Chia Thye Poh
Chia Thye Poh was the longest-serving political prisoner
Political prisoner
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a political prisoner is ‘someone who is in prison because they have opposed or criticized the government of their own country’....

 in the history of Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

 and perhaps the longest-serving prisoner of conscience of the 20th century, if not one of its longest-serving political prisoners.

Detained under the Internal Security Act
Internal Security Act (Singapore)
The Internal Security Act of Singapore is a law that allows the Singapore government to investigate security threats like international terrorism, foreign subversion, espionage and acts of violence or hatred using race or religion...

 of Singapore for allegedly conducting pro-communist activities against the government, he was imprisoned for 23 years without charge
An indictment , in the common-law legal system, is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that maintain the concept of felonies, the serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that lack the concept of felonies often use that of an indictable offence—an...

 or trial
Trial (law)
In law, a trial is when parties to a dispute come together to present information in a tribunal, a formal setting with the authority to adjudicate claims or disputes. One form of tribunal is a court...

 and subsequently placed under conditions of house arrest
House arrest
In justice and law, house arrest is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to his or her residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all...

 for another nine years — in which he was first confined to the island of Sentosa
Sentosa, which translates to peace and tranquility in Malay , is a popular island resort in Singapore, visited by some five million people a year...

 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
Members of the Singapore Parliament
The following is a historical list of members for the current and past ten Parliaments of Singapore:-See also:*1st Parliament of Singapore*2nd Parliament of Singapore*3rd Parliament of Singapore*4th Parliament of Singapore*5th Parliament of Singapore...

. Subsequent to it, he has been a doctoral
A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder to teach in a specific field, A doctorate is an academic degree or professional degree that in most countries refers to a class of degrees which qualify the holder...

 student and an interpreter
Language interpretation is the facilitating of oral or sign-language communication, either simultaneously or consecutively, between users of different languages...


He traveled to Germany in 1997, and to the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 at least as recently as 2000. The supervision of his PhD
PHD may refer to:*Ph.D., a doctorate of philosophy*Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*PHD finger, a protein sequence*PHD Mountain Software, an outdoor clothing and equipment company*PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

A dissertation or thesis is a document submitted in support of candidature for an academic degree or professional qualification presenting the author's research and findings...

 in development economics
Development economics
Development Economics is a branch of economics which deals with economic aspects of the development process in low-income countries. Its focus is not only on methods of promoting economic growth and structural change but also on improving the potential for the mass of the population, for example,...

 was completed in 2006.

Early life

He read physics at Nanyang University
Nanyang University
Nanyang University was a university in Singapore from 1956 to 1980. During its existence, it was Singapore's only Chinese language post-secondary institution...

 and upon graduating he worked briefly as a secondary teacher and then as a graduate assistant
Graduate assistant
A graduate assistant is a position who serves in a support role at a university, usually while completing post-graduate education. The individual typically assists professors or with instructional responsibilities as teaching assistants, coaches with an athletic team, or university department...

 at his alma mater
Alma mater
Alma mater , pronounced ), was used in ancient Rome as a title for various mother goddesses, especially Ceres or Cybele, and in Christianity for the Virgin Mary.-General term:...


Political activism

As a member of the Barisan Sosialis
Barisan Sosialis
The Barisan Sosialis is a former Singaporean left-wing political party formed in 1961, by left-wing members of the People's Action Party and led by Dr Lee Siew Choh and Lim Chin Siong.-Formation:...

 he was elected member of Parliament for Jurong Constituency
Jurong Group Representation Constituency
Jurong Group Representation Constituency is a five-member Group Representation Constituency located in the western area of Singapore. The GRC consists a large section of Jurong, sections of Bukit Batok and Upper Bukit Timah...

 in 1963, being nominated as the candidate in replacement of a colleague who had been arrested by the government of Singapore. Concurrent with his holding of parliamentary 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
Perak , one of the 13 states of Malaysia, is the second largest state in the Peninsular Malaysia bordering Kedah and Yala Province of Thailand to the north, Penang to the northwest, Kelantan and Pahang to the east, Selangor the Strait of Malacca to the south and west.Perak means silver in Malay...

 division of the Labour Party of Malaysia on 24 April 1966.
In July 1966, he was convicted for publishing a "seditious article"
In law, sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent to lawful authority. Sedition may include any...

 in the Barisan's Chinese-language newspaper In the same month, he was arrested with 25 others and charged with unlawful assembly
Unlawful assembly
Unlawful assembly is a legal term to describe a group of people with the mutual intent of deliberate disturbance of the peace. If the group are about to start the act of disturbance, it is termed a rout; if the disturbance is commenced, it is then termed a riot.- Section 144 :Section 144 is a...

 for his participation in a demonstration against United States involvement in the Vietnam War that resulted in open confrontation with police. It has been noted that he was active among peace campaigners calling for an end to the U.S. bombing of Indochina
The Indochinese peninsula, is a region in Southeast Asia. It lies roughly southwest of China, and east of India. The name has its origins in the French, Indochine, as a combination of the names of "China" and "India", and was adopted when French colonizers in Vietnam began expanding their territory...

 during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 in the 1960s.

