In 1987, 22 people were arrested by Singapore’s Internal Security Department in a security exercise known as Operation Spectrum. Accused of being involved in a Marxist conspiracy “to overthrow the Government and establish a communist state”, many of the detainees were tortured during interrogation, and most were coerced into making public confessions.
Up till today, the government has insisted on the existence of the alleged Marxist conspiracy, and asserted that no torture or coercion ever took place. Except for the public confessions - whose validity remains suspect, to say the least - no evidence of the conspiracy has ever surfaced. Instead, the detainees were condemned as subversives in the absence of an open trial, labeled as “termites” and “cancer cells” among other derisive names, and put finally, into the wholly undifferentiated category of convicted “criminals, anti-social elements, child molesters, rapists, communists or communist-types” [Singapore Parliament Reports, 29th July 1987].
While brief accounts of several ex-detainees are now available in online interviews and in several books, the whole affair remains unknown or worst, misconstrued by a largely uninformed public. The purpose of this documentary is therefore to examine Operation Spectrum from the vantage of the present, and to allow the ex-detainees to tell their own side of the story, using the very same audiovisual medium through which they had been vilified in 1987.
What distinguishes this project from other documentaries is that it does not claim to speak for or in the name of the ex-detainees. Rather, through a unique methodology of multiple feedback sessions [see Methodology], we ensure that participants are fully engaged in the making of the film. This is essential because in 1987, silencing the voices of the detainees meant not only preventing them from speech, but rather, forcing them to speak, in public confessions and statutory declarations. Hence, our documentary seeks to transform the unequal hierarchy between interrogators and interrogated, a hierarchy that makes possible the existence of something monstrous like forced (and false) confessions.
From the vantage of the present, the repercussions of Operation Spectrum extend beyond the effects of torture and of detention without trial for the ex-detainees. It extends even beyond such effects on the ex-detainee’s family, friends, and colleagues. For some ex-detainees and other implicated persons, Operation Spectrum meant continued exile and unforeseen emigration. For an entire generation in Singapore society, Operation Spectrum meant the near-paralysis of civil participation. This is a paralysis from which many have only half-emerged, while for those who are too young to remember or to know, they operate today in a society artificially impaired in its development, and in a world in which the threat of detention without trial is never far away.
This documentary is therefore dedicated to the possibility of a different world.
Making a film of this sort means that the project will not only receive no public funding in Singapore, but will also put the livelihood of the filmmaker at great risk. However, we believe, as Pierre Trudeau once did, that
“When man is abused unjustly by any form of authority, all men are responsible, for it is they who by their
silence, permit and condone such oppression."
We therefore appeal for your help in the funding that will make this film possible.