Director pulls documentary on oppositionist upon government ‘advice’

Threat-Alert-Singapore: THREATS of imprisonment and crippling fines have prompted a Singaporean filmmaker to pull his movie from Singapore’s annual film festival.

News reports on 22 March 2005 said director Martyn See’s documentary about Singaporean opposition leader Chee Soon Juan was deemed too political by the city-state’s Board of Film Censors.

The Board thus advised the filmmaker that he faces jail time as well as a fine of up to S$100,000 (US$61,300), should he screen his 26-minute film in public.

The Associated Press, quoting the Singapore Straits Times, said See’s short film centers on the “civil disobedience” and travails of Chee Soon Juan, a government critic who in 2001 was himself ordered to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars to Singapore’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, and former leader Goh Chok Tong.

Chee’s case stemmed from a defamation case built on speeches he made as he campaigned for a parliamentary post in 2001. The Singapore Democratic Party’s secretary-general, Chee has so far been unable to pay the penalty ordered against him, and bankruptcy proceedings—which would ban him from political involvement for years—are currently pending.

The Associated Press said that apart from warning filmmaker See, the Censors Board also advised the Singapore Film Festival organizers against calendaring the young director’s controversial film.

The Straits Times noted that under Singaporean law, local films that “contain wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter” are banned.
The Associated Press said they tried but failed to get a statement from See and festival organizers.

Despite its economic strength, Singapore has one of the strictest regimes for controlling news, opinion, and information in Southeast Asia. All mass media in the city-state are under the influence of the government, and the nation’s leaders have routinely sued critics, journalists, and even international media giants to discourage any criticism of the government or its leaders.

Singapore also regularly bans movies, the AP noted, “saying it needs to maintain ethnic and religious harmony in the Southeast Asian country of 4 million.”