Thursday, April 13, 2006

Censors say Zahari's 17 Years rated PG, but film fest cancelled screening

A new development has suddenly clouded yesterday's cancellation of the scheduled screening of Zahari's 17 Years as a non-finalist short film entry at the Singapore International Film Festival.

According to a local journalist, the censors confirmed today that Zahari's 17 Years was passed with a PG rating last week. Yet, when I spoke to a festival staff yesterday, he said the screening was cancelled as the censors has yet to authorise the screening.

Somebody bungled. You go figure.

All public screenings of films and videos in Singapore require a permit from the Board of Film Censors. According to its website, exceptions are made for "educational videos, documentaries, programmes for children and pre-1966 movies."

Zahari's 17 Years is my second self-directed film - after Singapore Rebel, for which I am still undergoing police investigations for violating section 33 of the Films Act which prohibits films which contain "either partisan or biased references to or comments on any political matter."

Recently, we have seen a run of documentaries and events highlighting Singapore's political past.
In December, government-linked companies sponsored the "History of Singapore", a three-hour extravaganza on Discovery Channel which had included interviews with former political detainee Fong Swee Suan and veteran opposition leader JB Jeyaretnam.

The recent demise of PAP old guard S. Rajaratnam also precipitated a telethon of tributes on ChannelNewsAsia, sparking a renewed interest in Singapore's post-independence history.

On February 26, a forum entitled Detention-Writing-Healing was held at the Esplanade. Speaking for the first time in public, ex-political detainees Tan Jing Quee and Michael Fernandez described to a packed audience on their experiences under detention without trial. Said Zahari was invited to speak at the same forum but he did not travel due to health concerns.

S'pore International Film Festival hosts political films

The following films will be screened in this year's program, except the last (which due an unsolved gaffe, was not screened).

The Last Communist
Director: Amir Muhammad
Country: Malaysia
Loosely based on the autobiography of Chin Peng, the legendary Malayan communist guerrilla leader, the film tells of the little-known role of the Communist Party of Malaya towards the dissolution of British rule in the country. It features lives of people in present-day Sitiawan, Chin Peng's birthplace in Perak, Malaysia and interviews with Malaysian communists currently living in exile in southern Thailand. Filled with songs and dance routines, the film is an unusual pop cultural document of Malaysian history.

Director: Riri Riza
Country: Indonesia
Idealist, teacher, writer, rebel and a central yet unknown political activist in the 60s, the darkest era of Indonesian history - that is who Chinese-Indonesian Soe Hok-Gie is. Even as the people around him adjust to Suharto's new regime, he continues to fight. His uncompromising idealism drives those close to him away - his friends and the woman he loves. Awarded the Hubert Bals Fund of the International Film Festival Rotterdam for its content and artistic value and winner of the Best Movie at the 2005 Indonesian Film.

Garuda's Deadly Upgrade
Director: Lexy Rambadeta/David O'Shea
Country: Australia / Indonesia
The death and murder of Munir Said Thalib, Indonesia's leading human rights activist convulsed Indonesian society leading to allegations of military and intelligence involvement. In Garuda's Deadly Upgrade, employing interviews with Suciwati, Munir's wife, and colleagues, Lexy Rambadeta and David O'Shea give an eerie but at times haunting account of the activist's last moments before he boarded Garuda Airlines, Indonesia's national carrier, bound for the Netherlands, and who died on board of arsenic poisoning.

Bush's Brain
Director: Joseph Mealey / Michael Shoob
Country: USA
The explosive documentary Bush's Brain suggests that George W. Bush would never have been president without Karl Rove, the President's closest advisor. Rove is the man known as "Bush's Brain", the most powerful political figure America has never heard of, the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain of today's Presidential politics. Based on the best-selling book by journalists James Moore and Wayne Slater, Bush's Brain chronicles Rove's history of political chicanery and dirty tricks.

Chinese Villagers' DV Documentaries On Village-Level Democracy
Director: Various
Country: China
This film is a collection of 10 short documentary films made by amateur filmmakers from around China. The film explores the experience of democracy by giving a rare glimpse of lives in rural China and the changing dynamics of village structure and governance. The effort is a project under the EU-China Training Programme on Village Governance and the first of its kind to be produced in China.

Waking Up The Nation
Director: Agostino Imondi
Country: Australia / Germany
A group of Australians concerned about the constant media reports of human rights violations against asylum seekers in Australia's immigration detention centres decides to embark on a two-month /12,000 kilometre journey around the country to visit as many detainees as possible, to raise awareness as well as to expose some of the mistreatments.

