S’pore govt urged to lift ban on film about journalist imprisoned for 17 years

April 25, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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Reporters Without Borders
24 Apr 07

Reporters Without Borders today called on the Singaporean government to reverse its decision to ban director Martyn See’s documentary “Zahari’s 17 years,” about former journalist and dissident Said Zahari’s 17 years in detention for defending press freedom in Singapore.

“Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government has used an archaic film law to impose another authoritarian measure violating press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The ban on See’s film must be lifted. This act of censorship is all the more inappropriate and ridiculous as his films are available on websites such as YouTube and GoogleVideo. We call for the liberalisation of the censorship and internal security laws that deprive Singaporeans of an environment favourable to free speech.”

Since 12 April, anyone suspected of possessing or disseminating a copy of “Zahari’s 17 years” can be sentenced to two yeas in prison and a heavy fine. See was forced to surrender all of his own copies of the documentary to the ministry of information, communication and arts on 11 April.

The film consists of a 49-minute interview with Said, the former editor of the newspaper Utusan Melayu, about the reasons he and several colleagues were arrested under a draconian internal security law in 1963, when the government was headed by the current prime minister’s father. Two years before his arrest, Said led a strike by the staff of Utusan Melayu in protest against the government’s takeover of the newspaper.

In a letter sent to See’s home on 10 April, the information ministry notified him that the documentary was being banned under article 35 (1) of the Film Act because the authorities would “not allow people who had posed a security threat to the country in the past to exploit the use of films to purvey a false and distorted portrayal of their past actions and detention by the government.” The documentary could “undermine public confidence in the government,” the letter added.