Sent to RAdm(NS) Lui Tuck Yew, Acting Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts on 22 Sept 2009.
Appeal to review ban of Zahari’s 17 Years
I am See Tong Ming, Martyn, the director of Zahari’s 17 Years, a documentary film which is being gazetted as a prohibited film under Section 35(1) of the Films Act.
In a press statement released by your Ministry dated 10 April 2007, it stated that :
1. The film gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) in 1963 and is an attempt to exculpate himself from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore.
2. The Government will not allow people who had posed a security threat to the country in the past, to exploit the use of film to purvey a false and distorted portrayal of their past actions and detention by the Government.
3. The film could undermine public confidence in the Government.
This film was banned by your predecessor Dr Lee Boon Yang. I have no other recourse except to appeal to you now to review the ban on the film. My reasons are as follows :
1. It cannot stand to reason that the entire 49 minutes of the film is objectionable for the above 3 reasons. I am willing to consider amending or deleting any part of the film which the Government had deemed to be of against public interest. Therefore, I request that you state clearly which portion of the film you deem to be of against public interest.
2. The film has been freely available for viewing by anyone on the internet since it was officially banned in 2007. It has been watched by over tens of thousands of people. Has there been any evidence whatsoever that public confidence in the Government has been undermined because of this film?
3. I refer to the publication and publicity of Men In White : The Untold Story of Singapore’s Ruling Party by the Singapore Press Holdings (SPH). The book features insights from former ISA detainees about their past and during its launch, a video containing comments by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew was reportedly played to the audience. How is it that such a book and video be allowed while Zahari’s 17 Years continues to be banned? Is the Minister applying the law equally?
4. I believe Zahari’s 17 Years is the first and only film to be gazetted under Section 35 of the Films Act. Even the reportedly anti-Islamic film Fitna is not gazetted. Banning a locally-made film that is no more than an interview with a former political detainee while not gazetting films like Fitna under the same law creates the impression that the Government is more preoccupied with censoring their own artists than they do foreign ones.
5. Zahari’s 17 Years does not address issues of race or religion. It is merely an honest interview with a Singaporean citizen, a former newspaper editor and political prisoner whom, like many others of his time, still believes that his long incarceration under the ISA was unjustified. I believe that the continued prohibition of this film will only serve to increase the public’s desire to find out more about the darker aspects of Singapore’s political history. Here, I quote the Minister Mentor, “When writing memoirs, you are talking to posterity. Among them will be historians who will check what you write against the accounts of others. So do not shade the past.” (ST, July 17 2007)
Considering all the above factors, I ask that the prohibition of Zahari’s 17 Years be given its due review.
I look forward to your reply.
See Tong Ming, Martyn
Said Zahari’s two books are Dark Clouds at Dawn: A Political Memoir and The Long Nightmare: My 17 Years as a Political Prisoner.