Amnesty International calls for action on Martyn See case

September 27, 2005
Singapore Democrats

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Amnesty International Asia Pacific Action: Singapore – Stifling freedom of expression – Film Maker Martyn See Threatened With Prosecution (Source: Amnesty Malaysia)

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.

Background

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.

What you can do

Please put your name at the end of the letter & E-mail it back to us ([email protected]) and we will fax it for you.

Dr LEE Boon Yang

Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts

c/o  High Commission of the Republic of Singapore.

209, Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur. .

(Date)

Dear Minister,

CONCERN ABOUT HARASSMENT OF MARTYN SEE

I am writing to express concern about harassment of Martyn See, the threat of his prosecution under the Films Act, and restrictions on freedom of expression,

including artistic freedom.

I call for an end to the misuse of restrictive laws, including the Films Act, which can serve to punish perceived government opponents and to deter Singaporeans from expressing dissenting political opinions and participating in public life;

I would like to state that freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yours sincerely,

(Name/Location)