Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Lee Kuan Yew blames censors for 'Singapore Rebel' ban

As much as our political leaders want us to believe that the Western model of free press is inimical to the development of the Singapore, they just love talking to Western journalists.

It was from then Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew's interview with William Safire that we learn that a Speakers' Corner was being planned for Singaporeans.

It was from then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's interview with Time that we learn that our civil service employ gays.

It was from Minister Mentor Lee's interview in Discovery Channel's 'History of Singapore' that we learn that he still gets emotional over Singapore's separation from Malaysia.

Now, thanks to a five-hour interview that Mr Lee granted to Time, we now learn that Singapore's founding father would have agreed to allow 'Singapore Rebel' to be shown if it was left up to him.

And so those who make the claim that Mr Lee pulls every string in the Government will be disappointed to learn that his views carries little weight over the decision-making process in the Media Development Authority, which had banned 'Singapore Rebel' and subsequently lodged a police report against the film-maker Martyn See.

Let's hope the Minister Mentor will grant Straits Times a five-hour interview soon so that Singaporeans won't have to buy a Western magazine like Time to read about their leaders' views on policies which will ultimately affect them.

The Time interview Part l

The Time interview Part ll

(click on the links above)

TIME: But you would concede that Singapore now needs more contention and turmoil?

LEE: Surely, surely. Ideally we should have Team A, Team B, equally balanced, so that we can have a swap and the system will run. We have not been able to do this in Singapore because our population is only 4 million, and the people at the top, with proven track records - not just in ability, but in character, determination, commitment - will not be more than 2,000. You can put their biodata in a thumbdrive.

We also have a different culture, a different way of doing things. The individual is not the building block. It's the family, the extended family, the clan and the state. The five crucial relationships are: you and the prince or the ruler, you and your wife, you and your children, you and your parents, you and your friends. If those relationships are right, everything will work out well in society.

TIME: A documentary film was made locally about a Singapore opposition politician, and it was banned.

LEE: Well, if you had asked me, I would have said, to hell with it. But the censor, the enforcer, he will continue until he is told the law has changed. And it will change ...

[But] I'm not guided by what Human Rights Watch says. I am not interested in ratings by Freedom House or whatever. At the end of the day, is Singapore society better or worse off? That's the test. What are the indicators of a well-governed society? Look at the humanities index in last week's Economist, we're right on top. You look at the savings index, World Bank, we're right on top. Economic freedoms, we're on top. What is it we lack? Reporters Without Borders put Malaysia's newspapers ahead of us. In Malaysia the ruling coalition parties own the major newspapers. In Singapore the major banks are in control of the company that runs our newspapers. There is no information that Singaporeans want that they cannot get. All major foreign newspapers and magazines are sold here. We demand a right of reply, that's all. And if you go over the line, if you defame us, we're prepared to sue you, go into the witness box and be cross-examined. You can brief the best lawyers and demolish us. If I'm involved, I go to the witness box. And you can question me, not only on the particular defamatory issue, but all issues in my life.

TIME: Couldn't you have been lighter on the opposition - not sue?

LEE: No. If you don't sue, repetition of the lie [makes it credible]. It will be believed ... (Former U.S. Secretary of State) George Shultz once wrote to me about why I insist on this right of reply. I said to him, "We believe in the marketplace of ideas. Let the ideas contend, and the best ideas the public will buy." But I also said, "That assumes a large well-educated group of people as readers. Look at the marketplace of ideas in the Philippines, and see the chaos." Americans can have a marketplace of ideas. For example, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was a box-office hit. Americans enjoyed their President being mocked and satirized. But the majority voted for Bush in November 2004. When we have a large enough educated population like America, able to make independent judgments, we will loosen up. But even without the cacophony, all ideas are accessible in the media and the Internet.

TIME: You have strong views about a political culture of noise and discordancy. Yet at the same time you want Singapore to move a little bit more in that direction.

LEE: Surely. It is in the interests of my son and his team to encourage Singaporeans to be more self-reliant, willing to take charge of their lives, and less dependent on looking to the government for solutions. In other words, become more like Americans. Gradually over the years, I have seen the value of the American can-do spirit.

TIME: Singapore is a more modern, more sophisticated, better educated society than the U.K. Young Singaporeans are bright, smart, lively. They can take it, they can take a noisy marketplace of ideas.

LEE: Look, I don't meet them so often now. My son does. Let him decide. It's his call.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tribute video to Dr Tony Tan not 'party political film'?

Emailed to the Straits Times forum.

Videos on government leaders not 'party political films'?

In the article "$570m upgrading package for north-east districts" (ST, Dec 1), it was reported that a five minute video was screened at a dinner organised by the Sembawang Town Council to pay tribute to former Deputy Prime Minister Dr Tony Tan. The video had included images of Dr Tan's activities as Member of Parliament for Sembawang GRC.

In 2002, Mediacorp TV aired "Success Stories : Lee Kuan Yew", a two-part documentary produced by a Hong Kong broadcaster. The film provided insights to Mr Lee's political career and featured scenes of him speaking in election rallies.

According to the Films Act, it is an offence to import, make, distribute or exhibit a film which contains "wholly or partly either partisan or biased references or comments on any political matter", including those of a Member of Parliament. Such a film is deemed to be a "party political film", an offence punishable by a maximum fine of $100,000 or a two-year prison sentence. I am currently being investigated by the police for such an offence.

In order to prevent other unsuspecting film-makers from being be called up by the police for making similar films, I hope the relevant authorities can clarify if the aforementioned videos had breached the Films Act.

Martyn See

Excerpt of Straits Times report

Dr Tan is an MP for Sembawang GRC. He represented the Sembawang ward since he entered politics in 1979, a career that was highlighted in a five-minute video clip at the dinner.

It included photos showing him as young 39-year old MP meeting his constituents, to later images of him carrying babies, attending children's parties, distributing hongbaos to the elderly and even brisk walking.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

No humanising of the death penalty please, we're S'poreans

The credo for Singapore's art and media.

No sensationalising, no crusading journalism, no partisan reporting, no comments on race and religion, no biased political films. Bottomline - no stirring up of unnecesary emotions. Emotions, if left unfettered, are irrational, undesirable and detrimental to nation building. Singaporeans know better than to get angry over charity scandals, feel compassion for tsunami victims, get teary-eyed over rainy national day parades, cry over Separation from Malaysia or cast a vote based on emotions.

And hence, please do not ask Singaporeans to think about what condemned prisoner number 856, aka Nguyen Tuong Van, is going through on death-row in Changi Prison. We have been conditioned to check our emotions, to keep consciences at bay, lest they snowball and actually cause governments to crack.

We do not even carry Nguyen's case on the home section of our newspapers. It is Australia's problem, not ours.

Even when Nguyen's coffin reaches Melbourne five days from now to a firestorm of outrage, Singaporeans will still go about their lives. Many will wonder why their Australian friends are beginning to get emotional and start boycotting Singapore companies.

It's just one less drug trafficker, we will say. A statistic. A digit. A 856.

Where art schools censor their artists

Over the weekend, The Australian newspaper was threatened with legal action by Lasalle directors if it published a picture of the work and all requests for an interview with the artist were denied. The card carrying Van's execution number was hastily removed.

Where the executioner and the executed are supposed to be faceless.

Job vacancy now open for hangman - $400 per kill

Singapore Prisons Department has sacked its only hangman Darshan Singh after his picture was published by the Australian press. Mr Singh said he was in big trouble and was out of a job.
"It has been very, very difficult for me," he told The Sunday Telegraph. "I am not the hangman anymore."
Mr Singh said he would miss the $400 fee for each execution but was relieved he would not be placing the noose around Nguyen's neck. "In a way I am happy," he said.

