By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, Straits Times
A documentary film on Singapore’s political exiles is not allowed to be screened in public or distributed in the country because the Media Development Authority (MDA) says it distorts the legitimate actions of security agencies as acts that victimise innocent individuals.
The film, To Singapore, With Love, by local film director Tan Pin Pin, was given a “Not Allowed for All Ratings” classification by the MDA yesterday.
But a “purely private” screening is allowed, MDA said later when asked by The Straits Times.
In the 70-minute film, Ms Tan interviewed nine Singaporeans on why they fled the country, what their lives are like now and their feelings towards Singapore.
They live in Britain and Thailand, some of them for more than 50 years.
But, the MDA statement said, the individuals gave untruthful and distorted accounts of how they had to flee and remain outside Singapore. Hence, the film “undermines national security because 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”.
Ms Tan, 44, said in a Facebook post last night that she was disappointed with the decision.
She had hoped the film would, among other things, open up a “national conversation to allow us to understand ourselves as a nation better”.
The documentary was submitted for classification in May by the National University of Singapore Museum. Ms Tan said it was to be screened with two of her other films by the NUS Museum.
The MDA, in its statement, said many in the film were members or supporters of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). “The CPM sought to overthrow the legitimate elected governments of Singapore and Malaysia through armed struggle and subversion, and replace them with a communist regime,” it said.
The MDA also said some tried to “whitewash” their security histories, with two of them omitting the criminal offences they are still liable for, like tampering with their Singapore passports or absconding from national service.
It did not identify them.
But records show Mr Ho Juan Thai, a Workers’ Party candidate who lost in the 1976 General Election, had amended the December 1976 expiry date on his passport to enter Britain in July 1977. Now 63, he was accused of making racially inflammatory speeches during the election campaign.
The other is former student union leader Tan Wah Piow, now 62. He absconded from national service duties.
The rest are: Dr Ang Swee Chai, 64; Mr Chan Sun Wing; Mr Wong Soon Fong; Mr and Mrs He Jin; and Mr and Mrs Tan Hee Kim.
The last six, who fled in 1963 during a round-up of communists, are in their late 70s and early 80s.
The MDA also disputed the impression they gave that they were being unfairly denied the right to return to Singapore.
They were not forced to leave, nor are they being prevented from returning, the MDA said.
“The Government has made it clear that it would allow former CPM members to return to Singapore if they agree to be interviewed by the authorities on their past activities to resolve their cases,” it noted and added: “Criminal offence will have to be accounted for in accordance with the law.”
Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said he agrees with and supports the MDA’s assessment.
He said in a statement on Facebook: “It is not surprising that ex-CPM members and sympathisers wish now to give their own accounts.”
But, he added, they should not get to enjoy a public platform to spread untruths “to mislead the public, absolve themselves, or deny their past actions”.
Dr Yaacob added: “Many other ex-CPM members and supporters chose to return, acknowledge their actions, and renounce communism and violence. They and their families continued to live here and to contribute to building modern Singapore.”
He did not elaborate. But records show they include former communist leaders Eu Chooi Yip and P.V. Sarma. Both returned here from China in 1991.
The MDA’s move was criticised last night by about 40 members of Singapore’s film-making and arts community. Their statement suggested that “rather than banning the documentary, authorities release their version of the events in question, so that viewers can make up their own minds”.
MDA’s decision, however, is not final. Ms Tan can appeal to the Films Appeal Committee, an independent 15-member panel.
She said she may re-submit her film “for a rating in the future”.
The last film to receive the rarely used “Not Allowed for All Ratings” classification was Ken Kwek’s Sex.Violence.FamilyValues in 2012, because part of it was judged offensive to Indians.
After he appealed, it was edited and released with an R21 rating.