Singapore has banned a documentary on political exiles whom have lived abroad for decades, saying the film undermines national security, highlighting the wealthy city-state's uneasiness over public debate on politics.
Singapore has poured money into nurturing its arts and creative industries in recent years, but it discourages dissent while steering public opinion, mostly through state-linked media, as furious debates on topics from immigration to gay rights play out on social media.
Filmmaker Tan Pin Pin, director and producer of “To Singapore, With Love,” said she was very disappointed with the decision by the regulator, the Media Development Authority (MDA).
“By doing this, MDA is taking away an opportunity for us Singaporeans [to] see it and to have a conversation about it, and our past, that this film could have started or contributed to,” Tan said in a posting on the film's Facebook page.
The 70-minute film features interviews with nine Singaporeans who left the city-state between the 1960s and 1980s to escape possible prosecution by British colonial authorities and later, by the Singapore government, the film's website says.
The film has been screened in several countries and has won awards at a few film festivals.
The MDA described as “distorted and untruthful” the exiles' accounts of how they left Singapore and have since stayed away. It said some of those interviewed whitewashed their histories by omitting criminal offenses for which they are still liable to face prosecution.
“The contents of the film undermine 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 victimized innocent individuals,” the agency said in a statement.
Some Singaporeans have grown irritated by the government's approach to policing the media.
“It's time MDA stops babysitting us,” wrote Facebook user Julie Jam. “Singapore may be 50 years old, but MDA still thinks we are toddlers. Let us grow up and make our own choices.”
A group of 39 members of the arts community signed a statement urging the regulator to reconsider its ban, saying Tan's film explored a rarely discussed aspect of Singapore's history.
“Many commentators have described it as essential viewing for all Singaporeans,” said the group, which includes Singapore film director Anthony Chen, who won a Cannes award last year. “Banning the film will only reinforce the view that our government is trying to limit discussion around our very own history.”
Last month, Singapore scrapped a proposal for a self-regulation scheme for arts groups after objections from the groups, which feared the plan would lead to self-censorship.
A plan to screen the film at the National University of Singapore later this month has been canceled. A screening will take place next week in Johor Bahru, a Malaysian city that borders Singapore.