27 Aug 2005

Singapore police asks filmmaker to turn in camera

From Reuters
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."


akikonomu said...

Reuters is wrong. The fine for a breach in the Film Act is a fine of not less than S$10,000 and not more than S$40,000. In addition, the jail term is not up to two years, as Reuters claims. It is not exceeding 12 months.

Anonymous said...

so the rest of the report is correct?

akikonomu said...

You'll probably have to ask Martyn See if he really said what he did to Reuters =D

Anonymous said...

but that might cause me to be labelled as an associate of his; I am a social climber; cant afford negative associations

Anonymous said...

nitpicking about minor details doesnt do any good

soci said...

apparently someone called the 'devil' resides in the detail.

Anonymous said...

yup; it allows you to conveniently avoid the main issues

soci said...

And what please tell is the main issue of the article from Reuters? Would it be the lack of freedom of expression?

clyde said...

No, I think the main issue is, of course, that 6 months after Martyn See pulled the Singapore Rebel from the film festival, the Singapore Police still can't decide how/what to charge him with. Or maybe it's that Martyn See really really really needs his camera. I dont know...

soci said...

They haven't charged him with anything because they are waitng for Martyn to say something that incriminates himself.

They have nothing to go on so will exhaust every possibility of questioning and investigation until Martyn gives them something to charge himself with.

Have a look at the opening chapters of Christopher Lingles, "Singapore and Authoritarian Capitalism". It details the same style of questioning and probing that Martyn See in currently undergoing.


akikonomu said...

Like soci noted aeons ago: If they wanted to do things properly, the Film Board should've issued a certificate specifying that Martyn's film is a party political film. NOT DONE.

Instead, we have the complete North Korean/CCCP-style farce in Singapore, with the POLICE determining whether Martyn's film is a party political film, and trying to get him to incriminate himself during the questioning. 3 cheers for the Home Team! We're very proud of your intellectual kinship with the London Metro Police.

Why is it that - if there is a crime committed - it takes months and months of interviewing before material is confiscated, and still no charges? Our Police cannot be allowed to get away with this rubbish.

soci said...

I would imagine the the police officer is merely following orders. Technically Martyn has not been charged with anything. So he can refuse to answer questions until he is charged and he has proper legal respresentation with him. But I think Martyn is hoping that if he goes along with the police they will back off and not charge him.

akikonomu said...

I can imagine Martyn actually doing that. However, he loses automatically by going along, giving them legitimacy to investigate when they clearly do not. (Actually in Singapore you don't need legal representation to be interrogated, but still... you should be charged first)

Corrections: not intellectual kinship, but moral kinship.

soci said...

Could Martyn take a lawyer with him now, even though he hasn't been charged?

akikonomu said...

Technically it isn't even an interrogation. He could even refuse to attend.

I think the proper question would then be: would the police allow him to have a lawyer with him for a not-interrogation? Would any lawyer dare to accompany him for what appears to be a PAP smear job?

clyde said...

So Steve, if they are waiting for Martyn to incriminate himself, why do they ask for his video camera together with other items? I cannot possibly see any forensic value in any of them. Evidence without context is ambiguous at best. In other words, if there is no crime the evidence serves to prove nothing except that Martyn made a "home video" which got distributed on the internet and overseas film fests. And if that were a crime, why haven't the police charged him with it yet? It almost appears that this has nothing to do with the law but rather the purpose of a political agenda that is to observe and study civilian opposition they deem a "threat". Then again, the line between law and politics has always been blurry in my opinion.

soci said...

The police haven't been able to workout whether or not he has done something illegel. They appear to have no law to charge him with on this occassion, they might be attempting to workout his connection with other events and those taping them. Scanning police video recordings of Dr Chee's book launch.

Whether or not Martyn has committed an offence is not for the police to decide, that is the decision of a judge. The police merely gather as much evidence as possible and present it to the judge.

I think this hinges on the distribution of the material.

We need someone like Mr Wang! Mr Wang where are you?

Anonymous said...

well, if they really wanted to find fault in him and charge him they can. the PAP MAKES the law dont they?

and the cheif justice is ancientLee's buddy, even the best, outspoken lawyer cant win any shit if he's for Martyn.