In early October 1966, he and eight other Barisan Sosialis MPs boycott
A boycott is an act of voluntarily abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with a person, organization, or country as an expression of protest, usually for political reasons...

ed the Parliament over the decision by the ruling People's Action Party
People's Action Party
The People's Action Party is the leading political party in Singapore. It has been the city-state's ruling political party since 1959....

 (PAP) to split from Malaysia. This was part of the Barisan's strategy to protest "undemocratic acts" of the Government, by carrying their struggle against the PAP outside of Parliament. He declared that the means of the struggle would be "street demonstrations
Demonstration (people)
A demonstration or street protest is action by a mass group or collection of groups of people in favor of a political or other cause; it normally consists of walking in a mass march formation and either beginning with or meeting at a designated endpoint, or rally, to hear speakers.Actions such as...

, protest meetings, strike
Strike action
Strike action, also called labour strike, on strike, greve , or simply strike, is a work stoppage caused by the mass refusal of employees to work. A strike usually takes place in response to employee grievances. Strikes became important during the industrial revolution, when mass labour became...


On 8 October 1966, he led an illegal protest march of 30 supporters to Parliament House
Old Parliament House, Singapore
The Old Parliament House, now known as the Arts House at the Old Parliament, is a building in Singapore. It is currently a multi-disciplinary arts venue which plays host to art exhibitions and concerts. The building was formerly home to the Parliament of Singapore from 1965 to 1999, when it moved...

 and handed a letter to the Clerk of the House demanding a general election
General election
In a parliamentary political system, a general election is an election in which all or most members of a given political body are chosen. The term is usually used to refer to elections held for a nation's primary legislative body, as distinguished from by-elections and local elections.The term...

 be held under eight named conditions, with the release of all political detainees and the revocation of all "undemocratic" laws.

Arrest and imprisonment

On 29 October 1966, he and 22 other Barisan Sosialis leaders were arrested pursuant to powers afforded by the Internal Security Act
Internal Security Act (Singapore)
The Internal Security Act of Singapore is a law that allows the Singapore government to investigate security threats like international terrorism, foreign subversion, espionage and acts of violence or hatred using race or religion...

. 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
Operation Coldstore
Operation Coldstore was a security operation launched in Singapore on 2 February 1963 in which at least 111 anti-government left-wing activists were arrested and detained, including key members of the opposition political party Barisan Sosialis...

 in 1963. Chia was specifically detained for his role in organising and leading the 8 October street procession.

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). 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." Thus, in time, and without ever being the subject of an indictment
An indictment , in the common-law legal system, is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime. In jurisdictions that maintain the concept of felonies, the serious criminal offence is a felony; jurisdictions that lack the concept of felonies often use that of an indictable offence—an...

 or a criminal trial, he became one of the longest serving political prisoners in the world - with some consequent restrictions upon his civil rights
Civil rights
Civil and political rights are a class of rights that protect individuals' freedom from unwarranted infringement by governments and private organizations, and ensure one's ability to participate in the civil and political life of the state without discrimination or repression.Civil rights include...

 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
Nelson Mandela
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, and was the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election. Before his presidency, Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist, and the leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing...

, who was imprisoned for a total period longer than 27 years subsequent to his arrest, trial and convictions for treason
In law, treason is the crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's sovereign or nation. Historically, treason also covered the murder of specific social superiors, such as the murder of a husband by his wife. Treason against the king was known as high treason and treason against a...

, sabotage
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is...

 and other political crimes.

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. 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.

During his incarceration, he spent substantial time in solitary confinement
Solitary confinement
Solitary confinement is a special form of imprisonment in which a prisoner is isolated from any human contact, though often with the exception of members of prison staff. It is sometimes employed as a form of punishment beyond incarceration for a prisoner, and has been cited as an additional...

 at the Whitley Road Detention Centre. In late 1978, Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

 confirmed that he was detained at the Moon Crescent Detention Centre located within the grounds of Changi Prison
Changi Prison
Changi Prison is a prison located in Changi in the eastern part of Singapore.-First prison and POW camp:...


In 1982, he was moved out of prison and into a series of government halfway house
Halfway house
The purpose of a halfway house, also called a recovery house or sober house, is generally to allow people to begin the process of reintegration with society, while still providing monitoring and support; this is generally believed to reduce the risk of recidivism or relapse when compared to a...


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
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror, especially as a means of coercion. In the international community, however, terrorism has no universally agreed, legally binding, criminal law definition...


