Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Newswires on police probe

Singapore film maker faces police investigation

SINGAPORE, May 10 (Reuters) - A Singapore film maker, who made a documentary about an opposition politician that was withdrawn from the city state's film festival this year, said on Tuesday he had been asked to come for questioning by police.
Martyn See, 36, told Reuters the police asked him to present himself for an interview on May 16 to discuss his film about Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, one of several small political parties in the city-state.

"I'm worried. I've not even told my mum. How do I tell my mum that I'm under investigation for making a short video that has no sex, no violence, no foul language," See said.

Police spokeswoman Siow Cheng Cheng told Reuters police were investigating the case under the Films Act but declined to elaborate and did not confirm that See had been asked to come in.

The Films Act bars the making and distribution of "party political films", which is punishable with fines and imprisonment.

See withdrew his 26-minute film "Singapore Rebel" from the Singapore International Film Festival in March after the Singapore Board of Film Censors told festival organisers that the film was objectionable under the law.

"I assumed the matter was dropped, so this came as a great surprise to me that they should call me now for the investigation," See said.

Opposition politician Chee told Reuters that the police move to question See was not surprising and that the government's recent calls for more openness were just rhetoric.

"I think it's a cruel joke that the government on the one hand wants people to speak up, and the minute people begin to do things that are not to their liking, they start intimidating, they start harassing, they start threatening," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has loosened some rules on free speech since taking power last year, but few are willing to test so-called "out of bounds" markers on what cannot be publicly discussed -- especially when it comes to politics.

In January, Chee lost a three-year legal battle against defamation charges brought by the city-state's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and his successor Goh Chok Tong.

Last year, Singapore film maker Royston Tan's movie "Cut", a 13-minute satire on state censorship, stirred a storm of criticism in parliament.

Promoters and major cinemas shunned the film, which is about a cinema buff who bursts into a rant about film cuts during a chance encounter with a censorship board official.

Tan's first full-length feature, "15", revolving around drugs and delinquency, won international plaudits in 2003 but was heavily censored at home. A state TV company abruptly shelved plans for a documentary on Tan after he released "Cut".

The government says a high degree of control over public debate and the media is needed to maintain law and order.

Singapore police probe film-maker over political documentary
Tue May 10, 2:56 AM ET

SINGAPORE (AFP) - A Singaporean film-maker is under investigation for making a documentary about an opposition politician, police said, two months after the movie was banned locally for its political content.

police spokeswoman told AFP Martyn See's short film, Singapore Rebel, about vocal opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, was being probed under the Films Act pertaining to "party political" films.

If convicted of violating the Films Act, See could be jailed for two years or fined up to 100,000 Singapore dollars (61,340 US dollars).

See withdrew the film from Singapore's International Film Festival in March under pressure from the government's censors, who informed him that it was in breach of the act.

The film has since been lauded internationally and is due to be screened at two human rights film festivals this month, one held by Amnesty in the United States and another in New Zealand.

See told AFP on Tuesday police had asked him to present himself for questioning, and he was due to meet investigators on Monday next week.

See said police told him they were investigating him over the film's political content, but no more.

"Basically all they said was that the film was politically related, and because I was the maker, therefore I had to be questioned," he said.

See said he had no political agenda in making the film, and insisted he chose to focus on Chee "only in order to understand why political opposition in Singapore is marginalised".

Chee, 42, is facing bankruptcy after the High Court ordered him to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars for defaming Singapore's two former premiers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

International human rights groups regularly criticise the People's Action Party, which has ruled Singapore since independence in 1965 and holds all but two elected seats in parliament, for its intolerance to dissent.

They accuse the government of placing strict controls on the media and using defamation laws to curb any criticism.

On its website, the Amnesty International Film Festival in West Hollywood says Singapore Rebel "has just been withdrawn from the Singapore International Film Festival because of government censorship".

"We are proud to host the World Premiere and to support freedom of expression for artists worldwide," the site says.

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