To Die For
Director: Andibachtiar Yusuf
Country: Indonesia
In Indonesia, in political elections, most people don't know what they should vote for. But there are some people who really know what they should vote for and die for it.

Terlena - Breaking of a Nation
Director: Andre Vltchek
Country: Indonesia
Documentary about a nation that still believes the propaganda created by one general and his army. This film gives voice to those silenced during the dictatorship of Soeharto, and takes an in-depth look both on a cultural and personal level.

Migrant Workers Are Not Terrorists!
Director: Jouni Hokkanen/Simojukka Ruippo
Country: Finland
Christian was a member of the communist party in Germany, but was kicked out because he was too radical. Now the veteran agitator tries to start a revolution in Seoul. During the day he protests outdoors for migrant rights, in the night he sleeps in a tent at Myeong-dong, the Korean equivalent of Times Square.

The Russell Tribunal
Director: Staffan Lamm
Country: Sweden
Stockholm, 1967: With participants including Jean-Paul Sartre, the Russell Tribunal investigates US war crimes in Vietnam. Victims of the war are called to witness. Today, from a distance of more than 35 years, the director reflects on his old footage from the tribunal, as well as some never been seen before.

Zahari's 17 Years
Director: Martyn See
Country: Singapore
In the early hours of 2nd February 1963, security police in Singapore launched Operation Coldstore - the mass arrests and detention of more than a hundred leaders and activists of political parties, trade unions and student movements, for their alleged involvement in "leftist" or "communist" activities. One of those arrested was former newspaper editor Said Zahari, who had been appointed the leader of an opposition party just three hours earlier.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Zahari's 17 Years awaiting approval from censors

Zahari's 17 Years is now before the Board of Film Censorhip, awaiting clearance for screening as a non-finalist entry of the Singapore International Film Festival short film competition. It is one of two short film entries yet to be given a rating by the authorities.

Subject to clearance, Zahari's 17 Years is scheduled to be screened at the following.

4pm, April 16 Sunday
163 Penang Road, #05-01
Winsland House 2

I am optmistic it will pass the cut. Reason is here.

Said Zahari, a former leftist activist, shows his latest memoir in front of his books collection at his home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, March 25, 2006. Said Zahari, who was arrested in 1963 and detained without trial by Singaporean authorities for 17 years has written a memoir detailing his experiences as a political prisoner and hopes the book will provide a different perspective of the political events that shaped Singapore's road to independence in 1965 and its first decades of nationhood. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

Former political prisoner says he's not bitter despite 17 years in
Singaporean detention

Associated Press Writer

Apr 8, 2006

SINGAPORE (AP) - In the twilight of his life, a former leftist activist who was arrested in 1963 on suspicion of plotting violent acts and detained without trial for 17 years says he bears no ill will toward Singapore.

"I don't have this sense of vengeance, or feel bitter about what happened to me. Singapore is my country, I love it," said Said Zahari, an ailing 78-year-old who lives in Malaysia. "I only wish that it will become a more open society."

Said also wants young Singaporeans to get another perspective on the often tumultuous events that shaped the road to independence in 1965 and Singapore's first decades of nationhood under the ruling People's Action Party.

The party, gearing up for parliamentary elections soon, still dominates. Lee Kuan Yew, the man who led the party at the time of Said's arrest, remains a powerful force in politics. He transformed Singapore into a regional center for finance and manufacturing, while maintaining a tight grip on society and politics.

Said has written a memoir about life as a political prisoner. A Malaysian publisher will launch the English-language version of the book in Malaysia next month.

Said wants his book to be distributed in Singapore, and a previous political memoir by him is available in at least one Singaporean bookstore and the national library. In a statement, A.R. Madeei, assistant director of publications at the state Media Development Authority, said Said's book, like all imported publications, would be "subject to the laws of the land."

Such laws include prohibitions on publications deemed objectionable on moral, racial or religious grounds, or detrimental to Singapore's national interests.

"The book deals mostly with our lives in prison, those political detainees arrested together with me, and others following that," Said said in a telephone interview from Malaysia.

He said some detainees were beaten and deprived of sleep for days, and that he and other inmates held a three-month hunger strike.

"I wanted the younger generation of Singapore to know the other side of history," he said.

Singapore's longest-serving political prisoner, Chia Thye Poh, was jailed without trial for 23 years from 1966 for alleged communist activities. International human rights groups often protested the detention.

The Home Affairs Ministry had no comment about Said.

British colonizers gave self-government to Singapore in 1959. In the early 1960s, authorities arrested left-wing politicians, trade unionists and Chinese students involved in strikes and rallies, accusing them of being violent subversives planning a communist state.

