Thursday, 28 January 2016

A Tribute To The Late Francis Seow

The Singapore Democratic Party is deeply saddened by the news of the passing of Mr Francis Seow.

Mr Seow had an illustrious 16-year career in the Singapore Legal Service, culminating in becoming Singapore's solicitor-general from 1969 to 1971.

He was elected president of the Law Society in 1986. Under his leadership, the Law Society undertook a different path from his predecessors. It examined and commented on legislation that the government passed without any meaningful parliamentary debate or consultative process.

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The passing of a Titan

The career of Francis Seow as a legal counsel of the Singapore Government in the 1950′s and 60′s was one of the most dramatic and sensational in the manner in which he prosecuted whether in the criminal court or a Commission of Inquiry. The late David Marshall was a class of his own as a defence lawyer and in a similar vein Francis Seow was a class of his own as a Government prosecutor. The late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew regarded Francis Seow as an inimitable gem and held him in high respect.

Politically PM Lee Kuan Yew was greatly troubled by the brazen pro-communist activities of Chinese school students who were encouraged and supported, both politically and financially,in their nefarious acts by none other than the President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC). Lee was so impressed with the unique talent of Francis Seow that he appointed him the Government inquisitor to expose the complicity of the SCCC president in a Commission of Inquiry in the notorious Secondary IV examination manipulation by Chinese school students in 1963 prior to Singapore’s entry into Malaysia. Francis Seow, with his exceptional prosecutor’s skill, had very dramatically and convincingly reduced the SCCC president to a physical wreck with all his secret dealings with the Chinese school students exposed thoroughly.

And Lee Kuan Yew thus scored a political victory over the SCCC president. Francis Seow was awarded with a gold medal.

related: A tribute to former Solicitor-General Francis Seow

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Francis Seow, Singapore's former solicitor general and perhaps, in his short career as an opposition politician, one of the most illustrious, after the late JB Jeyaretnam in his day, passed away on 21st January this year, according to Dr Chee Soon Juan.

In the 1980s, the PAP was on the electoral slide. It used to garner on average 75% of the national vote in the 1970s. However, the 1980s proved to be a new period in Singapore politics. JB Jeyaretnam won Anson in a by election. In the following general election, he successfully defended his seat and another opposition politician, Chiam See Tong, was elected. The highs of the 75% victory margins plummeted into the 60s range. The PAP's electoral results went from bad to worse.

By the 1988 general election, it secured only 63% of the popular vote, an all time low since independence, at that point in time. By the 1991 general election, the number of votes the PAP managed to win was an all time low of 61%.

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Singapore’s former Solicitor-General Francis Seow died in exile

Singapore’s former Solicitor-General Francis Seow has died at the age of 88 today (Jan 21) while in exile in Boston, USA. The news of his death was announced by his friend, opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan.

Francis Seow served as Singapore’s Solicitor-General from 1969 to 1971, and was awarded Public Administration (Gold) Medal while serving under the former dictator Lee Kuan Yew. He became Law President in 1986 and represented detainees who were wrongly-accused by the Singapore government for a trumped-up operation called Marxist Conspiracy in 1987. As a result, he himself was detained in 1988 for 72 days by Lee Kuan Yew’s abuse of the Internal Security Act.

Francis Seow later joined the Workers’ Party and almost win the election with a vote count of 49.11% in Eunos GRC. Lee Kuan Yew’s PAP government then charged Francis Seow for tax evasion, which the latter then left for America on medical grounds while awaiting trial.

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Francis T Seow: Loyal civil Servant turned most articulate dissident

Francis T Seow was one the best known public prosecutors in the history of Singapore. Born in 1928, he entered the Legal Service in 1956 and rose to the position of Solicitor General in 1969. During his time in service, he was a very successful prosecutor. Meticulous and thorough in his work, eloquent, polite yet stinging in court, he was much feared by his opponents.

In his own words, he had a reputation of a “formidable and feared adversary.” He would leave no stone unturned. He was prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s blue eyed boy and enjoyed the limelight of successful prosecutions of almost all important criminal cases. He handled public inquiries with superb skill. And so it must have been a great relief to lawyers when he resigned from legal service in 1971 to enter private practice. He had originally intended to partner the most successful criminal lawyer, David Marshall.

