Said Zahari on his detention, Lim Chin Siong, Communist label, and Lee Kuan Yew [Investigative Journalism]


*** The accounts and content in the article are based on a few online and printed media I found either online, or through the library, which provided personal accounts / alternative insights to our local history. I hope readers can read this article with a pinch of salt, and do your own research before forming your own perspective towards the matter since all media and accounts in general are subjective to their own views.***

Said Zahari: May 18 1928 – 12 April 2016 (88 years)

Dark Clouds at Dawn (2001) is a political memoir by Said Zahari (published in 2001) who was detained for almost 17 years (without trial), after being arrested during Operation Coldstore in 1963 -under the International Security Act (ISA) for allegedly being a communist.

(Said Zahari’s Memoir’s Dedication Page)

The book I dedicate to

my wife and children

whose sacrifices and sufferings were

thousand times greater than mine,

and to comrades and friends,

those who have died and 

those who are still fighting for

freedom, democracy and social justice 

The fight for press freedom


Said Zahari: “We wanted to ensure that Utusan Melayu would continue to be an independent national newspaper, not controlled by any political party. Our stand was that only an Utusan Melayu that was free from such control could truly serve religion, country, and all the Malay people, not just a handful in a political party. Only with a free policy could Utusan Melayu be the voice of the people, fighting for the interests of the people with sincerity, integrity and courage.”

On Lee Kuan Yew, his arrest, continued detention, and communist label…





On his friend Lim Chin Siong


Said Zahari: “Lim Chin Siong was politically destroyed by colonialist and anti-democratic forces to protect their own economic and political interests…

…Lim Chin Siong was accused by them of being a communist and a Chinese chauvinist…and yet (he was) allowed to participate in legal political activities, even to contest and win an election to become a member of the colonial legislative assembly. “


Said Zahari: “Because of serious illnesses suffered in prison, Chin Siong was briefly released in 1969, and thereafter exiled to England for ten years before he and his family..were allowed to return to Singapore in 1979… I was released after almost 16 years in prison proper and one year in exile on Pulau Ubin.”


Said Zahari: “Chin Siong was the first to help us attain jobs… indeed a kind, friendly, and trustworthy person. He was shy by nature, but a man of principle… quick to express sympathy and support for victims of exploitation and suppression, regardless of their ethnic differences.

…We totally agreed that racial issues were deliberately played up by and in the interests of the colonialists and their local collaborators.  We firmly believed that no racial conflicts, especially between Malays and Chinese in Malaya, would occur without provocation and intervention by a third party for their own vested interests.”


Said Zahari: “Various friends of Chin Siong had wanted him to write his side of the story, to put Malaysian political history of that period in proper perspective. He and I encouraged each other to write. But for health reason, he could not.” [Offbeat Perspective’s side note: Comet in Our Sky is a book on Lim Chin Siong’s significance in Singapore’s political developments in the decade preceding, which contains tributes by his friends and colleagues in Singapore and Malaysia.]



Said Zahari: “Lim Chin Siong, my good friend and comrade passed away on February 5, 1996… Chin Siong may have died, but his spirit lives on.

…Lim Chin Siong and his Chinese educated friends had a resolution to make Malay.. the national language of communication.” [Side note by Offbeat Perspectives: If this had indeed happened, Singapore might have evolved into a very different direction. Our current english language ability has helped connect us to the broader world in many ways.]

On Lee Kuan Yew’s tears when the former announced Singapore’s separation with Malaysia 



Being threatened with “death” by the Special Branch


Said Zahari: I was not interested at all in his offer of release in return for selling my soul.”

Ahmad  Khan  – Assistant director of the Special Branch: “If you choose to be stubborn and refuse to co-operate, you will bear the consequences… You can even get killed you know? We can transfer you from this place of detention to another place in the middle of the night. In the street, we could push you from behind to make it appear as though you are trying to escape. We would then shoot you from behind.”

Some mystery in regards to why Said Zahari’s detention had remained?


Being asked to forgo violence as a political tool in return for his release…



 Said Zahari: “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 all the years of my incarceration, renouncing “violence as a political Instrument” had never been a condition for my release”. Why did Lee Kuan Yew wait until 1978 to say that I had “refused to renounce violence” as a political instrument?” 

Was Said Zahari indeed a Communist?


