Francis Seow

Francis Seow, born Seow Tiang Siew (Chinese: 萧添寿; pinyin: Xiāo Tiānshòu; 11 October 1928 – 21 January 2016), was a Singaporean-born American writer, political dissident and former lawyer. He lived in exile from Singapore after facing lawsuits from Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister. He was educated at Saint Joseph's Institution in Singapore and at the Middle Temple in London, and was a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School.

Francis Seow
Seow Tiang Siew

(1928-10-11)11 October 1928
Died21 January 2016(2016-01-21) (aged 87)
EducationSaint Joseph's Institution
Middle Temple
OccupationWriter, Lawyer
Known forPolitical dissidence in Singapore
Political partyWorkers' Party (1988–1988)
Rauni Marjatta Kivilaakso
(m. 1953; div. 1987)
  • Ashleigh Seow (son)
  • Andre Seow (son)
  • Ingrid Annalisa Seow (daughter)
  • Amara Seow (daughter)
RelativesAmerick Seow de Vries (Grandchild)
Alexandra Seow de Vries (Grandchild)
Elinor Seow de Vries (Grandchild)


Seow was born on 11 October 1928 in Singapore.[1] He joined the Singapore Legal Service in 1956 and rose through the ranks to become the Solicitor-General in 1969, a position he held until 1971. Seow led a Commission of Inquiry in the Secondary IV examination boycott by Chinese students in 1963.[2] For his work, Seow was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal. He eventually left the public service and entered private law practice in 1972.

In 1985, Seow defended Tan Mui Choo (whose name was mistakenly reported as "Choo Choo" in the Malaysian press), Adrian Lim's first wife and accomplice in the Toa Payoh ritual murders, while she was on trial. Tan was eventually executed after an unsuccessful appeal against her conviction and death sentence.[3]

In 1973, Seow was suspended from law practice for 12 months by the Chief Justice, Wee Chong Jin, for allegedly breaching an undertaking given on behalf of his junior law partner to the Attorney-General, Tan Boon Teik.[4] Nevertheless, he was later elected as a member of the Council of the Law Society in 1976 and became its President in 1986.

Seow's new appointment led to a falling-out with Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first Prime Minister, after he became embroiled in the politics surrounding the role of the Law Society. He had envisaged a restoration of the role of the Law Society to comment on legislation that the government churned out without any meaningful parliamentary debate, to which Lee took special exception. As a result, Lee caused special legislation to be passed that deprived the Law Society of any power to comment on legislation unless specifically asked to by the government. Seow stood for the 1988 general election as a member of the opposition Workers' Party team that contested in Eunos Group Representation Constituency against the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). However, his team managed to secure 49.11% of valid votes and lost marginally to the PAP.[5]

Just before the election, on 6 May 1988, Seow was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act for 72 days.[6] He was accused of having received political campaign finance from the United States to promote democracy in Singapore. According to his account, he was subjected to torture, including sleep deprivation and intensely cold air conditioning. Later, while awaiting trial for alleged tax evasion, he left for the United States for health treatment and disregarded numerous court summons to return to stand trial.[7][8] Subsequently, he was convicted in absentia. While living in exile, Seow spoke at events organised by Singaporean student societies in universities outside of Singapore.

In a 1989 interview in London, Seow told The Sunday Times that he would return to Singapore to face tax evasion charges.[8]

On 16 October 2007, Amnesty International issued a public statement mentioning Seow as one of two prominent Singaporean lawyers who were penalised for exercising their right to express their opinions. Amnesty International also called him a "prisoner of conscience."[9]

On 8 October 2011, Seow and Tang Fong Har publicly addressed a Singapore Democratic Party forum via teleconferencing.[10] The Singapore police investigated the legality of the event on the following day.[11]

Seow died on 21 January 2016 at the age of 87. Chee Soon Juan, the secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, announced the news of Seow's death on his Facebook page.[12][13] Seow was survived by two sons, Ashleigh and Andre, and two daughters, Ingrid Annalisa and Amara. Ingrid and Ashleigh are from his Finnish wife, Rauni Marjatta Kivilaakso, who died in 1988 after a long battle with cancer.[14]


In the semi-autobiography, To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison,[15] Seow wrote about his career in the Singapore Legal Service, opposition politics and his personal experience of being detained by the Internal Security Department. He also accuses the Singaporean government of authoritarianism and human rights abuse under Lee Kuan Yew's administration. The book also contains a foreword by Devan Nair, the third President of Singapore, that is equally critical of the Singaporean government. Seow also wrote another book, The Media Enthralled, which describes how he believes the Singaporean government undermined freedom of the media and turned the media into pro-government mouthpieces. He is also the author of Beyond Suspicion? – The Singapore Judiciary[16] that explores key cases in which the Singaporean judiciary has bowed to political pressure.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Justin Corfield (2 December 2010). Historical Dictionary of Singapore. Scarecrow Press. pp. 234–. ISBN 978-0-8108-7387-2.
  2. ^ "Ex-solicitor-general Francis Seow dies in Boston, aged 88". Archived from the original on 2018-03-17. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  3. ^ Alan John (15 February 2016). Unholy Trinity. Marshall Cavendish International Asia Pte Ltd. ISBN 978-981-4634-50-2.
  4. ^ C.M. Turnbull (1 January 2009). A History of Modern Singapore, 1819-2005. NUS Press. pp. 337–. ISBN 978-9971-69-430-2.
  5. ^ "EUNOS GRC". Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  6. ^ "Newspaper Full Page - The Straits Times, 8 May 1988, Page 3". 1988-05-08. Archived from the original on 2016-02-01. Retrieved 2016-01-22.
  7. ^ "Newspaper Full Page - The Straits Times, 3 October 1989, Page 19". 1989-10-03. Retrieved 2012-09-28.
  8. ^ a b "Newspaper Full Page - The Straits Times, 15 October 1989, Page 3". 1989-10-15. Retrieved 2012-09-28.
  9. ^ "Document - Document - Singapore: International Bar Association urged to take action on restrictions on freedom of expression". Amnesty International. 16 October 2007.
  10. ^ "Breaking News - Singapore". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2012-09-28.
  11. ^ "Police investigating SDP forum". Channel NewsAsia. 2011-10-09. Archived from the original on 2012-01-21. Retrieved 2012-09-28.
  12. ^ "Chee Soon Juan received news on Francis Seow's passing". Chee Soon Juan. 2016-01-21. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
  13. ^ "Stirring the conscience of the next generation: My farewell to Francis Seow". 2016-01-24. Archived from the original on 2016-01-28. Retrieved 2016-01-24.
  14. ^ "Top lawyers, law don recall late Francis Seow". The New Paper. 2016-01-23. Archived from the original on 2016-01-24. Retrieved 2016-01-23.
  15. ^ "Book Review: To Catch a Tartar: A Dissident in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison". Project MUSE. 1996. Archived from the original on 2014-02-03. Retrieved 2014-02-01.
  16. ^ "Book Review: Beyond Suspicion". The Online Citizen. 2014. Archived from the original on 2014-05-14. Retrieved 2014-05-01.


  • Seow, Francis T. (1998). The media enthralled: Singapore revisited. Lynne Rienner Publishers. ISBN 978-1-55587-779-8.

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