Tuesday, September 30, 2008

JB Jeyaretnam - Singapore's Martyr

At the funeral parlour this afternoon, Kenneth Jeyaretnam related to us how despite warnings from doctors about his father's heart condition, JBJ kept putting off medical treatment until such a time when he could finish his immediate task.

And what was this task that was so urgent? He had been toiling in court to bring the Singapore Government to bear for not holding a by-election after a PAP MP had passed away recently.

He didn't have to do this, nor did he have to form a new political party, or to revive his law practice. At the age of 82, he should have long retired, as both of his sons are successful professionals.

Even to his last day, he battled for justice, for accountability, for a free Singapore. He gave away his life, literally, to the pursuit of genuine democracy in Singapore.

Martyn See Tong Ming
1 Oct 2008

Monday, September 15, 2008

Short film on elderly poor rated NC16

Nation Builders, a 14 minute documentary featuring scenes of the elderly poor ekeing out a living in Singapore, has been rated NC16 by the Board of Film Censors. I had submitted the film in July and it was cleared by the censors last week. No mention is made in the certificate (YN03947004) on why the film has been deemed unsuitable for viewers under the age of 16. A fee of $10.80 is payable upon every film you submit to the censors (even though the Films Act requires ALL films to be authorised by the BFC). I was told to write in to the Board to request for an explanation for the rating.

Watch the entire video here and form your own conclusions as to why the Singapore Government does not want their under 16s to watch this film in a public screening.

And oh , read this too.
From hospital, Lee Kuan Yew asks rich to help poor
"Unlike Kim Jong Il who says he is well but has not appeared, I thought I'd better say hello to you and to your guests and apologise for not being able to join you." - MM Lee Kuan Yew

The censors' clearance of Nation Builders follows the approval of six other films, made by director Ho Choon Hiong, which documented a recent spate of political protests in Singapore.

They are rated as follows.

1. Human rights torch relay by Falungong in Singapore (M18)
Youtube link here
Related article : Singapore Welcomes the Global Human Rights Torch Relay


Youtube link here
Related article : Myanmar nationals protest constitution in Singapore

3. Burmese staged peaceful demonstration in Singapore (PG)
Youtube link here.
Related article : Activists Defy Protest Ban At ASEAN Summit In Singapore

4. NUS international students Vigil Walk (PG)
Youtube link here
Related article : Protest Singapore Style; 3 Marchers, 19 Media, 1000 Police

5. Singaporean started 5 days fasting against ISA on Hindraf 5 (PG)
Youtube link here
Related article : Palay ends hunger strike for Hindraf five

6. Morning May day Montage (PG)
Youtube link here
Related article : Report on SDP's Walking for Workers

Six short political films first passed by Singapore censors

Singapore - Six short films documenting political activities in Singapore have been approved by Singapore censors, the first since the easing of an outright ban last month, media reports said on Saturday. The films produced by Ho Choon Hiong, 33, focus on street demonstrations, protests and fasting.

"It is an encouraging sign," The Straights Times quoted Ho as saying of the Board of Film Censors (BFC) nod.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said last month that the ban could be relaxed. He said during the National Day Rally address that factual footage, documentaries and recordings of live events would be okayed.

Still off-limits are the making or distribution of party political films, including ads by parties or other political organizations or footage distorted to create a slanted impression.

Among the topics of films that received the go-ahead are a protest against the Beijing Olympics by members of the Falungong sect in the city-state, protests by Myanmar nationals and a Singaporean fasting outside the Malaysian High Commission in protest against the detention of Malaysian Hindu rights activists, the report said.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Political films across the causeway

Malaysia's premier showcase of human rights films will travel to Johor Bahru this weekend. It will be the closest location by which Singaporeans can watch One Nation Under Lee in a public space. Director Seelan Palay will be present at the post-screening Q&A session.

Venue : Tropical Inn
Address : 15, Jalan Gereja, Johor Bahru
Dates : 12 to 14 Sept 2008
Time : 11am til 10pm
Admission is FREE

One Nation Under Lee will screen on Saturday at 4.30pm.

Other highlights include :

War on Democracy : John Pilger's latest film uses CIA files and archive footage to demonstrate how the United States had undermined democracy in Latin America, replacing them with dictators such as Chile's General Pinochet.

Promised Paradise : Jakarta-based puppeteer and troubadour Agus Nur Amal travels to Bali to call to account the people who were responsible for the bomb attack on a nightclub there on 12 October 2002. This film is officially banned in Indonesia, but shown to rapturous appluase at last week's screening in Kuala Lumpur.

A Human Request : When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted I December 1948, eight states abstained form voting arguing that certain articles were not acceptable in their cultures.

Pecah Lobang : Pecah Lobang explores what it’s like to be a Muslim transsexual sex worker in Malaysia. Crossdressing is a crime under the Syariah court system for Muslims and the penalties are severe. But it wasn’t always so. A finalist of FFF's award.