Confinement on Sentosa

On 17 May 1989, he was released from 23 years of imprisonment without charge or trial on the mainland, and instead confined
House arrest
In justice and law, house arrest is a measure by which a person is confined by the authorities to his or her residence. Travel is usually restricted, if allowed at all...

 to a one-room guardhouse on Sentosa
Sentosa, which translates to peace and tranquility in Malay , is a popular island resort in Singapore, visited by some five million people a year...

 where he was required to pay the rent
Renting is an agreement where a payment is made for the temporary use of a good, service or property owned by another. A gross lease is when the tenant pays a flat rental amount and the landlord pays for all property charges regularly incurred by the ownership from landowners...

 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
Fort Siloso
Fort Siloso is the sole restored coastal gun battery from the twelve such batteries which made up "Fortress Singapore" at the start of World War II...

 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" from talking to the media without official permission. Instead, he negotiated an arrangement where he worked as a freelance translator
Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source-language text by means of an equivalent target-language text. Whereas interpreting undoubtedly antedates writing, translation began only after the appearance of written literature; there exist partial translations of the Sumerian Epic of...

 for the Sentosa Development Corporation
Sentosa Development Corporation
Sentosa Development Corporation is a statutory board in Singapore, under the purview of the Ministry of Trade and Industry....

. About that time he made the following remarks about the circumstances of his continuing detention and the culture of politics in Singapore in general:

Final release

In 1990, there was some relaxation of the restrictions applying to him. Chia has stated his belief that representations by Chancellor Helmut Kohl
Helmut Kohl
Helmut Josef Michael Kohl is a German conservative politician and statesman. He was Chancellor of Germany from 1982 to 1998 and the chairman of the Christian Democratic Union from 1973 to 1998...

 of West Germany
West Germany
West Germany is the common English, but not official, name for the Federal Republic of Germany or FRG in the period between its creation in May 1949 to German reunification on 3 October 1990....

 in the mid-1980s played some part in the Singaporean government's decision to soften its stance in regard to him.

In 1992, he was allowed to return to the mainland and visit the home of his parents, 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
Politics of Germany
The Federal Republic of Germany is a federal parliamentary republic, based on representative democracy. The Chancellor is the head of government, while the President of Germany is the head of state, which is a ceremonial role but with substantial reserve powers.Executive power is vested in the...

 for politically persecuted
Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another group. The most common forms are religious persecution, ethnic persecution, and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms. The inflicting of suffering, harassment, isolation,...

 persons. He subsequently spent a year in Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

 studying economics
Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. The term economics comes from the Ancient Greek from + , hence "rules of the house"...

, politics
Politics is a process by which groups of people make collective decisions. The term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs, including behavior within civil governments, but also applies to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the...

, and German language
German language
German is a West Germanic language, related to and classified alongside English and Dutch. With an estimated 90 – 98 million native speakers, German is one of the world's major languages and is the most widely-spoken first language in the European Union....

. He was also permitted to change his address and to seek employment without prior permission of the director of Singapore's Internal Security Department
Internal Security Department
The Internal Security Department is a domestic intelligence agency of the Ministry of Home Affairs of Singapore. It was formerly part of the Ministry of Interior and Defence until it was split on 11 August 1970...


In August 1998, he underwent a prostate
The prostate is a compound tubuloalveolar exocrine gland of the male reproductive system in most mammals....

 operation in Singapore.

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

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

Since release

In late 2000, he was pursuing a Master's degree
Master's degree
A master's is an academic degree granted to individuals who have undergone study demonstrating a mastery or high-order overview of a specific field of study or area of professional practice...

 in development studies
Development studies
Development studies is a multidisciplinary branch of social science which addresses issues of concern to developing countries. It has historically placed a particular focus on issues related to social and economic development, and its relevance may therefore extend to communities and regions...

 at the Institute of Social Studies
Institute of Social Studies
The International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam in The Hague is a unique, independent and international graduate school in the social sciences...

 in The Hague
The Hague
The Hague is the capital city of the province of South Holland in the Netherlands. With a population of 500,000 inhabitants , it is the third largest city of the Netherlands, after Amsterdam and Rotterdam...

 and expected to complete those studies and return to Singapore in December of that year.

In 2006 the supervision of his PhD thesis through the Institute was completed.

A March 2008 version of his staff profile at the ISS describes his position as "Project assistant to the project MPA
Master of Public Administration
The Master of Public Administration is a professional post-graduate degree in Public Administration. The MPA program prepares individuals to serve as managers in the executive arm of local, state/provincial, and federal/national government, and increasingly in nongovernmental organization and...

 in Governance
Governance is the act of governing. It relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. It consists of either a separate process or part of management or leadership processes...

, Surinam".


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

External links

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