27 Sep 2005

Amnesty International Appeal on behalf of Martyn See

The following is an appeal on behalf of Singaporean film maker Martyn See, who is now under police investigation following the making of his short documentary on opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan. The film in question can be downloaded via this link. Singapore Rebel.
The appeal is also on the website of AI's Asia-Pacific Regional Office: http://asiapacific.amnesty.org/apro/aproweb.nsf

26 September, 2005

SINGAPORE: Stifling freedom of expression: Film maker Martyn See threatened with prosecution

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 (Canadian dollar approximately equivalent).

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.


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.

In respect to curbs on allegedly "political" or other "unacceptable" films, a 15-minute documentary made by three college lecturers about veteran former opposition leader J B Jeyaretnam was banned in 2001 after it was found to have violated the Films Act. In 2003, a film by Roystan Tan, 15, telling the story of delinquent teenage gangsters, was ordered cut by government censors after police deemed it a threat to national security, though it was reportedly well received at the Vienna Film Festival.

In a recent protest action against the Films Act and other censorship in Singapore, internet activist Yap Keng Ho lodged a police complaint in August in relation to the production and screening by a state-owned television company of allegedly "political" films profiling PAP leaders. Yap Keng Ho stated he wanted to expose a pro-ruling party bias in the Act and its application. Police are investigating the complaint.

Amid hopes of a possible relaxation of political and social controls, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (son of former longstanding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew) in his 2004 inaugural speech called for greater participation by Singaporeans in a more "open" and "inclusive" society.

However, continuing tight restrictions, including the use of the Films Act, continue to inhibit political life. In particular, financially ruinous civil defamation suits lodged by PAP leaders against prominent opposition figures deter and intimidate government critics. Following a series of such defamation suits, former opposition leader J B Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt in 2001, expelled from parliament and barred from contesting elections.

Amnesty International considers these defamation suits were politically motivated and have had a wider 'chilling' effect on the right to freedom of expression in Singapore. The US State Department Human Rights Report has also criticised Singapore for using defamation suits to intimidate opposition politicians, and the press organisation Reporteurs Sans Frontières ranks Singapore 147th out of 167 countries on press freedom.


1. Encourage the screening of Martyn See's film, Singapore Rebel.

2. Write a courteous letter:

- 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;

- 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;

- State that freedom of expression is a fundamental right protected by international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Dr LEE Boon Yang Salutation: Dear Minister

Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts

140 Hill Street, #02-02 MICA Building

Singapore 179369

E-mail: lee_boon_yang@mica.gov.sg or mica@mica.gov.sg

Fax: +65 6837 9837

His Excellency Vanu Gopala Menon Salutation: Your Excellency

Permanent Representative of the Republic of Singapore to the UN and High Commission to Canada

231 E. 51st Street

New York, NY 10022


Fax: +1 212 826 2964


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