Said was detained on Feb. 2, 1963, hours after he was appointed president of a left-wing party.

Singapore, which was planning a merger with what later became Malaysia, said the swoop was aimed at individuals threatening to use violence to sabotage the proposed amalgamation. The detainees were jailed under a colonial-era law allowing detention without trial.

Said, who denied the accusations, was held for years, sometimes in solitary confinement, after the merger failed in 1965 and Singapore became independent.

"In solitary confinement, you're deprived of everything. You don't know if it's morning or noon or night, and you've no one to talk to for days, weeks and months," he said.

"So I talked to myself, as if I was dictating to a tape recorder, about my life, about what I did. By doing so, I had relief of the tension in my mind."

He also missed the birth of his youngest daughter and when his wife had breast cancer.

"Those were the days when I felt so horrible to see things happening outside, things happening to my wife that I couldn't do anything about," said Said, his voice low and gravelly.

Said was released in 1979, at age 51. A stroke in 1992 left him reliant on a walking stick and prompted his move to Malaysia, where his children had relocated.

There, he began his memoirs. The new book, entitled "The Long Nightmare: My 17 Years in Lee Kuan Yew's Prison," is the second installment of a planned trilogy he is writing in the book-lined study of his home in Subang Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur.

"In some ways it is sad that young Singaporeans don't know who he is, largely because of the way the history of Singapore post-1965 has been a history of the victors," said Chua Beng Huat, a sociologist at the National University of Singapore.

Young S'poreans need to know more about post-1965 history: PM Lee

By Joanne Leow, Channel NewsAsia

SINGAPORE : More needs to be done to educate young Singaporeans about Singapore's founding fathers and its post-independence history, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Speaking at the 25th anniversary of Raffles Junior College and the official opening of its new campus in Bishan, he said this was one way to help young Singaporeans stay committed to Singapore.

One of the top junior colleges in Singapore, RJC has produced many top students and high flyers.

And with its spanking new premises and independent status, it wants to create more opportunities for its students..

PM Lee said: "But RJC's mission is not just to produce brilliant students who can compete with the best in the world. More importantly, RJC must also nurture a leadership team for Singapore - students who are committed to Singapore and their fellow Singaporeans, because they have benefited from the system, and have a genuine desire to give back to society and make a difference in the lives of others."

The Prime Minister says he hopes all young Singaporeans will get a better sense of their country's history.

In fact, the syllabi in History and Social Studies is being updated to teach the younger generation more about Singapore's founding fathers and its tumultuous post-independence past.

Mr Lee said: "We now have a lacuna, a gap, in the generation of Singaporeans who were too young to know our pioneering leaders first-hand and, at the same time, too old to have learnt the modern syllabus. Hence when Mr Rajaratnam passed away recently, many Singaporeans in their 30s and younger admitted they knew little about who he was and what he had done."

In fact, it was only in the last 6 years that more post-independence history was taught.

This was because the government felt that more time need to have passed to allow for an objective, historical perspective of the events which happened. - CNA/ch

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Spot the difference - Communist China vs democratic Singapore


China detains documentary filmmaker

31 Mar 2006 15:37:03 EST
CBC Arts

Chinese authorities say they are a holding a documentary filmmaker because he committed a crime but are refusing to give any other details.

Wu Hao has been in police custody in Beijing since Feb. 22. His sister, Wu Na, says she found out Thursday that her brother is being held in relation to a crime but authorities will not allow her to visit him.

"They told me there was no way I can see him," Wu Na said in a telephone interview to the Associated Press. "I'm really shocked at this development. This is a place that's administered by law and yet they can't tell me anything."

She says police have told her that her brother's case is "secret."

Wu Hao spent 12 years living in the U.S. before returning to China in 2004 to make documentaries. The 32-year-old filmmaker's first documentary, Beijing or Bust, dealt with young U.S.-born Chinese living in Beijing.

He had been making a documentary about unregistered Christian churches in China and also participating in a hunger strike to protest the way political dissidents are treated before his mysterious arrest.

Prior to that, the filmmaker had met with Gao Zhisheng, a Beijing lawyer who launched a symbolic hunger strike in February to protest violence against political dissidents. Thousands of others joined the hunger strike campaign and at least 10 of those people have been detained by police or disappeared, according to Gao.

Human rights groups and media watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders, also called for Wu Hao's immediate release.

"Wu Hao is the sort of courageous and thoughtful journalist China needs," said Ann Cooper, CPJ's executive director, in a statement.