No glorifying the dead please

The Singapore police slapped a ban on the use of Shanmugam's face in all publicity and information material pertaining to a May 13th concert against the death penalty.

Is it not the job of journalists, writers, bloggers, podcasters, photographers, filmmakers and artists to humanise their subjects?

Those who fear human emotions most are most likely the ones who are most afraid to confront their own, and hence they legislate laws to suppress others' rights to feel and act.

Some of the more sobering articles not found in Singapore's media.

His first overseas trip ends by execution in Changi gallows

From Herald Sun
Nguyen's walk to death

IT was through this gate that Tuong Van Nguyen's journey to hell began.

And as he sits on death row awaiting execution on Friday, Nguyen has no doubt reflected on the night the "beep" of the metal detector signalled the collapse of his world.
It was just on three years ago when the 22-year-old Melbourne salesman approached Gate C22 at Singapore's Changi Airport with much trepidation.

He was carrying two bags of high-grade heroin -- one strapped to his body and the other stuffed into a backpack -- and was rushing to catch the flight to Melbourne.

He was in transit from Cambodia, where he'd collected almost 400g of the white powder to smuggle into Australia for a Sydney syndicate.

Nguyen would later tell Singaporean police he had become a drug mule to pay off his twin brother's debts.

Airport security officers in Cambodia had failed to detect the two plastic packets of heroin he'd taped to his body.

Once on the Silkair flight MI622, Nguyen started to have breathing problems, so he went to the toilet and removed the packet taped to his stomach, then stuffed it in his hand luggage. He kept the other taped to his lower back.

After arriving in Singapore, Nguyen had to connect with Qantas QF 10 for his flight home.

But he fell asleep in the Business Lounge, and when he awoke realised he had only 10 minutes to make the plane.

In his police statement, Nguyen said his anxiety levels were further raised by fears that his movements were being monitored by the drug syndicate.

"At the metal detector, I placed my backpack and my business bag on to the X-ray machine," he stated.

"Then I walked through the metal detector and as I was crossing it beeped.

"At that point I knew I was going to be caught.

"A policewoman told me to stand to one side so as not to obstruct traffic.

"She then used a metal detector wand to search me by going up and down my body. The wand did not beep.

"She then touched my back and when she reached my lower back, she must have discovered the packet of heroin strapped there."

Nguyen, who has no criminal record, was immediately taken to a room where he was ordered to place his hands against the wall.

"I told him, 'No need, I will get it for you'," he stated. "I lifted up my shirt and pulled out the strapped packet on my lower back and gave it to the officer.

"He asked me what that was and I replied to him, 'It's heroin, sir'.

"I also told him that there was more and went and retrieved the pack of heroin which I had hidden inside my backpack."

At this stage, Nguyen became distressed and began to cry, at the same time hitting his head against the wall. He then sat on the floor, holding his head in his hands.

Shortly before midnight, December 12, he was taken to Singapore's Central Narcotic's Bureau and later charged on serious drug offences, with an automatic penalty of death by hanging.

It had been his first overseas trip.

Just before midnight last night all was quiet at Gate C22. About 5km away, the lights were also out at Changi Prison.

Nguyen's execution date falls on the third anniversary of the day he flew out of Australia.

From The Bulletin
Singapore deadly serious
... From mule to death row

Nearly three years on, Van has, like many others on death row, turned to religion for comfort. He has been baptised and has spent much of his time comforting other condemned prisoners. He has written letters to his closest friends in Australia, reassuring them that "everything will be all right".

Of course, it won't.

His mother is bereft, about to set off on a journey no mother should have to make. Her other boy, who has been a virtual recluse since the arrest, is also making the trip to Singapore.

Kim Nguyen has said little publicly until the past few weeks. Her English is poor and her pain unimaginable. But everyone in Australia understood when she said: "Every time I go to see Van, I tell him mummy loves him very much. He is my heart. If something happens to my son, my heart will be stopped."


The Sunday Mail
By CLARE MASTERS in Singapore

AS THE clock hits 6pm on Thursday, Tuong Van Nguyen will press his hands against the prison's glass window and say his last goodbyes to his mother and brother.

This is the last hour that Nguyen is allowed contact with the outside world.

His lawyers and family will then be ushered out of Singapore's Changi prison, a newly built hi-tech fortress where Nguyen will spend his last days.

It is an institution stiff with regulation and ritual but tradition dictates that the rules relax in the last week of a condemned prisoner's life.

The 25-year-old, who once had another life as a sales man, will be allocated a small
amount of money by the Singapore Government to spend on food and will be able to
order ready-made meals or takeaway, usually shared with the other inmates.

One luxury is a giant cup of coffee in a plastic mug that he will be given in the morning and will sip slowly over the day, holding on to it long after it has gone cold.

On the last day, Nguyen's regimented routine breaks when he is escorted from his tiny cell to a room where he has his photograph professionally taken as a memento for his family.

In a bizarre prison custom reserved for all death-row prisoners, the Vietnamese
refugee will slip out of the orange shorts the con demned are required to wear and the white shirt stamped with his prisoner number C856.

Newly dressed in his favourite clothes, brought to the prison by his mother, Nguyen will face the camera's flash and attempt a smile as he leans against a wall and strikes 13 different poses.

In the grief-stricken days after his broken body is returned to his family, Nguyen's mother will be given the 13 photographs as a gift from the government which killed her son.

As Nguyen treads the floor of his 3m by 2m cell, the prison of ficials will practise his execution with a sandbag of his weight. Nguyen is allowed to read censored newspapers and watch a delayed telecast of Channel Five, Singapore's English-speaking channel.

And, as night becomes Friday morning and the clock's hands reach six o'clock, Nguyen will be taken from his cell one last time to the gallows.

Then he will fall through the trapdoor and become the first Australian citizen to lose his life behind Singapore bars.


An excerpt of a letter written by convicted drug smuggler Nguyen Tuong Van.

In a second, more formal letter sent to the Singapore President pleading for a reprieve and signed Caleb, the name he has taken since being baptised, Nguyen claims he is beginning to learn the meaning of life.

"Recognising and understanding my offence, the ramifications and subsequent repercussions as a result of my callousness has been crucial, essentially the turning point for my remorseful transformation; an opportunity of self-discovery made possible upon my conception of God and Jesus Christ into my life," Nguyen writes.

"Amidst these score of painful revelations an unspoken truth was exposed. I found myself in deep sorrow for the true victims; the families of those whom suffer as a result of losing a loved one to drugs. This truth has put many things in perspective for me."

In another letter, written on Sunday, October 23 - after his clemency plea was rejected and he was told he had only days to live - Nguyen said he was not surprised. He was sad for his mother and twin brother Khoa and all his loved ones. But he had known this was his fate for a long time. "Sailo (a name he uses for himself in the third person) was just awaiting my day of judgement and I am glad and ready to go now. I believe by then God's purpose will have been achieved.

"Fear has yet to set in and (I) pray may God's strength in me be enough to ward off any doubts I may have."

Nguyen said he went through his normal routine in prison after being told of his looming execution and slept from 7pm to 7am.

"So 12 solid hours ... did me a world of good. This (letter) gonna be short because Sailo's got quite a number of comfort letters to write.

"God blessed me with so many beautiful beings who have loved me unconditionally so it's only befitting I write to and console each one."

Chaplain to give last rites

Father Gregoire Van Giang, a Singapore prison chaplain who assists Nguyen and other inmates, will join the former Melbourne schoolboy in prayers and walk with him from his cell to meet the hangman.


the Bulletin
In Cold Blood

Singapore proudly say it has "humanised" the hanging process - weighing the condemned and carefully calibrating bodyweight with a "drop" system so as to deliver a swift, clean kill when the platform gives way.

