Documentary on Jeya withdrawn from film festival: report
Agence France Presse
January 4, 2002
A DOCUMENTARY about Singapore opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam was withdrawn from a film festival here last year on fears it could have violated a law banning political films, a report said Friday (Jan 4).
The makers of the 15-minute documentary had submitted written apologies and withdrew it from being screened at the Singapore International Film Festival in April after they were told they could be charged in court, the Straits Times said.
The film-makers, all lecturers at the Ngee Ann Polytechnic, had said they just chanced upon a man selling books on a street and decided to make a documentary on him, unaware at first that he was an opposition figure.
A little-known law called the Films Act bans the making, distribution and showing of films containing "wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter."
Singapore, whose reputation as a global financial centre and manufacturing hub is underpinned by domestic political stability, has strict laws governing political activities.
Some of the few people who have seen the film -- A Vision of Persistence -- said it showed Jeyaretnam, a former MP and erstwhile leader of the opposition Workers' Party, selling his books in public places and meeting with his supporters.
One of the film-makers had resigned from the school and the two others were not available for comment.
The polytechnic told the Straits Times that the three lecturers from the department of film and media studies had not sought the school's permission to make the film and that it now considered the matter closed.
A person familiar with the case told the newspaper: "It's a sort of paranoia on the part of the authorities."
The source, who was not named, said a government official went to the school and asked: "How can your staff do this sort of thing?"
Philip Cheah, director of the film festival, said he saw the documentary but declined to comment on its contents.
"It should have been shown at the festival. Then people can decide," he said, adding that as far as he knows this was the first film considered political under the Films Act.
Jeyaretnam, a lawyer, entered parliament in 1981, becoming the first opposition politician to break the stranglehold of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) on local politics since statehood in 1965.
He has championed issues such as the abolition of the Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial, and the promotion of human rights and democracy.
The 76-year-old was expelled from parliament in July after being declared bankrupt after he was unable to pay massive damages awarded to PAP members for defamation.