September 2). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Detainee Chia Thye Poh refused ‘freedom in Canada’ offer – ministry. (1988, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG;
22. Plea to free political detainee Chia Thye Poh. (1985, July 14). The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
23. Detainee Chia Thye Poh refused ‘freedom in Canada’ offer – ministry. (1988, April 25). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Chia Thye Poh a free man. (1998, November 27). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Porter, B. (1998, November 30). Singapore’s gentle revolutionary. South China Morning Post. Retrieved from Factiva.
25. Chia Thye Poh a free man. (1998, November 27). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Longtime Singapore prisoner calls for end to detention without trial. (1998, November 27). Agence France-Presse. Retrieved from Factiva; Porter, B. (1998, November 30). Singapore’s gentle revolutionary. The South China Morning Post. Retrieved from Factiva; Lamb, D. (1999, February 13). Freed dissident tries to understand the past while figuring out future Singapore. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Anand, R. (2011, December 19). Award for Asia’s ‘forgotten’ man. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.
26. Anand, R. (2011, December 19). Award for Asia’s ‘forgotten’ man. The Malay Mail. Retrieved from Factiva.



Further resources

Ahmad Osman. (1997, July 10). Chia Thye Poh free to travel abroad. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Barisan’s three for Parliament. (1963, October 23). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Branigin, W. (1990, December 26). Imprisoned in Singapore’s Disneyland. The Washington Post. Retrieved from Factiva.

Chia: An ageing diehard. (1990, August 27). The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Chia’s remarks show government restrictions were ‘fully justified’. (1991, October 31). The Straits Times, p. 20. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Chia, T. P. (1994, November 16). Allegations about 1963 polls false. The Straits Times, Letters, p. 30. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Chia Thye Poh fit for Hamburg trip. (1997, July 18). The Straits Times, p. 40. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Chia Thye Poh to be allowed to live in S’pore. (1992, November 16). The Straits Times, p. 37. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Chief Justice frees five detainees. (1967, November 18). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Flats offered to all affected by govt. urban projects. (1964, November 3). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Kuzmanovic, J. (1998, November 28). Former prisoner fights security law. Associated Press. Retrieved from Factiva.

MP to stand trial for unlawful assembly. (1966, July 5). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Said Zahari. (2007). The long nightmare: My 17 years as a political prisoner. Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Publishers and Distributors.
(Call no.: RSING 365.45095957 SAI)


Sesser, S. (1994). The lands of charm and cruelty: Travels in Southeast Asia. New York: Knopf: Random House.
(Call no.: RSING 959.053 SES)


Singapore says detainee was held for communist ties. (1998, November 30). Reuters News. Retrieved from Factiva.

There is a limit to our patience: Ismail. (1964, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Vines, S. (1996, December 9). Great protester of Singapore refuses to quit. The Independent. Retrieved from Factiva.

Yong, L. (1998, November 27). Ex-S’pore MP says no grudge at jail term. Reuters News. Retrieved from Factiva.



The information in this article is valid as at 16 May 2013 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Personalities>>Biographies
Political parties
Personalities
Political prisoners--Singapore--Biography
Political crimes and offenses--Singapore--Biography
Subversive activities
Politicians

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