SINGAPORE, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Singapore police have asked a filmmaker to surrender a video camera and tapes he used to make a documentary on opposition figure Chee Soon Juan as part of its investigation for possible breach of film laws.
Martyn See, a 36-year-old Singapore filmmaker, told Reuters the demand was made after he had been questioned for three hours at a police station on Thursday in connection with his film "Singapore Rebel".
See said on Friday it was the second time Singapore authorities interviewed him about the 26-minute documentary he withdrew from the city-state's annual film festival in March under pressure from government censors, who told festival organisers the work violated the Films Act.
"The questions were more political than last time and I think they were intended to find out about my political affiliation," he said, adding that while the talk took place in a relaxed atmosphere he would object to the request to hand in his camera.
"I don't mind them inspecting the camera but I need it back to do my work," he said.
See said the police officer had offered no explanation as to why they wanted the video camera.
A police spokesman declined to comment.
Under provisions introduced to the Films Act in 1998, anyone involved in producing or distributing "party political films" -- including those containing commentaries on government policies -- can be fined up to S$100,000 ($59,840) or jailed up to two years.
The film at the heart of the controversy focuses on the life of Chee Soon Juan, who lost in January a three-year legal battle against defamation charges brought by Singapore's founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, and his successor.
In 2002, a documentary about veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam was pulled from the film festival after its filmmakers were told it breached the act.
Opposition politicians have said the Films Act stifles political debate in the city-state, which has been ruled by the People's Action Party since independence in 1965. Its 84-member Parliament has only two opposition members.
Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, took over as the island republic's third prime minister last year, promising greater openness and saying Singaporeans "should feel free to express diverse views...or simply be different".
International free-press advocates have repeatedly criticised Singapore for its tight media controls, such as a government ban of non-commercial private ownership of satellite dishes. Films and TV shows are routinely censored for sex and violence.
The government says a high degree of control over public debate and the media is needed to maintain law and order.
The U.S. State Department, in its February annual report, sharply criticised Singapore for using libel suits to intimidate the opposition, saying the threat inhibits opposition politics and has led to a culture of self-censorship in the media. ($1 = 1.671 Singapore dollar)
Update from Martyn See:
My tapes and camera were handed over to the police at the Police Cantonment Complex at about 6.45 pm this evening. When asked if I can get my camera back soonest, ASP Chan said "No promise."