Pilihanraya Umum Malaysia ke-12 : Is elections in Malaysia free and fair? This documentary makes the case that citizens need to be educated on their voting rights. A finalist of FFF's award.

Who Speaks for Me? : This documentary explores the issue of free expression in Malaysia in the aftermath of local rapper Namewee's controversial Negaraku-ku video. Winner of this year's FFF's "Most Outstanding Human Rights Film". Watch the interview of the three finalists here.

Queer Cinema : Three films exploring homosexual relationships, including Amir Muhammad's Pang Yau.

Click here for complete list of films and schedules.

Pro-govt press interviews renegade filmmakers

The interview below was conducted some two months ago, before the recent announcement by PM Lee on relaxing the ban on political films. What was Straits Times' hidden agenda? Perhaps it's a way to profile us for the Internal Security Department dossiers. Perhaps ST has vested interest to see political films relaxed for their own RazorTV. Perhaps they want to score some brownies in international press freedom rankings. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Oh, whatever.

Film-makers on the fringe

Before the PM announced recently that the ban on political films was likely to be eased, they were already documenting scenes of S'pore politics and producing controversial films that flirted with the law. Meet the intrepid trio who believe they are rebels with a cause. -ST

Sun, Sep 07, 2008
The Straits Times

By Sue-Ann Chia, political correspondent

WHEN the death knell sounded on a 10-year-old law that imposes a total ban on political films two weeks ago, film-maker Martyn See cheered.

The move marked the biggest effort in 20 years by the Government to loosen its hold on political expression here, declared the 39-year-old.

As a mischievous tribute, he pulled together 100 films on local politics, compiling them on his blog a week after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his Aug 17 National Day Rally speech that an outright ban on political films was no longer sensible.

The 100 short clips - 'films' is too formal a term to describe them - are the work of assorted groups and individuals, most with a decidedly anti-establishment stance.

They include two by Mr See which did not make the censor's cut. One is on Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan and the other on former political detainee Said Zahari.

He plans to re-submit them to the Board of Film Censors once the ban on political films is formally eased - likely early next year - just to test the new system.

He wants to do so because the prospective change comes with caveats: Films which are partisan or give a distorted and slanted impression will still be off-limits.

His own view is that there should be no caveats. 'If it is not sheer stupidity to continue enforcing bans on these films when they can be viewed at a click of a mouse, I don't know what is,' he wrote on his blog.

How did he come to be such a fighter against Section 33 of the Films Act, which bans party political films?

Political awakening

ATTRIBUTE it to a second political awakening that came in the wake of the 2001 general election.

He had had a first awakening back in the mid-1990s, when a photocopy of a banned book came his way.

The book was To Catch A Tartar, written by former solicitor-general Francis Seow, describing his detention under the Internal Security Act in the late 1980s.

'My eyes were opened to the darker side of the PAP's history,' he says.

'I read it from cover to cover. I felt...frightened, depressed and angry at the same time.'

His hitherto placid political outlook changed then, but it was only later - after the November 2001 election - that he was really roused into action.

What caught his attention was Dr Chee Soon Juan heckling then prime minister Goh Chok Tong about an alleged loan to former Indonesian president Suharto.

'Chee Soon Juan got hammered very badly. I wondered, is this guy as bad as the media made him out to be? So I decided to check him out myself,' he says.

A few months later, in 2002, he asked to meet Dr Chee.

For the next two years, he 'interviewed' the SDP leader regularly, visited him at his home and his office, and observed him when he staged public protests - filming all the while.

He had reams of footage but no film, until Mr Lee Hsien Loong was sworn in as Prime Minister in 2004.

Mr Lee's inauguration speech, promising the opening up of civil society, inspired him to compile his shots into a 28-minute film which he titled Singapore Rebel.

He submitted it for screening at a film festival. But the film never made it past the censors.

It was deemed 'party political', and banned under Section 33 of the Films Act.

He was questioned four times over 15 months by the police and even had his video camera seized.

'They dropped the investigation a couple of months after the 2006 general election. I guess they wanted to watch if I would participate in the election,' he says.

He never did. But he continued to produce politically incorrect films.

Singapore Rebel

MR SEE titled his directorial debut Singapore Rebel. Although about Dr Chee, it sums up Mr See himself - someone bent on capturing alternative politics on celluloid.

He began his film-making career nearly 20 years ago, right after national service, learning the ropes of video editing in production houses. Along the way, he became a freelance video editor, working for renowned local directors such as Mr Eric Khoo and Mr Jack Neo.

He spends 90 per cent of his time doing such work to 'pay the bills', but the remaining 10 per cent is now consumed by his passion - making films on local political issues.

While being questioned by the police over Singapore Rebel, he produced another film, on former political detainee Said Zahari. This was also banned.

His latest, on Dr Chee and the protests he staged during the IMF-World Bank meetings in 2006, however made the cut. Speakers' Cornered was given an NC-16 rating and screened at the Substation on July 26 this year.

Despite the overwhelmingly pro-opposition - especially pro-SDP - angles in his films, he insists he is not an opposition supporter or sympathiser.

