22 March 2005
Director withdraws documentary from festival on government "advice"
Date: 23 March 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
Person(s): Martyn See
Type(s) of violation(s):
(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."
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