The CPJ says editing equipment and videotapes were confiscated from the filmmaker's apartment in Beijing two days after he disappeared. It wasn't until a full week later that officials at the Beijing Public Security Bureau contacted Wu Na to tell her that her brother - who she thought had disappeared - was being investigated.

"The Chinese government really shoots itself in the foot by detaining people like Hao," Wu Na said in a statement published through the CPJ.

Singapore film-maker questioned by police over movie on rebel

22 March 2006

SINGAPORE - A Singapore film-maker says he has been questioned again by police over his documentary about an opposition politician.

Martyn See told the Foreign Correspondents Association that he was questioned for about 30 minutes on Monday over his short documentary Singapore Rebel about Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party. See's Singapore Rebel has been classified by local censors as having violated the Films Act because of its political content.

The Films Act bans political advertising using films or videos, as well as movies directed towards any political end such as promoting political parties.

See has not been charged but the maximum penalty for making a political film is two years in jail or a $61,850 fine.

"It's arbitrary, the way they term a political film, what constitutes a political film," See said. "Until today I’ve not been told why Singapore Rebel is a political film."

Chinese blogs face restrictions

The Chinese government has announced plans to police web forums, chat rooms and blogs alongside other websites.
Websites in China have long been required to be officially registered.

The authorities are now determined that blogs should also be brought under state control.

Press advocacy group Reporters without Borders said the initiative would "enable those in power to control online news and information much more effectively".

Private bloggers must register the full identity of the person responsible for the sites, the Chinese Ministry of Information Industry (MII) said.

Commercial publishers and advertisers can face fines of up to one million yuan (£66,000) if they fail to register.

All blogs and websites must be registered by 30 June.

'Don't bother'

The authorities hope to push the most outspoken online sites to migrate abroad where they will become inaccessible to those inside China because of the Chinese filtering systems
Reporters Without Borders

"The internet has profited many people but it also has brought many problems, such as sex, violence and feudal superstitions and other harmful information that has seriously poisoned people's spirits," said a statement on the MII website, explaining why the new rules were necessary.

It has developed a system which will monitor sites in real time and search each web address for its registration number. Any that are not registered will be reported back to the Ministry, the statement said.

Blogs are often used in countries where freedom of speech is limited as a way of speaking out against the ruling power.

The new rules could be devastating for bloggers who do not toe the Chinese Communist party line, said Reporters Without Borders.

"Those who continue to publish under their real names on sites hosted in China will either have to avoid political subjects or just relay the Communist Party's propaganda," the organisation said.

"The authorities hope to push the most outspoken online sites to migrate abroad where they will become inaccessible to those inside China because of the Chinese filtering systems," it added.

Known as the Great Firewall, the filtering system used by the Chinese government is not entirely unbreachable; for every new restriction and technical door that it slams shut, the Chinese people find a hack, a workaround or an entirely new way of communicating.

According to official figures, about 75% of sites have already complied with the new procedure.

In May, many bloggers received e-mails telling them to register or face having their blogs declared illegal.

But one anonymous China-based blogger told Reporters Without Borders that when he phoned the MII to register he was told not to bother because "there was no chance of an independent blog getting permission to publish".

Singapore bans podcasting during elections and warns political bloggers

Political debate on the Internet could fuel "dangerous discourse" in Singapore, the city-state's government said on Monday, warning that Singaporeans who post political commentary on Web sites could face prosecution.

Speaking in parliament, Senior Minister of State Balaji Sadasivan said anyone using the Internet to "persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues" about Singapore during election periods was breaking the law.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, whose People's Action Party has dominated politics in the city-state since its independence in 1965, is widely expected to call early elections in the coming months.

"In a free-for-all Internet environment, where there are no rules, political debate could easily degenerate into an unhealthy, unreliable and dangerous discourse, flush with rumors and distortions to mislead and confuse the public," Sadasivan said.

The tiny island-republic's laws require political parties and individuals to register if they want to post political content on the Net.

Print media in Singapore are tightly controlled, but the Internet is rife with Web sites that discuss Singapore politics, from the critical newsgroup Sg-review to the comical and blogs such as Singabloodypore and Yawningbread.

It is not clear whether any of these sites has registered with the government.

While Sadasivan said the government's approach was to take "a light touch" in regulating the Internet, political activists have complained that the rules are too broadly defined, preventing an open debate. Sadasivan said a change of the law was ruled out.

The rules also apply to "podcasting," an increasingly popular medium through which audio files are made available for download on the Internet, allowing Web surfers to listen to them at their convenience.

Last year, opposition politician Chee Soon Juan launched a podcast on the Singapore Democratic Party's Web site in an attempt to reach a wider audience and bypass the pro-government media.