Ravi says Malaysian drug addict Vigmes Murthi wasn't so lucky. When he was hanged at Changi in September 2003, Ravi says, his head was nearly torn off by the force of the 500kg-plus drop, about seven times his bodyweight. "They got it horribly wrong," Ravi says, "his mother was screaming, screaming ... there was so much blood in the coffin, it was overflowing."

By 1pm, the family - delayed coming in from Malaysia - hadn't yet collected the corpse so Singapore summoned the state cremator to dispose of it. The family got there by 2pm and Ravi was called from chambers to have a most unseemly brawl over Vigmes' bloodied corpse with the contracted cremator, who was banking on a nice little earner. In the end, Ravi and Vigmes' family prevailed, "but with no help from the government".

By this year, Ravi says, the famous Singaporean efficiency corrected itself; too much so. On May 13, Singapore's only hangman, a corpulent 72-year-old locally born Indian called Darshan Singh, roused another Ravi client, Shanmugam Murugesu, convicted in 2003 of trafficking 1kg of cannabis, at 2am on the morning of his execution.

In a procedure that awaits Nguyen, he was served a light breakfast before being led to the gallows chamber where he waited and waited - "and one can only imagine his torment", says Ravi - until dawn to die.

Two days earlier, Ravi says, after asking Shanmugam's mother to send in her boy's best clothes, the state had taken him from his cell and photographed him in 14 different poses, including one seated behind a desk. "He looked as if he was the general manager of a big company," says Ravi.

The photo set was presented to Shanmugam's mother by the state after it had killed him, Ravi says, suggesting she might wish to hang the picture of him in his suit in the family living room "as a memento of the potential of her boy". In Singapore, it seems, death comes with interior design advice.


Nguyen counts down final days

Lex Lasry, Nguyen's counsel, told reporters the former salesman was "calm", composed" and "rational" after seeing him for two-and-a-half hours last week.

Nguyen was "obviously preparing himself for the end of his life, which I must say takes my breath away," Lasry said.

Subhas agrees that those staring death in the face after years on death row can show immense fortitude.

"Most of them have accepted their fate. You'll find that most of them have developed religious (feelings)," he says.

"I've gone to see many of my clients who are going to hang the next day or the day after. They are very philosophical about it.

"Of course you feel that this guy is going to die in two days, but you get used to it I suppose," Subhas said.

It's a long-standing tradition that executions take place at 6am on Fridays.

The gallows are positioned just a short walk from Nguyen's small cell on death row.

He will be handcuffed as he is led to his death.


Mother of Nguyen Tuong Van arriving with twin brother Khoa in Changi Airport

From The Sunday Mail
I'm ready to meet angels: Nguyen

After Nguyen was sentenced to death in March 2004, he told how he desperately missed his brother and mother.

"The pain of missing her is by far sharper than anything physical I have ever felt," he wrote.

"With aching comprehension, I come to terms with the loss I feel without mum."

Nguyen, who is popular among other inmates, told of how he planned to keep the news of his looming execution from his friends inside, to spare them from anguish.

"I was gonna keep it from the guys in here so as to spare them, but I made second page of the newspaper so there went my surprise," he wrote.

God and faith are common themes in his writing.

In a letter to a friend, written before his clemency was rejected, he writes: "The
hidden providence of God – your undying support has gone a long way in keeping my pilot light burning; esp. during my darkest moments."

Preparations for death

Every religious tradition emphasizes that to prepare spiritually for death it is vital that we establish right now a daily spiritual practice, a practice so deeply ingrained that it becomes part of our flesh and bones, our reflexive response to every situation in life, including our experiences of suffering.

Making a connection, healing relationships and letting go. This task refers to our relationships with others, particularly family and friends. The main points here are to learn to communicate honestly, compassionately and unselfishly, and to resolve any unresolved problems we may have with others.

Nguyen's families and friends should be saying their goodbyes in the next two days. All news of attempts to seek a stay of his execution should not reach him. It is best for Nguyen that he mentally steadies himself to depart, in the words of sacked hangman Darshan Singh, "to a world better than this."

It will be difficult - as hanging will not be painless and instantaneous. Nguyen will feel tremendous pain. Let's pray that when the trapdoor opens and the noose tightens, he finds the composure to not struggle, and just let go.

For execution by this method, the inmate may be weighed the day before the execution, and a rehearsal is done using a sandbag of the same weight as the prisoner. This is to determine the length of 'drop' necessary to ensure a quick death. If the rope is too long, the inmate could be decapitated, and if it is too short, the strangulation could take as long as 45 minutes. The rope, which should be 3/4-inch to 1 1/4-inch in diameter, must be boiled and stretched to eliminate spring or coiling. The knot should be lubricated with wax or soap "to ensure a smooth sliding action," according to the 1969 U.S. Army manual. (The Corrections Professional, 1996 and Hillman, 1992)

Immediately before the execution, the prisoner's hands and legs are secured, he or she is blindfolded, and the noose is placed around the neck, with the knot behind the left ear. The execution takes place when a trap-door is opened and the prisoner falls through. The prisoner's weight should cause a rapid fracture-dislocation of the neck. However, instantaneous death rarely occurs. (Weisberg, 1991)

If the inmate has strong neck muscles, is very light, if the 'drop' is too short, or the noose has been wrongly positioned, the fracture-dislocation is not rapid and death results from slow asphyxiation. If this occurs the face becomes engorged, the tongue protrudes, the eyes pop, the body defecates, and violent movements of the limbs occur. (The Corrections Professional, 1996 and Weisberg, 1991)

Monday, November 14, 2005

Govt sponsors multi-million dollar documentary on Singapore's history

No, we do not allow foreigners to "meddle" in our affairs, especially not with their Western liberal bias. Instead, let's entrust them to produce a three-hour documentary of our nation's history - with our money.

"You are not going to tell us how to run our country"
- MM Lee Kuan Yew warning foreign journalists not to meddle in Singapore

"Since we want the story to be told in an independent and impartial manner, and told in a way that would be of interest to viewers outside Singapore, I thought it would be better that it is done by a non-Singaporean company."
- Tommy Koh, chairman of National Heritage Board, on his preference for foreigners to produce a film on Singapore's history, Straits Times, Nov 12 2005

The Singapore Government routinely tells foreigners not to "meddle" in our affairs but when it comes to producing a three-hour film on our history, it prefers to engage foreigners. Apparently, according to Tommy Koh, local producers cannot be entrusted to tell the story of Singapore in an independent and impartial manner. A foreign company can do the job better. You go figure.

Discovery Channel is set to roll out a three hour documentary next month entitled "History of Singapore'. Preview audiences interviewed by the Straits Times indicated that they are confident that the film will present a "fair and balanced" account. ST also reported that political dissidents such as JB Jeyaratnam, former unionist Fong Swee Suan and the late Lim Chin Siong are featured in the film.

However, the paper failed to mention that the documentary is sponsored by Singapore Airlines and Neptune Orient Lines, and supported by the National Heritage Board. This means that it is considered a Government-sponsored film and is thereby exempted from being deemed a 'party political film' - of which I am still under police investigation for the making of 'Singapore Rebel.'

Legally, "History of Singapore' can be as biased and partisan as the producers (and financers) would like it to be without violating the law. Clever.

The idea for the documentary was mooted by then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in 2003 and is produced by British-based Lion Television which reportedly had "free rein" in the production.

Saturday November 12, 10:17 PM

Multi-million-dollar documentary
on history of Singapore to air next month

History of Singapore" - as the landmark multi-million-dollar documentary is
called - will air on Discovery Channel next month.

Footages never seen before and interviews with key figures like Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew - all filmed on high-definition - is featured in the three-hour special.

The documentary will be telecast on Channel NewsAsia and other MediaCorp channels

The Japanese surrendered to the British at the end of World War Two in a room in City Hall.

