Below is an extract from Said Zahari’s Dark Clouds at Dawn, A Political Memoir shedding some light as to why ISA prisoners were incarcerated without trial for decades. No weapons or bomb making instruments were found when Operation Cold Store was mounted on 2 Feb 1963. More than 120 people were arrested and imprisoned without trial for decades. Said Zahari was imprisoned for 17 years.
“A letter from Lord Goodman
One morning in August 1978, I had a surprise visitor at the MCC [Moon Crescent Centre]. A senior officer from the Internal Security Department (ISD) turned up in the interview room, where I was made to wait for about half an hour after being taken out from my cell in “Block 6”. I soon found out that the ISD officer did not come to interview or interrogate me, but only to hand over a letter addressed to me from Lord Goodman C.H., Master, University College, Oxford, United Kingdom.
Clipped to Lord Goodman’s letter was a two-line note, typed on Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s letterhead, from the Prime Minister’s Office, Istana Annexe, Singapore, dated 5 August 1978. Signed by Lim Siong Guan, Principal Private Secretary to the PM, the note said: “Mr. Said Zahari, Lord Goodman requested that his letter herewith enclosed be passed on to you.”
Of course, I never knew Lord Goodman personally, but was nevertheless grateful for his kindness for having written a letter to me. At the same time, I was curious to note that the letter was not sent to me directly at my address at the MCC but through the Prime Minister’s office instead.
Lord Goodman thus explained: “At the request of International P.E.N., I entered into correspondence with the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew; in connection with your continued imprisonment in Singapore. I have received from the Prime Minister a letter which makes it clear that, so far as he is concerned, your detention is maintained only because you have – it is asserted – refused to renounce violence as a political instrument.”
If that was the case, continued Lord Goodman’s letter, it was not of course for him to ask me to give any assurances or undertakings that would run counter to my principles, “but might I – as an older man – urge you to consider whether this is a sensible principle to maintain. You have already suffered a most terrible experience during the long period of your incarceration. You have indicated to the world a willingness to suffer for the things you believe in. I do therefore invite you now to take advantage of the offer that has been made by the Prime Minister to release you, provided you agree to forgo violence as a method of attaining any ends, political or otherwise.”
From the contents of the letter, it was obvious to me that Lord Goodman was unaware of the true situation of my detention, which had entered its sixteenth year at the time he wrote his letter to Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and later to me. I had not the slightest doubts as to Lord Goodman’s good intentions and sincerity in wanting to help me solve my problem with the Singapore authorities by advising me to “take advantage of the offer that has been made by the Prime Minister.” Hence, I believed he would have agreed with my stand on the “offer” had he been given the true picture with regards to my arrest and detention since February 2, 1963 by Lee Kuan Yew’s regime.
First of all, I had never been accused of advocating violence as a political instrument, nor had I ever have planned to use violence for political ends. In the allegations of “facts” against me, which ostensibly was the pretext for my detention, no one had referred to violence as political means. In all the years of my incarceration, renouncing “violence as a political instrument” had never been a condition for my release.
Why then did Lee Kuan Yew wait until 1978 to say that I had “refused to renounce violence” as a political instrument? The good Lord Goodman may be excused if he felt unable or reluctant to answer this question, but Lee Kuan Yew would never ever, sincerely and honestly, give the answer because it would only expose his real political agenda for cruelly detaining me and many others like me. …”