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.


Anonymous said...

I hope you will pass this ordeal soon. I guess a lot of people are not blind to what is happening. Please VOTE responsibly people. Being a silent supporter, I can only wish you good luck.

Anonymous said...

Dear Martyn, I sincerely hope this Kafkaesque farce blows over soon. Good Luck. Your courage shows other Singaporeans what it means to stand up and be free !

brian koh said...

with your documentary making its rounds around the global community, it is really strange that many singaporeans in their own country have yet to see your documentary and cannot make an informed discourse about the whole saga.

Joe90 said...

Don't worry. The whole world is watching.

dfgd said...

Hi Martyn

In a small attempt to show solidarity Martyn I have started an online petition.

The least it can do is remind Big Brother that the world is watching.


Anonymous said...

Good Luck and Keep the fire burning!

The people will remember and vote for change in the next GE! Democracy, Human Rights and Freedom are as Singaporean as anything else!

Anonymous said...

haha... i don't know if it's a good or bad idea too. because no matter what, it may or may not change the goverment's mind. oh well...

they called me up some weeks back too, by the way.

Kelvin Lim said...

Even though "Singapore Rebel" has not been seen by the general public at large, this whole incident will make the world sit up and notice the governance of Singapore.

Indeed, curtailing of such a basic human right will only seek to have repercussion.

Stay cool and calm. The world is watching.

Frank Galea said...

Martyn, you are getting some support from many people in the "blogosphere". I wrote a quick article on a friend's site mentioning your case:

Click on the "Globalization, freedom of expression, the Internet" article.

I'm sure many others out there are doing the same and spreading the word about your film and the government's attempt to suppress it. The MUST realize it can only backfire.

Anonymous said...

i suggest for those who have trouble "deciding" in a walk-over constituency, to abstain for voting. since the PAP is just using the elections to confirm our "allegiance" to it, not voting might be an option to show our lack of support. they will still win. just that with a participation rate of less than 50%, it is a showcase to the world. non-voters also cannot be "marked" for supporting the opposition. just a simple man's thoughts...