Said Zahari: “I hope this memoir can help clear this personal mess, brought about by the insinuations and accusations that I was a “communist”. I hope that subsequently who I really am will be known to all.”

Picked out a few Poems written by Said Zahari during his detention 




Quotes taken from the book Dissent Vices: Personalities in Singapore’s Political History (2014),


Said Zahari said he was not physically abused:

“I was not slapped like some of the other detainees. They did not touch me. But the mental torture was even more damaging. ( – cross reference)

In the twilight of his life, the former leftist activist says he bear no ill will toward Singapore:

“I don’t have this sense of vengeance or feel bitter about what happened to me. Singapore is my country, I love it. I was born and raised in Singapore. In my heart of hearts, Singapore and Malaysia are still one … at least culturally.” (Taipei Times – cross reference)

Said also wants young Singaporeans to get another perspective on the often tumultuous events that shaped the road to independence in 1964 and Singapore’s first decades of nationhood under the ruling PAP:

“I only wish that it [Singapore] will become a more open society.” (SDP – cross reference)

When he was arrested, his wife Salamah was pregnant…while his other three children… were six, five, and three respectively… his wife passed away in December 2004. 

  Zahari’s 17 (2006)

 A 49 minutes film by Martyn See showing an interview with a former newspaper editor Said Zahari sharing on his 17 years as a political detainee in Singapore.

Banned: In 2007

The film was gazetted by the Minister as a prohibited film under Section 35 (1) of the Films Act as he viewed that it’s possession or distribution would be contrary to the public interest. It was deemed as giving a distorted and misleading portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1963 and is an attempt to exculpate himself from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore.

The Government will not allow people who had posed a security threat to the country in the past, to exploit the use of film to purvey a false and distorted portrayal of their past actions and detention by the Government. The film could undermine public confidence in the Government.

Response after Martyn See’s appeal:

We have given your request due consideration. The prohibition stands as the film gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) and is an attempt to exculpate him from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore.

The film was assessed in its entirety, and every part of the film should be taken in the context of the entire film which presents a distorted portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the ISA.

Research Links:

5 Local Films Banned In Singapore That The Government Does Not Want You To See 

Zahari’s 17 Years remains banned : MICA

Martyn See writes to Minister on Zahari’s 17 Years

“Zahari 17 Years” continues to be banned in S’pore – BFC 

Chia Thye Poh‘s account in the book – to be Free Stories from Asia’s Struggle Against Oppression (1998), where he shared about Lim Chin Siong:


“While imprisoned, he came close to taking his life. In 1965 when he was at Singapore General Hospital, Lim hanged himself from a pipe in the toilet. He was discovered just in time, and rescued. After he recovered, he was sent back to prison. Four years later, he penned an abject capitulation to Lee Kuan Yew and told the Prime Minister that he had ‘finally come to the conclusion to give up politics for good’, and repudiated the ‘international communist movement’. With that, Lim was given a one-way ticket to UK…”

In 1995 (decades after his release), he was silent as we ate our dinner at a friend’s house…At the end of the evening, just as we were about to take our leave, Lim suddenly turned to me and, in a low rasping voice, uttered his first words: “Don’t give up.”


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Function 8 (Singapore): An initiative by a group of citizens who believe that there is a need to facilitate the sharing of social, political and economic experiences of those who had, or are eager to contribute to society through reflection and civic discussion.


Think Centre (Singapore): Aims to critically examine issues related to political development, democracy, rule of law, human rights and civil society. It’s activities include research, publishing, organising events and networking.

Other Offbeat Perspective’s Articles on Political History 


Interview with Jason Soo, Director of 1987: Untracing The Conspiracy on the Marxist Conspiracy, and ISA


Xperimental Pathways: (Sean Francis Han) Radical, Intellectual, Activist.


Lim Hock Siew: A life without conviction, without idealism, is a mere meaningless existence.


Investigative Journalism: Minister Tan Chuan Jin, ISA, Marxist Conspiracy, Civil Society, Governmental Fundings (*In the bottom page of this article link – are relevant Operation Coldstore/Spectrum articles and videos)


[Investigative Journalism] 6 Political Videos & Singapore’s Censorship


Expressive Piece: What is worse than physical torture? [Political activists / detainees]

Article for reading:

 1994 – 2015: A Chronology of Authoritarian Rule in Singapore

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Book Cover credit: Amazon


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