And in 1965, Singapore's first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was also sworn in there at the City Hall chamber.

So it was a fitting venue to launch the new documentary series.

From Singapore's beginnings as a mangrove swamp to the Asian economic metropolis it is today, the history of Singapore over the past two centuries is showcased to viewers in a three-hour special.

Besides rare historical footage such as the first known map of Singapore after Raffles landed, the documentary also has real-life re-enactments.

There will also be interviews with key historical figures recounting turning points in Singapore's past.

So how different is this version of history compared to previous ones?

Professor Tommy Koh, chairman of the National Heritage Board said:

"This is not a Singapore documentary, it is a documentary about Singapore but made by an international company. We hope the final product will be fair and balanced, and tells our story in an engaging and convincing way."

"It does capture quite well, in three hours, the long and complex history of Singapore. Of course if you do a documentary and you want to make compelling TV, you have to take certain creative decisions but I have to say the story is quite accurate," said Professor Tan Tai Yong, a historian at the National University of Singapore.

Discovery's team also faced challenges when they were filming the series.

Said James Gibbons of Discovery Asia: "How do you take 200 years and condense it? An objective was to tell the story of Singapore - which is one of the four Asian tigers. The story we believe is emblematic of many of the transformations that have taken place in Asia over 100 years. It's a fascinating story for our audience in the region and perhaps beyond."

As a special tribute to mark Singapore's 40th birthday, the three-part series will reach more than 100 million households in 23 countries, telling the history of Singapore to the local and international audience.

The documentary is sponsored by Singapore Airlines and Neptune Orient Lines, and supported by the National Heritage Board.

- CNA /ls


While Singapore has laws to fine and imprison their film-makers for making 'political' films, North Korea adopts a more hard-nosed approach in reining in renegade film-makers...

They execute film-makers in this country

"Do you really believe that we are equal to North Korea ? Oh, come on. We are not that daft. We know what is in our interest and we intend to preserve our interests and what we have is working. You are not going to tell us how to run our country"
- MM Lee Kuan Yew speaking to foreign journalists on Singapore's low ranking press freedom

"We consider that the United Nations has no right to discuss the Korean question nor has it any right to meddle in the domestic affairs of our country. The Korean question should not be discussed by foreigners in New York of Washington, it should be discussed in Pyongyang or Seoul by the Koreans themselves."
- Kim Il Sung, father of current North Korea President Kim Jong Il

Here's another documentary you should catch. Click here for CNN schedules.

Undercover in the Secret State

In Undercover in the Secret State, Dispatches exposes the true face of North Korea its strict regime has strived to keep hidden. Although rumours abound of forced labour camps and systematic human rights abuses, Asia's last Stalinist state and one of the world's emerging nuclear powers, remains something of an enigma.

In this film, award-winning filmmaker Kim Jung Eun (Shadows and Whispers: The Struggle of North Korean Refugees) lays bare the cruel realities of daily life, presenting powerful undercover footage and interviews with defectors fleeing the regime.

Working as secret cameramen, the dissidents Jung Eun meets film public executions and concentration camps to expose the subjugated existence of a nation gripped by the cult of its reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il. The chilling footage smuggled to the outside world, hand by hand, along an underground network, makes difficult viewing.

Prisoners whose only crime was to help people escape the country are submitted to the firing squad under the gaze of men, women and school children. Elsewhere detainees in a political prison camp are incarcerated with three generations of their family for criticising the regime.

In a bid to bring down the one-party dictatorship from within, the fledgling dissident movement produces publicity which criticises the dictatorship - a crime punishable by death.

They also import illicit American and South Korean soap operas which are proving an effective means of promoting unease. The soaps depict a comfortable standard of life in South Korea which contradict the state-controlled media reports and sit in stark contrast to the hand to mouth existence north of the border.

Undercover in the Secret State is a powerful film which presents an uncensored version of North Korea, a country blighted by acute food shortages and a rigid regime which violates human rights. But it also offers hope of a change powered by new technology.

Below is excerpt of article by Felix Soh published in the Straits Times Nov 3, 2005

Shocking images of life in North Korea

Secretly filmed tapes show public executions, poverty and anti-govt graffiti

North Korean dissidents are using mobile phones, digital cameras and video recording devices to leak chilling, never-before-seen images of life inside the reclusive country, including public executions by firing squads.

A network of secret cameramen is employing technology as the latest weapon to expose the truth about harsh living conditions in North Korea and to fuel growing dissent against the repressive Stalinist regime of strongman Kim Jong Il.

If they are caught filming, they face prison or death.

Among the most shocking footage ever to have come out of North Korea are these:

- Instant trials followed by public executions, with children among those witnessing the atrocities. (My note : public executions is an "atrocity"; executions done behind closed doors in Changi Prison is not?)

- Rare defacing of posters of Kim Jong Il with anti-government graffiti such as "Bring down Kim Jong Il, he has killed everyone who stood for democracy".

In one of the executions shown in the documentary, people are ordered to gather in a dusty field.

A public official tells the crowd that those who go against their country will be executed. Minutes later, a man is led out and tied to a pole. He is blindfolded. Three policemen step forward and raise their rifles.

The official shouts: "Forward. Right. Shoot, shoot, shoot."

The shots ring out. The man slumps against the ropes that bind him to the pole.

His crime: trying to make contact with the outside world.

North Korea is a hermit-like state whose people's lives, activities and movements are tightly controlled and restricted.

The Pyongyang regime describes the country as paradise, but regugees and dissidents speak of repression, famine, starvation, prison and torture. Images of the latter are now being smuggled out of the country.

CNN's Undercover In The Secret State will be telecast in Singapore,
Malaysia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and Taiwan at 7pm on Thursday, with replays on subesequent days.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The executioner and the minister - Just doing what they are told

Are our standards of punitive measures too draconian ?

Excerpt from a letter published in the Straits Times forum page

Nov 3, 2005

Laws shouldn't be too far off global standards

A MAN punched a lawyer in front of a judge and was sentenced to six years in jail. When he appealed to the High Court, another four years were added to his sentence, a decision which was later reversed.

A shoplifter was jailed for 11 years.

Drug traffickers caught with as little as 15g of heroin are sentenced to death. According to Amnesty International, since 1991, 400 people have been hanged, mostly for drug trafficking.

Singapore is known for its strong emphasis on law and order. However, one cannot help but feel that something is amiss in the way court sentences are sometimes meted out.


"Human beings, regrettably though it may be, are inherently vicious and have to be restrained from their viciousness. If these people said to us, cancel whipping and you will be a better society, we will underwrite this existence in human liberty, then we would abolish effective punishments and treat criminals the way Americans do."

- Lee Kuan Yew on the caning of American teenager Michael Fay, Apr 1994


According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, Singapore's prison population per capita is three times the world's average, and fourth highest in Asia.

It's a dirty job but somebody has to do it.

Meet Darshan Singh.

The 73 year old grandfather is Singapore's chief executioner. He has put to death more than 850 men and women since the mid-50s. He collects S$400 for every life he snuffed out. The number of executions has propelled Singapore into the top of Amnesty's list of countries with the most per capita executions.

Until last week, no one has heard of Darshan Singh. He was finally unmasked when a journalist from The Australian covered the story of an Aussie now on death row in Changi Prison.

Mr Singh is unable to talk about his job as he is prohibited to do so under the Official Secrets Act. But when his colleague asked him why he had stayed so long in such a gruesome job, he replied: "It's all I know. It has become my bread and butter."

Mr Singh is now retired but is still called upon by the Government to carry out executions. Apparently, the State has not been able to find a replacement hangman.

Meet Professor Ho Peng Kee.

