SEAPA urges Singapore to stop probe of filmmaker, repeal Films Act

26 September 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance is seriously concerned over deepening police investigations into the work and causes of Singaporean filmmaker Martyn See, and urges free expression advocates worldwide to condemn this latest harassment of a citizen for the “crime” of having spoken his mind. At the same time, SEAPA said the case of Martyn See highlights the harshness of Singaporean state practices and laws in stifling free expression.

See is the subject of ongoing police investigations revolving around his production of a documentary on the life of a leading Singaporean opposition figure in the city state. His filmmaking equipment were recently sequestered, and now he has expressed concern that his communications are being closely monitored by the state.

See’s documentary—“Singapore Rebel”—focuses on the life of Chee Soon Juan, the secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party who himself was sued for defamation by Singaporean leaders for political speeches he made while stumping for a parliamentary seat in 2001. Dr. Chee is currently facing bankruptcy proceedings.

“Singapore Rebel” was pulled from a Singapore film festival early this year after censors warned that it was too “political”. The country’s Films Act bars the production and distribution of “party political” films—defined as films “made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore.”

Reports coming out of Singapore now suggest that police have begun expanding their investigations, interviewing See’s friends and acquaintances, and in at least one case reportedly tracking down one such friend via an unlisted mobile phone number.

Blogger Jacob George wrote an account of his encounter with the police on his blog, omekanahuria.blogspot.com.

George says that when he asked why he was being interviewed, the police merely said that investigators are “talking to some of Martyn’s friends and acquaintances as part of the investigations.” The police then reportedly added that they were simply aware that he “has been in contact with Martyn via SMS.”

When the police called, George asked how they got his mobile number. “He just replied ‘through our investigations,’” the blogger said. “I asked him a few times but he gave the same reply. Not many people have my mobile number. Those who do would’ve told me if they had been approached for my number. Nobody did.”

SEAPA finds the developments troubling and suspicious, and urges the Singaporean government to drop its investigations of Martyn See and respect his right to free expression. SEAPA finds the continuing harassment of Mr. See appalling, especially as the state has not even bothered to spell out what they find so objectionable with his film.

“As far as we have seen, “Singaporean Rebel” is a responsible piece of filmmaking and journalism. It deals with a true story, a genuine issue, and something of absolute concern to Singaporeans,” SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay said.

SEAPA also urged Singapore to repeal its Films Act, and all state policies that restrict Singaporeans’ rights to free expression. 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.

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