But the plan fell through when he was called to meet Lee Kuan Yew who called him up when he heard of his intention. Lee warned that “Marshall and he were on a collision course”  and by “joining Marshall, he was in the way, in the line of fire, and  that he did not wish me to be hurt in that inevitable collision”. One can only imagine the great benefit to society if Lee Kuan Yew had not given his unsolicited and calculated advice to Francis Seow.

Francis Seow struck fear into Lee Kuan Yew
Former Solicitor-General, Francis Seow dies at the age of 88

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ST’s announcement of Francis Seow’s death – Unfair commentary presented as factual news

There are different categorisations of news content and a distinct separation between what constitutes news reporting and what makes up a commentary. As the label speaks for itself, news reporting is simply the unbiased provision of information while the latter comprises observations of a particular writer or publication. What is disturbing is when a particular article displays insidious opinion leanings while purporting to be a factual account of an event.

The reporting on the passing of former Solicitor-General, Francis Seow is an excellent example of such prejudices being conveyed as news reporting when it is clear that the writer concerned is expressing a viewpoint. While this may be unconscious, the delineation between news and commentary must be manifestly undiluted because we do not want the public to be clandestinely duped and influenced by what they think is news when it really is just someone else’s point of view.

Take the Straits Times’ report on the death of Seow for instance (“Francis Seow, former solicitor-general and opposition politician, dies in Boston aged 88” dated 22 Jan 2016, by Walter Sim and Rachel Au-Yong). The entire report, whether deliberate or not was dripping with the writers’ standpoint while being published as news!

related: Ex-ISD Director: Lee Kuan Yew was afraid of Francis Seow

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Francis Seow Passes On And Events Of A Different Age Are Remembered

Seow had a distinguished career in the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC). As a rising star there he was assigned a number of difficult cases. Of note, he was to be the lead prosecutor in the sensational trial of Sunny Ang.
Ang was accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Jenny Cheok, during a diving trip near Sisters’ Island in August 1963. The motivation for the crime, as the prosecution contended, was the insurance policies Ang had taken out on his girlfriend just months earlier.
Seow’s prosecutorial skills were evident before the jury. Singapore still had jury trials in the 1960s). He secured a conviction inspite of the fact that the prosecution’s case was based solely on circumstantial evidence.
Remembering Francis Seow

I MANAGED to dig up an article about former Solicitor-General Francis Seow that I wrote 20 years ago. It was headlined Not a Tartar, just a ghost from the past. The reference to Tartar was taken from the title of his book, To Catch a Tartar: A dissident in Lee Kuan Yew’s prison. (Please don’t ask me how I got hold of the book, which is not sold here. And no, I don’t have it. I lent it out and never got it back.)

I reported on the man, who died on Thursday aged 88, in the late 80s while he was taking on the People’s Action Party, and again, when then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong went to receive an honorary degree from Williams College in Massachusetts. I wanted to re-publish my article but decided not to because of, ah, copyright considerations.

Not many people remember the political dissident (that’s how MSM describes him) who had fired up the imaginations of a whole swathe of Singaporeans in the mid to late 80s. My class of undergraduates pointed out to me that they weren’t even alive then. It is a pity that we only know about people who had left a mark on society only when they die. Because, whatever your political inclinations, he was a remarkable man. He was one of that rare breed in the days when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was still Prime Minister: An Establishment member who became publicly anti-Establishment.

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Francis Seow, former Singapore opposition politician, dies in Boston aged 88

According to The Straits Times report, Seow had been living in the United States since 1988 after fleeing Singapore. This was after he was accused of tax evasion and summoned to appear in court.

In May 1988, Seow, who was also a former president of the Law Society, was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act for 72 days in connection with a case involving American diplomat Hank Hendrickson.

The envoy was accused of interference in Singapore politics. He cultivated and advised Seow to establish a more effective opposition in Parliament and to lead a team of lawyers to contest in the general election.