He is Singapore's Senior Minister of State for Law and Home Affairs. Ministers' salaries are hardly made public, but it is estimated that he takes home some S$3000 to S$4000 a day.

When asked what does a second-line minister like him do, he replied, "I'm Mr Wong Kan Seng's deputy. I do whatever he asks me do."

Prof Ho does not like to argue the death penalty in Parliament and put people people down in the process. He is also a Christian and considers gay sex "not natural."

Interview with Professor Ho Peng Kee published in the Straits Times on Oct 28, 2005.

On sex, values and white elephants

ST : Ministry of Home Affairs' (MHA) review of the Penal Code will be out at the end of the year. One aspect mentioned previously is the law on oral sex. Is it likely to be decriminalised?

Prof Ho : That one we're looking at.

Some of these laws were drafted in the past, so we have to contextualise some of these laws because society changes.

It's a big exercise. The various ministries are still working on some of the details.

What's your personal take?

My personal take is that between men and women, if you are an adult and there's no force, then what you do in the privacy of your bedroom that has no impact on the public, then you do what you want.

What about gay sex?

We're still a conservative society.

It's a slippery slope. Once you move, where do you go to? So you'll talk about not just gay sex but also gay marriages, then gay adoptions...

But using the same argument, that you can do what you want in the privacy of your bedroom?

That's different because I think men and women having sex is natural. And it is also in a sense consistent with the whole idea of marriage.

Of course even if they do it outside of marriage, it is still man and woman, which is still part of this relationship.

More industrialised nations are moving away from the death penalty. Is it time for us to review this too?

The pressure can come from outside. But the question really for us in Singapore to decide what works for us.

To me, the large majority of Singaporeans accept our penal system, that, yes, it is tough but it is also fair.

But we're not a society that advocates just hard punishment. We've also softened it when appropriate and home detention is an example.

We introduced it in 2000 and 6,000 people have gone through it. This is something which is actually quite revolutionary. Not many countries have done it this way but we are prepared to do it.

Do you feel Singapore has been made a laughing stock over the investigation into the white elephant protest over the Buangkok station? Many Singaporeans feel it was a creative protest and it's somewhat over the top to have the police investigate.

The police have investigated where a complaint is lodged ... it violates the Public Entertainment Act.

What if the exhibit was something else, maybe something obscene?

I don't think people would say we are a laughing stock. People would say that we are an orderly society that believes in the rule of law and also the professionalism of the police in being consistent.

Often the Government justifies its actions saying it's simply following the law. Do you think that old laws, such as this and that five people constitute an illegal assembly, trap the Government in old behaviour and old ways of reacting - even when society itself has changed?

We examine the relevance of our laws all the time.

Regarding the illegal assembly law, I think nobody can argue that the mischief is being addressed, if there are crowds of people gathering causing disorder, causing fear, causing disruption to traffic...

Laws are in place for good reasons. But whether the parameters can be changed over time, I'll say yes, because no law is cast in stone.

If you ask why five and not 10, well, some number has to be drawn.

As a Christian, do your religious beliefs affect you in decision making?

You have to make decisions according to policies, what is right for Singapore, and Singapore is secular.

But as a mature religious person, your values are internalised. That's how you act, speak, present yourself. But you don't think, oh, as a Christian, what should this policy be?

At temples for instance, I attend festivals and so on, just that I don't hold joss-sticks.

You said gay sex is "not natural". Is that something that comes out of your religious beliefs?

Yes, could be. Well, I won't attribute it directly. I look at it more as a family bedrock thing, that a family is based on a man and a woman. I think all the main religions in Singapore believe it's how we are made.

What is exactly that second-line ministers like you do?

Depends a lot on the minister and also on who else is there.

So in MHA, I'm Mr Wong Kan Seng's deputy. I do whatever he asks me do because initially, he also has to find a level of confidence in me. So if he feels comfortable enough, then he gives me more work and I do more. Over time, I can also run a bit on my own.

You mentioned earlier that you're not a natural politician. What do you mean by that?

I think people assume Singaporean politicians to be quite tough, hard-headed and I'm not naturally that kind of person. I can be tough, I can be hard but I think naturally I'm of the softer type.

I can make tough decisions but I'll probably agonise a bit.

Which was your most agonising decision?

In MHA, you've to defend the death penalty, you have to argue in Parliament and put people down, and I don't enjoy doing it.

You made the election promise in 2001 that Nee Soon East will be kept a single-seat ward. The final decision lies with the Prime Minister, but do you think it's a promise you can keep?

I hope so. This one, cannot leak secrets, otherwise the opposition will also know. (laughs) Put yourself in my position. I will lose credibility if it's not a single seat.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Rethinking political censorship in Singapore

By Dharmendra Yadav, TODAY
First Published 21 October 2005

TODAY, legal and media professionals will gather at the Supreme Court to debate the relationship between law and media. One can expect the issue of the Films Act to be brought up.

The Media Development Authority (MDA) recently noted that the MediaCorp television series Up Close did not breach the Films Act prohibition on party political films, as the episodes in question - which featured five ministers talking about their portfolios - were "non-partisan" and aired "for the purpose of reporting current affairs".

The Government had introduced the ban on party political films amid concerns that "political discourse in Singapore would degenerate into 30-second spots directed by image consultants", and that the quality of election campaigning would be compromised. As then Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo emphasised, the Government desired "to keep political debate in Singapore serious".

According to the Films Act, "a party political film" is one "made by or on behalf of any political party in Singapore"; by any body whose objectives primarily concern Singapore politics; or by any person for "any political end".

A film has a political end if it contains material "intended or likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum in Singapore"; "partisan or biased references"; or comments on "any political matter". As is typical of most media legislation, the classification is worded broadly to capture diverse activities, even discussion on government policies. It allows for two situations in which a film is not a party-political film: If it is made to report current events, or to give general information on election "procedures and polling times". Offenders can be fined up to $100,000 or imprisoned for up to two years.

The MDA faces a daunting task in deciding what is - or isn't - a "party political film". How does it decide if something is "partisan" or if it merely "reports current events"? Is this best decided by an independent body of persons, or by a group of government employees?

Some, like me, feel a review of the Films Act is in order. For example, its process of assessment, investigation, enforcement and appeal can be codified separately.

Decisions should preferably be made by an independent body of people whose deliberations should be public and free from any perceived political pressure from the dominant party or the opposition parties. There should be opportunities for appeal and for judicial review. Yet even with such codification, any decision can be disputed as subjective, since it is based on interpretation. So, we need to ask if banning such party political films is the best way forward in the first place.

These films can be easily screened outside Singapore, and controversy is often the best crowd-drawer. Also, film bans are increasingly irrelevant in this age of broadband Internet access, which has made it possible to download films from websites that are hosted overseas, such as Martyn See's documentary on Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan, Singapore Rebel.

Even if such websites are blocked - as they are in China - there are Internet entrepreneurs who will simply mirror the website and provide regulators like MDA with a bigger problem to manage. A better solution may be not to ban these films but to require them to include warnings or declarations, for instance.

If the film is deemed partisan, MDA, together with the Singapore Film Commission, can appoint another film-maker to introduce brief footage that will make it less partisan. For example, if the film makes fun of film censors, get a quick view from film censors, or request an academic to provide a brief analysis. Such clips can be screened at the end of the film to balance audience perspective, as a condition for the film being passed for screening in Singapore.

Conditions can also be imposed on where and how party political films can be screened. For example, like R21 (restricted) films, such films could be screened in specified cinemas only. Tickets could be subject to a minimum price of $20 - half of which could be donated to the film commission and the National Arts Council.

These moves would address the Government's concerns about the negative effect of party political films and its desire "to keep political debate in Singapore serious", while in the long run, also enrich our creative industries and make audiences more media savvy.

