Sunday, March 27, 2005

Threat-Alert-Singapore : SEAPA/IFEX

22 March 2005

Director withdraws documentary from festival on government "advice"

Country/Topic: Singapore
Date: 23 March 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
Person(s): Martyn See
Type(s) of violation(s):
Urgency: Threat
(SEAPA/IFEX) - 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 informed the filmmaker that he would face jail time, as well as a fine of up to S$100,000 (approx. US$61,300), should he screen his 26-minute film in public.

The Associated Press, quoting the "Straits Times", said See's short film centered on the "civil disobedience" and travails of Chee, a government critic who in 2001 was himself ordered to pay S$500,000 (approx. US$304,000) to Singapore's founder Lee Kuan Yew, and former leader Goh Chok Tong.

Chee's case stemmed from a defamation action based on speeches he made when he campaigned for a parliamentary post in 2001. Chee, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, has so far been unable to pay the penalty he is facing and bankruptcy proceedings - which would ban him from political involvement for years - are currently pending.

The Associated Press said that apart from warning See, the censor board also advised the Singapore Film Festival organisers against including the young director's controversial film in their calendar.

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 subject to a ban. The Associated Press said they tried unsuccessfully to get a statement from See and festival organisers.

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 government influence 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 Associated Press noted, citing the need "to maintain ethnic and religious harmony in the Southeast Asian country of 4 million."


For further information, contact Kulachada Chaipipat at SEAPA, 538/1 Samsen Road, Dusit, Bangkok, 10300 Thailand, tel/fax: +662 243 5579, e-mail:, Internet:


Loong said...

Hi Martyn,

Been reading the events surrounding your CSJ docu with interest... A pity we can't see it at this year's SIFF.

Any plans to screen it for friends and those like-minded behind safe doors? Or even send it out for an overseas festival? Keep us posted and may truth prevails...


Anonymous said...

martyn, there are allegations that you are/were a sdp member. if it is true, why do you deny it?

The Straits Times, March 22, 2005

Documentary on Chee Soon Juan withdrawn from film fest

film correspondent

A FIRST-TIME Singapore film-maker has been told to withdraw his documentary about opposition politician Chee Soon Juan from the Singapore International Film Festival (Siff).

The Board of Film Censors (BFC) told the festival organisers that the film was objectionable under the Films Act of 1998.

The Films Act bars the making and distribution of films that "contain wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter''.

Film-maker Martyn See, in his 30s, told The Straits Times yesterday that his effort was "a documentation of Chee Soon Juan's acts of civil disobedience''.

Dr Chee, the Singapore Democratic Party's secretary-general, has been in the news most recently for failing to pay $500,000 in damages to Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, for defaming them during the 2001 general election campaign.

Mr See, a freelance film editor, spent two years making his 26-minute short film.

Asked if he was a member of Dr Chee's party, he said he was not.

He said he had no affiliation with any party but made the film because he was "just curious''.

"I'd like to know what motivates Dr Chee to keep going despite the odds,'' he added.

The film was one of more than 70 entries to the Siff's Singapore Shorts competition and was not shortlisted as a finalist.

It is a festival tradition to screen all the short film submissions. However, Siff director Philip Cheah was told by BFC officials on March 11 that Mr See's film was objectionable under the Films Act.

Contacted yesterday, the BFC spokesman said: "The documentary was deemed a Party Political Film as defined by the Films Act. The Siff was informed of this and they withdrew the

Mr See received an e-mail from Siff director Lesley Ho on March 16, informing him of BFC's advice to withdraw the film.

He withdrew the film after being told of the possible penalties a $100,000 fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

Ms Ho told The Straits Times: "As a festival, we cannot make these decisions on behalf of the film-makers.

"We cannot censor films. It's up to the film-makers to withdraw the films.''

Mr See has since gone online to describe his disappointment.

This is not the first time a made-in-Singapore film has been withdrawn from the 18-year-old Siff under the Films Act.

In 2001, a documentary on veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam was also pulled out.

On other occasions, local and foreign films were withdrawn after the board wanted cuts made. The festival has a strict no-censorship policy.

Last year, Singapore film-maker Sam Loh's directorial debut, Outsiders, and a short film by Singapore artist Zai Kuning entitled Even Dogs Have Choices were pulled after the
board asked for edits.

Anonymous said... smoke without fire.

Martyn See said...

Ah, anonymous allegations ...

I was not, am not and never will be a member of any political party in Singapore. "Party political films" covers all Singaporean film-makers and all political subjects, not just partisan politics.

"We believe that you are referring to Martyn See and not Martin See, the film-maker who made the documentary Singapore Rebel. For the record, Mr See is not a member of the Singapore Democrats."