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Francis Seow warned of Singtel spying on Singaporeans, 15 years later such accusations still persist

Singapore will be undergoing a periodic review of her human rights records on 27 Jan 2016. Several local Non-Government Organisations and international human rights agencies have raised a number of issues to the United Nations’ Office of the High Commission for Human Rights.

One of the stakeholders who submitted the report to this process is the human rights “watchdog” organisation focused on privacy intrusions by government and businesses, Privacy International (PI).

In it’s Report PI highlighted a number areas of concerns about how various spy tools are used to monitor users’ interactions on various applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Mail, and Skype. The State also has access to surveillance programmes with the ability to observe and control an individual’s computer or mobile device, the Report said.

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Top lawyers, law don recall late Francis Seow

He was the lawyer every young lawyer aspired to be.

Defence counsel Ramesh Tiwary, 52, was only a law student when he first watched Mr Francis Seow in action.

"I watched him in court for a few times, as a lawyer doing criminal work. He was inspiring," he told The New Paper.

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Francis Seow: A brilliant lawyer but the leader that never was

On 21 Jan 2016 we say our last goodbye to a political icon of the 60s to 80s, Francis Seow. Once regarded as the most brilliant lawyer for the Singapore government and later a formidable political opposition, what really fulled his actions? Was it his unflinching passion for democracy and freedom? Was he driven to desperation by the Singapore government? Or something else?

When Francis Seow was working for the Government for over 10 years as senior counsel and later as Solicitor-General, and enjoyed all the prestige and privileges that came with his office, he had no complaints against the Government and was in fact very supportive of its various actions, including those against the communists and their supporters.

Seow played a crucial role in exposing the communists in Singapore and contributed to the defeat of communist united front leader Lim Chin Siong and his pro-communist Barisan Sosialis at the September 1962 Referendum on merger with Malaysia.

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5 things about Francis Seow
  • He led the prosecution in 1965 in a high-profile case against one-time Grand Prix driver Sunny Ang, who was accused of killing his barmaid girlfriend Jenny Cheok at sea to collect the insurance money. Ang was sentenced to hang for murder. It marked the first time the prosecution had won a case that was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Miss Cheok's body was never found.
  • In 1985, as a private lawyer, he acted for Catherine Tan Mui Choo,in her unsuccessful appeal against her death sentence. She was the wife and of self-styled medium Adrian Lim and one of his accomplices in the Toa Payoh ritual murders. Tan, Lim, and Hoe Kah Hong, who was Lim's live-in mistress, were hanged in 1988 for killing two children - a girl, nine, and a boy, 10.
  • He was dressed in a double-breasted suit while campaigning as a Workers' Party candidate at the 1988 General Election. Despite speaking in a posh accent and using flowery sentences, he was said to have kept the working-class crowd wanting more. His team narrowly lost Eunos GRC, winning 49.1 per cent of the vote.
  • He was one of the 16 people arrested and detained under the Internal Security Act in 1987 for their alleged involvement in a Marxist conspiracy against the Government.
  • His ex-wife, Rauni Marjatta Kivilaakso, was Finnish. They were married at the Swedish Protestant Church in London in 1953. Mr Seow filed for and got a divorce in 1987, citing they had been living apart for four years. Madam Kivilaakso died in 1988 after a long battle with cancer.
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Full Coverage:
Francis Seow struck fear into Lee Kuan Yew
Francis Seow Life Story
Top lawyers remember former Solicitor-General Francis Seow
Francis T Seow: Loyal civil Servant turned most articulate dissident
Ex-solicitor-general Francis Seow dies in Boston, aged 88
Ex-ISD Director: Lee Kuan Yew was afraid of Francis Seow
Top lawyers, law don recall late Francis Seow
ST's announce Francis Seow's death - Unfair commentary presented as factual news
Francis Seow, former solicitor-general & opposition politician, dies in Boston aged 88
Francis Seow dies in Boston aged 88
Francis Seow, former Singapore opposition politician, dies in Boston aged 88
Transcript of Francis Seow's ST interview