Defiant Singaporeans view banned film in Malaysia

Bhavan Jaipragas
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Tan Pin pin, film director and producer in Singapore on June 18, 2005

Hundreds of defiant Singaporeans protesting censorship gathered in Malaysia on Friday to see a documentary banned by regulators in their home country as a threat to national security.

The film, "To Singapore, with Love", examines the case of political exiles in the city-state and features interviews with nine former activists, student leaders, and self-confessed communists who fled Singapore from the 1960s until the 1980s and are currently settled in Malaysia, Britain and Thailand.

Organisers estimated 400 people watched the screening, saying most of the audience was made up of Singaporeans who had crossed the border to view the production in the southern Malaysian city of Johor Bharu.

The Media Development Authority (MDA), Singapore's media regulator, on September 10 banned the documentary, saying it provided a "distorted and untruthful" account of the exiles' situation.

It said the film's contents undermined national security because it showed "legitimate actions of the security agencies to protect the national security and stability of Singapore are presented in a distorted way as acts that victimised innocent individuals".

According to the Singapore government, a number of the exiles featured in the film were former members of the Communist Party of Malaya, which had sought to overthrow governments in Singapore and Malaysia in the 1950s and 1960s.

Singapore became independent from the Malaysian federation in 1965.

"I am disappointed by the reaction of the MDA, I wish it was otherwise of course...I spent a lot of time making it and really would have liked this film to have been seen (in Singapore)," director Tan Pin Pin told the audience in remarks after the screening.

- Indignance at Singapore's censorship -

Tan added that she was weighing her options, including launching an appeal and holding "private screenings".

The production has been screened at film festivals in Germany, Dubai, South Korea and the United States, and will be shown at the SEA ArtsFest in London in October.

Singaporeans at the Malaysia screening, part of a "Freedom Filmfest", said the relatively large turnout by their compatriots despite the hassle of having to travel to Malaysia, signified indignance in the city-state over the film's censorship.

"The interest is evident in the number of people here, over 400 who turned up in Johor Bharu on a weekday afternoon," said 24-year-old university student Lim Jialiang.

"After watching the film now, it is difficult for me to imagine why the film had to be banned," he added.

The 70-minute documentary drew loud applause from the audience at the end of the screening.

The exiles featured in the film -- all aged 60 or older -- gave vivid details of how they left Singapore and of their current lives, with most expressing a longing to return home permanently.

Singapore, ruled by the same party since 1959, has relaxed strict social controls including media censorship in recent years, but continues to impose stringent regulations on films that discuss local politics.

The government previously banned two films about prominent ex-political detainees produced by local filmmaker Martyn See in 2007 and 2010.

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