In This Review

To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison
To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison
By Francis T. Seow
Yale University Southeast Asia Studies, 1994, 293 pp.

Francis T. Seow recounts his experiences as a government official and dissenter under the autocratic government of Lee Kuan Yew. Since the mid-1970s, Lee's regime has cracked down on dissent, meting out harsh sentences for relatively minor offenses (as Michael Fay painfully discovered last year).

After several run-ins with the government, Seow was arrested in 1988 and imprisoned. His crimes: talking to an American diplomat about running for office and representing some alleged Marxists in court. Much of the book details abuse Seow suffered, including long interrogations, sleep deprivation, and being forced to stand naked in cold drafts. After 72 days, Seow was released. He now lives in exile in Boston.

Seow's story is compelling but one-sided. His understandably vitriolic account does not distinguish Singapore from similarly authoritarian countries with much less dramatic economic growth. Moreover, most government officials and many citizens believe that the use of draconian emergency powers, which date back to the communist insurgency of the 1950s, account for Singapore's success in combating crime. For these supporters, Confucian obedience is a small price to pay for economic and political stability.