To Be Free: Stories From Asia's Struggle Against
by Chee Soon Juan, with an Introduction by Martin Lee
(Monash Asia Institute, Paperback, 392 pages, A$24.95)
TO BE FREE tells the stories of some of Asia's most significant political activists and political prisoners. These include Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi, South Korea's President Kim Dae Jung, the Philippines' assassinated presidential aspirant Benigno Aquino, Indonesia's internationally acclaimed author Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Taiwan's parliamentarian Shih Ming-teh and the 'grandfather of Singapore's political prisoners', Chia Thye Poh.
Each account explores the corruption of power and how governments can prey on their citizens. Many of these stories are disturbing, exposing in graphic detail the indignities and injustices which prevail throughout Asia.
These dissidents fought no less fearlessly than Nelson Mandela; in fact, some of these battles have been even more bitter. But because theirs was an Asian to Asian struggle, their stories have not triggered the raw emotion, and together with it the publicity, that comes in a White-oppress-Black struggle.
Despite the unremitting bleakness, human courage shines through in this book. Each protagonist overcomes challenges, some by succeeding in spite of government oppression, others by simply refusing to be oppressed. In particular, this book refutes the idea that 'Asian values' limit human rights. Rather, these stories show that the fight against oppression is universal.
As the Secretary General of the Singapore Democratic Party, Chee Soon Juan has himself been persecuted by the Singaporean government. This book is, then, a testament to the author's own fight against oppression.
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