He says: 'I fill a vacuum created by the media when they don't cover opposition politicians or political dissidents. I consider myself a citizen journalist, not a Michael Moore type of film-maker.'

Asked why he bothers to submit his films for classification when he can upload them on YouTube, he deadpans that the law requires it.

The more compelling reason is that he wants to push the envelope in the area of political expression.

'Who better to do that than me,' he says, 'since I'm already over the OB markers. I want more film-makers who want to document the political scenes to emerge.'

In this, he has found a following of sorts.

Mr Ho Choon Hiong, 33, first heard about Mr See when Singapore Rebel was banned three years ago.

He was among a group of 12 film-makers who wrote to the Government then, asking for greater clarity as to what constituted a party political film.

The incident led to him meeting Mr See.

Their subsequent exchanges emboldened him to capture on celluloid assorted scenes of political activism in Singapore.

Unlike Mr See, he was introduced to politics early by his father, who used to be a student activist at Chinese High School in the 1960s.

Like Mr See, however, his political interest was stoked by the 2001 polls and Dr Chee.

After meeting Mr See, he produced a plethora of very short films, on topics ranging from the 2006 election to protests by Myanmar nationals in Singapore. He sent six to the film censors for classification in May.

'I have to take a few steps and hope to be undeterred more and more,' says the film studies graduate from Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

'I want to put my own perception of truth out.'

So far, his 'films' have been ignored by the authorities.

A prolific activist

NOT so for Mr Seelan Palay, 24, another amateur film-maker.

He had his film, One Nation Under Lee, seized by officials from the Board of Film Censors as it was being screened in a hotel recently.

The reason: It had not been passed by the censors.

His first effort - detractors panned it as a slide show rather than a film - it portrayed Singapore as lacking in press and political freedom, and tightly controlled by Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Point out that One Nation Under Lee is decidedly one-sided - it takes potshots at the Government while hailing Dr Chee as a hero - and he insists he has no political agenda.

He isn't politicised by anyone either, he insists.

'I learnt everything from reading, out of personal interest,' says the activist.


'I fill a vacuum created by the media when they don't cover opposition politicians or political dissidents. I consider myself a citizen journalist, not a Michael Moore type of film-maker.'
-- Film-maker Martyn See

He has been involved at various times with the Vegetarian Society, the Animal Concerns Research & Education Society, and the now defunct SG Human Rights Group.

Earlier this year he attended rallies by Hindu protesters in Kuala Lumpur, and upon his return to Singapore, decided to mount a one-man protest fast outside the Malaysian High Commission.

He also takes part in protest actions organised by the SDP occasionally.

He is not a troublemaker, he insists. He is just doing what he believes in.

Nothing to fear

WHAT keeps the trio going?

'Our conscience pricks us,' says Mr Ho. He sees it as his duty to document what he believes gets sidelined by the mainstream media.

The trio use the same counter when you point out that their version of 'truth' sometimes takes an extreme slant. Others have noted that it was the publicity over the banning of some of their films, rather than the quality of the films themselves, that made the public more keen to view them.

But they are not perturbed.

For Mr See, his mission is simple.

'I live by the Singapore Pledge. I live by the Constitution that guarantees freedom of expression, association and assembly,' he says.

And he aims to guard these freedoms by showing that there is nothing to fear.

The other two, less articulate about their aims, appear to go with the flow as acolytes of Mr See, enjoying the thrill of defiance every once in a while.

They are all drawn to Dr Chee, whom they see as championing freedom of expression and provoking the Government with his illegal public protests.

Still, they say, they have no intention of joining the SDP or any political party. Ironically, they fear being hemmed in by party discipline.

Mr Palay, for instance, will tell you that he supports the SDP's cause but has no wish to sign on as a member.

Have they made an impact on the political scene? They believe so, pointing to more local film-makers who remain anonymous but, like them, upload political-type films on YouTube.

They also claim some credit for the Government's decision to consider lifting the ban on political films.

It was, they say, the banning of Mr See's Singapore Rebel that sparked a debate on the relevance of the Films Act.

Future films

FOR now, the three men have film ideas that they hope will see the light of day.

Mr Palay wants to do a film on the unspoken rule limiting use of dialects in films.

Mr Ho is aiming to do documentaries on two women: Dr Chee's wife, and his own long-lost Malaysian nanny whom he is still trying to locate.

As for Mr See, he has two targets too. One is the reclusive former political detainee Chia Thye Poh. The other is Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

In the latter film, he wants to trace the People's Action Party's formation and rise to the pinnacle of power in Singapore.

Why do a film on the PAP when its story has been told so many times before? 'It is a compelling story,' he says.

So are they really rebels with a cause?

Says Mr See: 'There's definitely a purpose to what we're doing. I see it as lessening the climate of fear here.

'I want more film-makers like me to emerge, wanting to document the political scenes in Singapore.'

This article was first published in The Straits Times on Sep 5, 2008.