Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Singapore censorship in the news

Singapore has eclipsed Bangkok as the nightlife capital of Southeast Asia, and the island city-state has been beefing up its cultural offerings as well, with the opening of the Esplande complex in recent years. But it is still an authoritarian place, and freedom of speech is a concept that is still foreign.

Now a director is facing up to two years in jail for making a movie about a leading government opposition figure and also criticised laws that forbid the screening of any movie discussing government policy. Here's the rest of the story from the Associated Press:

Martyn See is under investigation for Singapore Rebel, a 26-minute movie about Chee Soon Juan, a frequent critic of the government. Police said he was under probe for violating the Films Act for possibly knowingly distributing or exhibiting a "party political film.''

He could be fined up to 100,000 Singapore dollars (US$60,606; euro 47,259), or imprisonment for as long as two years.

"The current state of legislation poses unintended dangers for sincere filmmakers,'' said director Tan Pin Pin in an open letter on behalf of 10 other filmmakers to authorities published in The Straits Times on Wednesday. "It appears that there is a ban on work in which we intend to state or imply a stand on current government policy, regardless of what that stand is.''

"Are filmmakers expected not to render any opinion at all to be considered neutral?'' asked Tan, who is the director of Moving House, a documentary on the administration's policy of exhuming graves for development.

Singapore Rebel was yanked from the 2005 Singapore International Film Festival after authorities warned that it was a "party political film,'' and that See could faced jail time if it was screened.

"I thought the matter would be dropped once I withdrew it from the film festival. The call from the police came as a surprise,'' See told The Associated Press. He is scheduled to meet police investigators on Monday.

But See said his maiden movie will be screened at two film festivals later this month -- the New Zealand Human Rights Film Festival and the Amnesty International Film Festival in Hollywood.

Singapore, a wealthy Southeast Asian city-state widely criticised for its tight controls and political activity and the media, has been trying to promote itself as a regional hub for the arts. Its film festival is one of the country's cultural highlights.

Chee currently faces bankruptcy after he was ordered to pay 500,000 Singapore dollars (US$303,000; euro236,275) to Singapore's former prime ministers, Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, for defaming them during an election campaign in 2001.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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