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In the lead up to the Asia-Pacific Economic Coorperation (APEC) meeting, the Singapore police have released a video that shows the state’s readiness to provide maximum security (a virtual lockdown, actually) for those attending the meeting.
What is disturbing, however, is the use of the video for its own autocratic ends. A careful watch of the 6-minute film reveals a portrayal of democracy protesters in a negative and violent light.
The video, posted on YouTube, starts off innocuously enough detailing the logistical preparations the police are taking to provide a meeting that would address every convenience and comfort of the delegates.
Half-way through the video, however, the film shows a group of red-shirted demonstrators confronting the police (3:30). A banner hoisted by the group bears the slogan “Freedom Now”. Another placard has the words “Democracy Now” written on it.
These are obvious references to the protest that SDP leaders held 2006 during the WB-IMF meeting when they donned on T-shirts bearing the same slogans. The red T-shirts point to the Tak Boleh Tahan campaign held in March 2008 to protest against escalating prices.
Some of the protesters in the present police video are clad in sleeveless tank-tops and headbands. They are shown raising their fists and looking like they are trying to create violent trouble.
The narrator tells the viewer that at such a high level meeting there are always groups that might hold protests to highlight “their own agenda.”
The riot squad, with officers in the full-battle regalia, are summoned together with the ang chia (red riot police truck).
The next scene shows the police surrounding the red-shirts with the narrator explaining that the “rioters” are soon surrounded and then arrested. The dramatic background music builds to a crescendo adding to the dramatic tension of the scene.
The propaganda film then goes into full swing with the next scene depicting the group as a violent mob whose members start to kick at the phalanx of the riot police.
The next moment rioters start to throw rocks and stones at the police. A Molotov cocktail is lobbed and fire rages on as tires are hurled to stop the police from charging.
“They (the police) can be reilied upon to deal with even the most violent riots which threaten lives and property,” the narrator assures the anxious veiwer.
Supt Jarrod Pererira, Deputy Director for Operations during APEC, then comes on and warns that the police will not allow public demonstrations that can be exploited by – this part is especially for American consumption – terrorists.
“Public demonstrations are not allowed without a permit,” the Supt reminds everyone, and rioters and disorderly behaviour will not be tolerated. He highlights the recently passed Public Order Act which will help the police deal with public order threats.
If you haven’t guessed by now that the video is aimed at demonising protests, in particular those conducted by democracy advocates in Singapore, then you haven’t been paying attention.
But like all propaganda, truth telling is never the objective. While the officers testify repeatedly in court during the trials involving SDP’s leaders and activists that none of the these protests are disorderly, the police nevertheless go out of the way to depict such demonstrators as unruly and violent mobs.
The SDP has always stressed the necessity of nonviolence during protests and that there is room in Singapore for peaceful assemblies. The Constitution guarantees the freedom of assembly of citizens.
Singaporeans have shown repeatedly that they can protest in a civil manner in the recent past at the Speakers’ Corrner. Examples are the pink.dot rally, the protest by the disabled community, and students from NTU. These protests were possible because of the activities conducted by SDP’s leaders calling for, ironically, “Democracy Now” and “Freedom Now”.
It is the autocratic mind that will not tolerate peaceful dissent and will go to great lengths, including producing an expensive video, to portray that protests are violent and must be banned.