The writer, a corporate counsel, contributes in a personal capacity. - TODAY

Saturday, October 15, 2005

MediaCorp series didn't breach Films Act (Oh really?)

The Straits Times
Oct 15, 2005

I refer to the letter, "Films Act : Did MediaCorp run foul of the law?" (ST, Oct 14), by Mr Kevin Lau Jit Hwee. He asked if MediaCorp's screening of a series on PAP leaders earlier this year could have violated the Films Act.

The series referrred to is the programme Up Close, which featured five ministers. In the series, the ministers discussed with invited guests policy issues pertaining to their portfolios, such as youth, employment, education and health.

The series clearly did not breach the Films Act as the discussions were conducted in a non-partisan manner and were aired by MediaCorp for the purpose of reporting current affairs.

K. Bhavani (Ms)
Corporate Communications
Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts

My views

1) Interesting that MICA has chosen not to invoke the exemptions provided for in Section 40 of the Films Act but opted instead for Section 33 which allows films relating to "reporting of current events." Does this mean that anyone who wishes to make a documentary about opposition figures can now do so if they follow exactly the same format as 'Up Close?'

2) More than one person has commented to me that 'Singapore Rebel' feels exactly like 'Up Close'. My video does not contain a single mention of Chee Soon Juan's party nor its platforms. Until now, MDA has not told me exactly why 'S'pore Rebel' has been deemed a 'party political film.' The above letter does not bother to disclose the reason either.

3) The police report lodged against MediaCorp for the screening of 'Up Close' includes another documentary, made by Hong Kong-based RTHK and shown on CNA in 2002. Success Stories : Lee Kuan Yew charts the political career of Lee Kuan Yew and contains scenes on the Government's responses to political opponents such as Francis Seow, Tang Liang Hong, JB Jeyaratnam and Chee Soon Juan. Would the Government qualify this documenatary as "non-partisan" and aired "for the purpose of reporting current affairs" as well?

4) Interesting that the above letter has chosen the term "ministers" instead of "PAP ministers" and "non-partisan" rather than "unbiased." Section 33 of the Films Act, for which I am under investigations for, is much broader than that. That MICA has now given the all-clear to Up Close means that the series

- did not contain any wholly or partly any matter which is intended or likely to affect voting in any election or national referendum in Singapore

- did not contain wholly or partly either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter, including

i) an election or a national referendum in Singapore;

(ii) a candidate or group of candidates in an election;

(iii) an issue submitted or otherwise before electors in an election or a national referendum in Singapore;

(iv) the Government or a previous Government or the opposition to the Government or previous Government;

(v) a Member of Parliament;

(vi) a current policy of the Government or an issue of public controversy in Singapore; or

(vii) a political party in Singapore or any body whose objects relate wholly or mainly to politics in Singapore, or any branch of such party or body.

The above letter suggest that all five episodes of Up Close did not make a single biased reference to any of the above.

(Martyn See can only scratch his head and wait for the next police call...)

Friday, October 14, 2005

Films Act: Did MediaCorp run foul of the law?

The Straits Times
Oct 14, 2005

I REFER to Mr Chen Hwai Liang's letter, 'Govt doesn't depend on 'calibrated coercion' (ST, Oct 12), in which he reiterated that 'the Government must act when the law is broken, whether by opposition politicians or government supporters'.

Police are investigating independent Singaporean film maker Martyn See for making a documentary about an opposition leader as he may have violated the Films Act, which bans political advertising using film or video.

Earlier this year, MediaCorp screened a series on PAP leaders. Is it possible that it could have violated the Act? If yes, shouldn't it face police investigation too?

Kelvin Lau Jit Hwee


The letter writer may not be aware that a police report has been lodged against MediaCorp for the screening of Up Close and Success Stories.

Here are a few possible replies.

1. Section 40 the Films Act says

"This Act shall not apply to any film sponsored by the Government."

Therefore, in reply to the above query on the screening of 'Up Close' by MediaCorp's CNA, no police investigation will be initiated as the series was funded by the Government and hence is exempted from the Films Act. However, this does not mean that we practised a "one country, two laws" system. The Government makes responsible and unbiased films; Martyn See has made a irrensponsible and biased political film.

2. The Films Act also state that

"The Minister may, subject to such conditions as he thinks fit, exempt any person or class of persons or any film or class of films from all or any of the provisions of this Act."

Therefore, the Minister has decided that both 'Up Close' and 'Success Stories' are exempted from the Films Act and hence no investigation is required. Martyn See's "Singapore Rebel', on the other hand, has been deemed a 'party political film' for which he must face the consequences if charged and convicted. Ministers are responsible people who do not make biased judgements on what constitutes a biased film. Ministers are elected leaders who make informed and balanced decisons based on feedback and consultation with a view of ensuring the long-term well-being of Singapore.

3. Martyn See's video is being investigated by the police for presenting political issues in a 'biased, partisan' manner. His subject, Dr Chee Soon Juan, is an opposition member and the video is made to accentuate partisan politics. 'Up Close' and 'Success Stories', on the other hand, are balanced, non-partisan documentaries made about Government leaders. Broadcasters who produce and import shows about their own governments are the norm all over the world. We will risk falling behind if we penalise our broadcasters for putting out thoughtful documentaries about Singapore leaders.

4. We thank Mr Kelvin Lau for his letter and would like to inform him that a police report has indeed been filed against MediaCorp for the showing of 'Up Close' and 'Success Stories.' The Media Development Authority is looking into the matter. Meanwhile, Mr Martyn See has not been charged yet. We are mindful that the law must be applied equally.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Let us watch political films, say ST readers

Published in the Straits Times on May 21 2005

Last week, Insight looked at the restrictions on party political films under the Films Act. Readers wrote in and SMS-ed their views. Here's a sampling:

"If political parties' newsletters are allowed to be published and distributed, I see no reason why the same cannot apply to political films.

As long as issues of race and religion are not depicted, the question of evoking emotive reactions need not arise.

Most Singaporeans are now well-educated, more open and discerning. They know that some films are made in a partisan manner and have a political agenda.

Imposing restrictions may give the wrong impression that the Government views Singaporeans as immature and not enlightened enough to know what is right and what is wrong."


"There could be a classification if the Government is so unnerved by films like Singapore Rebel.

It is the apt balance between letting us watch what we want and being cautioned that a particular film's themes are controversial. I watched Singapore Rebel on the Internet and it further demonstrates that political films can be viewed by the public regardless of the Government's anachronic prohibition of political films."


"After reading the article, my immediate response is : Why not?

'Speak up, speak out, speak well,' encourages Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Are films not one way of speaking out?

Supporters of the act stress that it ensures that Singapore politics does not degenerate into an advertising slugfest during elections.

But giving electoral speeches is already a form of advertising."


"Fahrenheit 9/11 was released in 2004. It was a film dealing with political issues and was biased against the Bush administration. It was not restricted.

It was released in the year of the US elections. With the movie fresh in their minds, Americans went to vote. Bush won.

What this shows is a mature society is capable of thinking for itself. By stifling us with such restrictions, the Government is attempting to protect Singaporeans from this very thought process.

How is our society expected to progress when decisions are always being made for us?"


"We should relax the restriction. Any party can make its own party film if all the rules are followed.

The PAP can make a film about the founding of the party, its founding fathers, and about MM Lee fighting for Singapore. Because Singaporeans nowadays really don't care about our history and many don't even know our history. If the PAP truly has the support of the people, why worry?"

SMS from reader

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Amnesty International and SEAPA appeals

Oh boy, two international organisations, Amnesty International and SEAPA, have issued appeals for me, and on the same day. I vouch that this has taken me by surprise. Am I pleased? Or fearful that the repercussions might be more severe now that the police investigations into a short video has sparked an international outcry against the Government? Not a time for wild speculations, I'm afraid, for it paralyses me each time I worry about the consequences.

