“Free yourself from the prison of wealth and power that keeps you from cherishing that most precious of life’s qualities – humanity,” writes Chee Soon Juan in an open letter to Lee Kuan Yew, who is mourning the passing of his wife, Kwa Geok Choo.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew
Dear Mr Lee,
As you grieve over the loss of Mdm Kwa Geok Choo, many Singaporeans grieve with you. Everytime someone dear to us passes away, the pain is deep. Losing a loved one is the cruelest act that life can inflict on humans.
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Even as you mourn the loss of Mdm Kwa, I am certain that you think of the happier moments that the both of you shared and that you, of all the people in this world, were the one to have had the pleasure of spending a lifetime with her. That, at least, is to be celebrated.
But while you had Mdm Kwa on whom you cultivated your affection, there were others who were deprived of that very same joy. They were not separated from their loved ones by that surly grasp of death, but by political power with which you wielded, and wielded so ruthlessly and unjustly.
You had Mr Chia Thye Poh locked up for most of his adult life. He was incarcerated when he was only 25 and regained his freedom only when he turned 57. Even Nelson Mandela spent less years under detention. The best years of Mr Chia’s life were so inhumanely taken away. He had a girlfriend who could not wait for him and who left him when he was still in prison.
Dr Lim Hock Siew married Dr Beatrice Chia. When I met them recently, I saw the love – unspoken but abiding – that they had for each other despite the fact that you had kept them apart for 20 years.
Then there is Mr Said Zahari whom you also imprisoned for years, 17 years to be exact. He spoke lovingly of his late wife, Salamah, whom he adored. She faithfully and lovingly tended home while waiting for her soulmate to return and to hold her and to talk with her. She struggled with their four children, running a foodstall to eke out a living while Said languished in prison. Their children often had no money to go to school.
To this day, he asks for God’s forgiveness for breaking the oath he made with Salamah to be together when they married each other. When she died in 2004, his heart must have broken into a thousand pieces, just like yours is breaking into a thousand pieces.
While you loved your wife, they loved theirs too.
There are scores of others who cannot be reunited with their families because you have made it so. Ms Tang Fong Har, who was detained in 1987 and who subsequently fled to Hong Kong, has been wanting to return to Singapore to see her ailing mother. But she cannot because there is still the threat of her being re-arrested if she returns.
Others like Mr Tang Liang Hong are also separated from their families because they cannot return to Singapore without facing incarceration.
I, too, have family. My wife wishes for me to return to Taiwan with her to be with her family. I cannot fulfill that obligation because you have made it so. I did go to Taiwan last year, but only to attend my father-in-law’s funeral. He had asked about me before he died but by the time I got to his bedside after I managed to get the Official Assignee’s approval to leave the country, he had lost consciousness. I never got to say goodbye.
It pains me to think that the only time I can be with my wife and children in Taiwan is when someone in the family dies.
You have taken away much of what I have but despite all that you have done to me and mine, I bear you no ill-will. As I said to you during our trial in 2008, you are an intelligent man, I only hope that you will become a wise one. I meant it then and I mean it now. Love and the relationships we have with family and friends are what matter most. Riches and power mean little when those dearest to us leave us.
I extend to you my deepest sympathies on the demise of Mdm Kwa. I want to express my condolence in the sincerest manner I know how. But while I commiserate with you on your loss, I would be remiss if I did not take this opportuinity to tell you, if you don’t already know, how much pain you have inflicted on your political opponents and whose families you have torn apart, the same kind of pain that you presently feel.
In the remaining time while you still walk this earth with us, turn from your ways. Free yourself from the prison of wealth and power that keeps you from cherishing that most precious of life’s qualities – humanity. It is still not too late.
Chee Soon Juan
Chee Soon Juan is secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party
This open letter first appeared on Singapore Democrats