Former political prisoner Chia Thye Poh nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

Academic James Gomez reveals that his nomination of former political prisoner Chia Thye Poh for the Nobel Peace Prize has been accepted by the Norwegian Nobel Committee (Photo: Angela Low)

By: Angela Low

Chia Thye Poh, Singapore’s longest-held political prisoner, is a nominee for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking at a media conference on Saturday (3 Oct), academic James Gomez, who nominated Chia for the highly-coveted award, hailed the “inspirational” political contribution of the former Member of Parliament. His achievements were laudable in a country “where the levers of power, control and suppression are sophisticated”.

“I feel Dr Chia is worthy of consideration for the Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work and inspirational continuity through the sacrifices he made by enduring decades-long detention and restrictions. These include the psychological scars he continues to weather in silence,” Gomez said.

Chia, 74, a member of Barisan Sosialis, was detained without trial or charge for 23 years from October 1966 to May 1989, under the Internal Security Act. He was subjected to personal and political limitations for another 9 years thereafter, including solitary confinement on Sentosa Island.

In the 1960s, Chia participated in protests against the US bombings during the Vietnam War, and engaged in civil disobedience over Singapore’s independence from Malaysia. He was also accused of being a member of the Communist Party of Malaya and engaging in violent anti-government activities, both of which he denied. 

The nomination letter, sent on 27 Jan this year, has been received and registered, as informed by Olav Njølstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. There are 273 candidates for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, of which 68 are organisations.

In the letter, Gomez wrote that the government under the People’s Action Party (PAP) had “unsuccessfully tried to extract self-implicating statements from (Chia) in exchange for his release from detention.”

“However, Dr Chia’s steadfast resistance to self-incrimination throughout his detention and restrictions over 32 years is the work that is deserving of the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Gomez.

Chia was contacted through email about the nomination and has yet to respond.

When asked if there has been backlash to the nomination, Gomez said there has been “nothing negative”.

“I am not expecting Singaporeans to speak negatively of other Singaporeans on the occasion of the Nobel Peace Prize nomination,” said Gomez, 50.

Gomez, now professor for communications and associate dean for international affairs at Bangkok University, co-interviewed Chia in 1989 as a second-year National University of Singapore (NUS) undergraduate for a student newsletter.

Nomination a step to rewriting more balanced history of Singapore: Tan Jee Say

Tan Jee Say, secretary-general of Singaporeans First, who was also at the conference, said, “We want the world and, in particular, the citizens of Singapore, to know of this personal tragedy and the huge sacrifices that he and his compatriots had made on our behalf in the early pioneering years.”

“This is the dark side of SG50 that is totally ignored in the national narrative that this government has written and in the LKY myth that it has created. We look forward to the day when the balanced history will be written of our past and we hope the nomination of Dr Chia Thye Poh for the Nobel Peace Prize will open up a path of this much-needed re-writing of our history,” said Tan.

“Regardless of the outcome, the nomination of Dr Chia Thye Poh is a victory in itself.”

The recipient of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize will be unveiled on Oct 9 at 11am Central European Time by Kaci Kullmann Five, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Past laureates of the award include Malala Yousafzai, an 18-year-old Pakistani women’s rights and education activist, former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela, humanitarian nun Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr., the leader of the African-American civil rights movement.