"If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry."
- Dalai Lama, quoting Master Shantideva

Link to Amnesty International appeal
Singapore: Stifling freedom of expression - Film Maker Martyn See Threatened With Prosecution

Singaporean film maker Martyn See is under police investigation for making a short documentary film about an opposition politician in the city state. He has been threatened with prosecution under the Films Act, after a making of a 26-minute documentary on Dr Chee Soon Juan, the leader of the opposition Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), and could face up to two years in jail or a fine of up to S$100,000 (approx. US$59,000).

In March 2005 government movie censors ordered the withdrawal of his documentary, entitled Singapore Rebel, from the country’s annual international film festival on the grounds that that it breached the Films Act. Subsequently, as police conducted a criminal investigation, Martyn See was called for questioning and compelled to surrender his video camera, existing tapes of the documentary and other related material.

The Films Act, just one of a wide range of restrictive laws that curtail freedom of expression in Singapore, prohibits "party political films". The Act broadly defines such films as those containing "…either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter".

The subject of the film, Dr Chee Soon Juan, is prominent among the limited number of Singaporeans who remain vocal and active in opposition politics despite the serious obstacles and personal pressures that such a role can entail.

Chee Soon Juan has been imprisoned for holding peaceful public meetings, and following civil defamation suits lodged by leaders of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) now faces possible bankruptcy. As a bankrupt he would be barred from standing in parliamentary elections.

Martyn See denies making the film in support of any particular political belief or party, commenting that he sought to "find out Chee Soon Juan's motivation, as to why he does what he does." Although banned in Singapore, the film has been screened at human rights festivals in the United States and New Zealand and may soon be shown in Canada.


Freedom of expression, association and assembly is strictly controlled in Singapore, a city-state of just over four million people. A broad array of restrictive legislation, including the Films Act, the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, the Societies Act, the Undesirable Publications Act and the Public Entertainments and Meetings Act, imposes tight curbs on free speech and civil society activities.

In respect to curbs on allegedly "political" or other "unacceptable" films, a 15-minute documentary made by three college lecturers about veteran former opposition leader J B Jeyaretnam was banned in 2001 after it was found to have violated the Films Act. In 2003, a film by Roystan Tan, 15, telling the story of delinquent teenage gangsters, was ordered cut by government censors after police deemed it a threat to national security, though it was reportedly well received at the Vienna Film Festival.

In a recent protest action against the Films Act and other censorship in Singapore, internet activist Yap Keng Ho lodged a police complaint in August in relation to the production and screening by a state-owned television company of allegedly "political" films profiling PAP leaders. Yap Keng Ho stated he wanted to expose a pro-ruling party bias in the Act and its application. Police are investigating the complaint.

Amid hopes of a possible relaxation of political and social controls, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (son of former longstanding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) in his 2004 inaugural speech called for greater participation by Singaporeans in a more "open" and "inclusive" society.

However, continuing tight restrictions, including the use of the Films Act, continue to inhibit political life. In particular, financially ruinous civil defamation suits lodged by PAP leaders against prominent opposition figures deter and intimidate government critics. Following a series of such defamation suits, former opposition leader J B Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt in 2001, expelled from parliament and barred from contesting elections.

Amnesty International considers these defamation suits were politically motivated and have had a wider 'chilling' effect on the right to freedom of expression in Singapore. The US State Department Human Rights Report has also criticised Singapore for using defamation suits to intimidate opposition politicians, and the press organisation Reporteurs Sans Frontières ranks Singapore 147th out of 167 countries on press freedom.

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.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

An analysis of 'party political films' by ex-journalist

Cherian George is an ex-journalist with the Straits Times and the author of Air-Conditioned Nation. He is currently an assistant professor at the National Technological University.

Cherian is also a blogger.

Singapore: New Media, Politics & the Law & Air Conditioned Nation

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

In 2002, Parliament amended the Films Act to declare moving pictures to be an illegal medium for furthering any political objective. The Government's justification for such a sweeping move was basically that video is an irrational and emotional medium, and should not be exploited for political competition. The additional impact is to control a medium that has become increasingly accessible to small producers, in terms of technology and cost.

The Act bans anyone from importing, making, reproducing, exhibiting, or possessing for the purpose of distributing, a "party political film". If found guilty, the offender can be fined up to $100,000 or imprisoned up to two years.

If you think there's a loophole in the "party political" label, think again. The law defines this genre to cover not only "an advertisement made by or on behalf of any political party in Singapore" but even any film "made by any person and directed towards any political end in Singapore".

Although the old-fashioned term "film" is used, the Act defines this medium broadly, to include not just celluloid, but also digital material that can be displayed "as wholly or partly visual moving pictures". This seems to cover CD-ROMs with some video content, streaming video on the internet, and so on.

So, at its broadest, the Act bans anyone from having anything to do with showing any moving images intended to further any political cause.

The only apparent wiggle-room is in the intentions of the offenders. First, the phrase "directed towards" any political end suggests that the political effect of the film must be intentional. Second, a person is said to commit an offence if he distributes or shows a film "knowing or having reasonable cause to believe" that the film is party-political.

Therefore, it looks as if the Act is not meant to catch the filmmaker who makes a political film by accident (which could happen if a film’s message is exploited for political ends after it is made - for example, Jack Neo's "The Best Bet" could be screened to serve an anti-casino platform during an election, even if such use wasn't Neo's original intent; in such a scenario, Neo would probably be safe). In addition, distributors oblivious to the content of a film could plead ignorance.

It should also be pointed out that the Act does not appear to make it an offence to watch a party political film, or to possess a copy for personal use. This is in keeping with the Singapore authorities' broad approach to censorship, which is to tackle producers and distributors, rather than go after individual consumers.

That's what the Act says. In a letter to the media in May 2005, the information ministry (MICA) clarified how it would interpret the Act's provisions. MICA said that "it is not true that all films with political themes will be disallowed".

"The ban here is only on films which deal with political issues in a partisan manner, such as a film aimed at furthering the cause of a political party or influencing the outcome of an election, or which presents a one-sided view of political issues of the day. Unbiased reporting of political issues on film would not be unlawful," MICA's letter said.

MICA also restated the official rationale for the ban: " 'Party political films' are disallowed because they are an undesirable medium for political debate in Singapore. They can present political issues in a sensational manner, evoking emotional rather than rational reactions, without affording the opportunity for a meaningful rebuttal or explanation to audience and viewers."

In principle, the legislation applies equally to the ruling party and to the Opposition. However, it disadvantages the Opposition disproportionately, for two reasons.

First, with government-supervised mainstream media already biased towards the ruling party, the Opposition is more dependent than the PAP on alternative channels such as video (and the internet). Second, the PAP's ideological dominance is such that much of its platform now sounds like "common sense" rather than patently "political". Furthermore, being the government of the day allows it to couch its messages as ostensibly apolitical "national education". Thus, while a video biography of JB Jeyaretnam would probably fall foul of the Films Act as furthering a "political end", a video biography of Lee Kuan Yew would be regarded by regulators as part of the Singapore story.

(Correction : The Films Act was amended in 1998, and not 2002 as stated by Cherian above)

Friday, September 23, 2005

'Singapore Rebel' witchhunt?

Some things you and I should know about this rather troubling turn of events.

- Other than Jacob George, another friend, a leading Singaporean filmmaker at that, was called up and was interviewed by ASP Chan Peng Kuang on Monday. I had known who she was but I had wanted to respect her privacy. A young journalist at TODAY apparently went ahead and got the scoop. Watch for the report later today.

- I have not been told exactly why 'Singapore Rebel' was deemed a party political film. Was the film intended for a political end? Did it contain biased references to political issues? Was it an advertisement made for a political organisation? Neither MDA nor the police has told me the exact reason for its classification.

- 'Singapore Rebel' contains not a single mention of 'SDP' or 'Singapore Democratic Party.' The only political party mentioned is the PAP. In my view, it had potrayed Chee Soon Juan as an activist isolated by his own deliberate acts of civil disobedience. But of course this is a totally subjective view, and others who have seen it will harbour diametrically opposite interpretations, and hence it brings into question what constitutes a 'biased reference' in the first place, and also who gets to decide what is 'party political film.' Was the labelling of 'Singapore Rebel' as a PPF a decision made by a commitee or by one individual at the Media Development Authority? And how did he (or they) arrive at his (or their) decision?

- The report below does not contain any statement from the police. Surely the Straits Times must verify with Home Affairs that Jacob George was indeed called up, and the other obvious question is why the need to tap my mobile phone, if indeed it's been tapped.

- On a separate note, I am currently researching for my next short film - on an ex-detainee. And I will probably spend a lot of time hanging out with him, like I did with Chee Soon Juan. But the film will ultimately be my vision, not his or anybody else's. Hopefully, all of you will get to see it, legally of course.

Martyn See


Film probe : Activist called for interview

STRAITS TIMES, 22 Sept 2005

The police have called political activist Jacob George, 36, for an interview in connection with the ongoing invetigations into filmmaker Martyn See's documentary, Singapore Rebel.

Mr George said on his Internet blog that he received the phone call on his cellphone on Monday afternoon.

An assistant superintendent of police explained to him that he was talking to friends and acquaintances of Mr See.

No date has been fixed for the interview, he added, but said it would likely be next week.

Mr See's 26-minute documentary chronicles several of the political activities of opposition Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Chee Soon Juan.

Making a party political film is an offence under the Films Act, which bans the making or distribution of such films, including advertisement by political parties or other political organisations, or films "directed towards any political end in Singapore".

If found guilty, a filmmaker can be jailed for up to two years or fined up to $100,000.

But Mr See, 36, has not been charged with any offence.

Mr George said in his blog that the police officer who called him mentioned that he got his number through their investigations, and Mr George had been in contact with Mr See through SMS.

He told The Straits Times yesterday he had a "very short, pleasant conversation" with the officer, during which he said he had nothing to do with Singapore Rebel.

The film was withdrawn from the Singapore International Film Festival in March after the Board of Film Censors found it objectionable. The board then made a report to the police.

The Media Development Authority said the board had made the report as making a party political film is an offence.

Last month, after a three hour-long interview with the police, Mr See was asked to surrender his tapes and video camera.

On Tuesday, Mr See wrote in his blog: "Not only am I unable to speak freely on my own phone, the police is now closing in on individuals who are totally unconnected with the making of Singapore Rebel."

Local film-makers questioned

POLICE questioned Singapore film-maker Tan Pin Pin on Monday in an ongoing investigation into Martyn See's documentary on Singapore Democratic Party secretary-general Mr Chee Soon Juan.
The authorities began investigating the documentary Singapore Rebel after the Board of Film Censors lodged a complaint that it had breached the Films Act.
Apart from the Ms Tan and the documentary's producer, Mr See, police have also questioned Mr Jacob George, formerly from the Think Centre.
Making a party political film is an offence under the Films Act, which bans the making or distribution of such films, including advertisements by political parties or other political organisations, or films "directed towards any political end in Singapore". The offence carries a jail term of up to two years or a fine up to $100,000. Mr See, however, has not been charged with any offence.
Ms Tan, who received international acclaim for her documentary Singapore GaGa, was the representative signatory for 10 film-makers who wrote a letter to The Straits Times forum page in May this year.
The 10 wanted to know where the OB markers lay for what the government deemed as "political film-making".
Ms Tan declined comment last night. — Vinita Ramani

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Blogger listed on Martyn See's phone called up by police over Singapore Rebel

The police has intesified investigations against me by calling up blogger Jacob George whose number is listed on my mobile. The walls are closing in. Not only am I unable to speak freely on my own phone, the police is now closing in on individuals who are totally unconnected with the making of 'Singapore Rebel.'

Martyn See

News alert from omekanahuria.blogspot.com/

A call from the police

About 12.15pm yesterday, I received a call from an ASP Chan of the Singapore Police Force. He requested an interview with me with regards to the ongoing investigations into the documentary, Singapore Rebel, by Martyn See.

I asked the ASP why he wanted to talk to me. He replied that he's talking to some of Martyn's friends and acquaintances as part of the investigations. He mentioned that I've been in contact with Martyn via SMS.

When the ASP called, I asked him how he got my mobile number. He just replied "through our investigations". 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.

We will probably meet next week.

Like I've written so many times before, it's not as if the documentary was a training video for the JI terrorist group!!

This unneccessary investigation is being taken to ridiculous levels.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

17 year old to face sedition charges

"In regulating the Internet, the MDA adopts a balanced and light-touch approach..The MDA also encourages industry self-regulation and public education efforts to complement its light-touch regulatory approach."
- Media Development Authority

Just 17, hate blogger charged

17 Sept 2005

JUST four days after two men were charged with making racist remarks online, another blogger has joined their ranks.
This one is only 17, but his remarks appeared to be at least as virulent as those made by the two men charged on Monday.
Gan Huai Shi appeared in court on Friday, faced with seven charges under the Sedition Act for remarks he made between April 4 and July 16 this year.
The target of his ire were Malays and Muslims.
In some astonishing rants, he compared them to "rodents".
He claimed he wanted to blow up Muslim holy sites and wrote that "the Malays must be eliminated before it is too late".
He made insulting remarks about the community, most of which are not fit for publication. In his first entry Gan claimed that he was "extremely racist".
Like Benjamin Koh Song Huat, 27, and Nicholas Lim Yew, 25, Gan faces charges under the Sedition Act where conviction under the first charge could result in up to three years' jail and subsequent offences up to five years.
There have been concerns in many quarters that the Internet, which started as a platform for free speech, has, in some cases, evolved into a space for racist rants.
Observers have pointed out that recent actions taken by the authorities could rein in such outpourings. — Loh Chee Kong


When was the Sedition Act last used in Singapore?

Like many of the security laws in Singapore and Malaysia, including the one that allows for detention without trial, the Sedition Act was first passed by the Malayan Government under the British colonialists. Today, both countries still carries the legislation.

While the Malaysian Government regularly invokes the Sedition Act, which MM Lee Kuan Yew himself was almost a casualty 40 years ago, and still used today against the likes of Malaysiakini, Malaysia Today and blogger Jeff Ooi, it is unclear when the Sedition Act was last used in Singapore.

And then I came across this deft piece of research at mykel-ism.blogspot.com

"According to "Mallal's Digest : Legislation Citator, 1932 to 2003", a respected collection of all legal cases in Singapore and Malaysia published by the Malayan Law Journal in 2004, Singapore has not made use of the Sedition Act from 1965 to 2003. I suspect the charge of our 2 protagonists on Monday to be the first case in our nation's history. It's also interesting to note that the Undesirable Publications Act (Cap 338) and MDA content regulations were not used. The choice of the Sedition Act thus reveals the intention for calibrated coercion on the PAP's part.

Thus, the issue at hand is thus NOT about the boundaries of free speech in cyberspace, it is NOT about whether our two protagonists are bloggers or not, NOR is it the issue about the maintenance of racial and religious harmony in Singapore.

Rather, as Xenoboy contends, the use of the Sedition Act represents a symbolic dialogue between ruling party PAP and the Singaporean blogosphere. It is indicative of the surveillance present on the internet medium and the PAP's willingness to crush both offline and online dissenting views when the need arises.

The stakes are higher this time."

posted by mykel at mykel-ism.blogspot.com