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Government bans film on journalist detained without trial for 17 years

(SEAPA/IFEX) - The Singapore government has banned an independent film about a former top journalist and political activist who was held without trial for 17 years in the island republic, deeming the documentary to be "against public interests".

"Zahari's 17 years" by local filmmaker Martyn See is a 49-minute interview with Said Zahari about his arrest and subsequent detention under the draconian Internal Security Act in 1963.

In a statement on 10 April 2007, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts announced the ban under the Film Act, saying the documentary was an attempt by Said "to exculpate himself from his past involvement in communist united front activities against the interests of Singapore".

"The government will not allow people who had posed a security threat to the country in the past to exploit the use of films to purvey a false and distorted portrayal of their past actions and detention by the government," the ministry said, adding that this may "undermine public confidence in the government."

However, Said's political memoir, "Dark Clouds at Dawn", on which the film interview is based, is available in local stores. Said is most famed for staging a three-month strike against a political takeover of the then-leading nationalist newspaper, "Utusan Melayu", of which he was editor-in-chief in 1961. He failed to prevent the takeover, but earned a place in the history of Malaysia and Singapore for leading the first and, until today, only journalists' strike over the principle of press freedom.

"Zahari's 17 years" is not listed in the Media Development Authority's database of classified films, although reportedly given a PG (parental guidance required) rating twice in 2006, when it was submitted for screening at the Singapore International Film Festival in January and a film symposium in August. On both occasions, the film was never screened, with no reasons given. An application for an exhibition licence in January 2007 was abandoned midway, and the ban followed three months later.

As the ban covers exhibition, possession and distribution of the film, See surrendered his master copy to the censors on 11 April. However, the film can be viewed at:

This is the second documentary by See to be banned. In 2005, police investigated him for 15 months after he produced "Singapore Rebel", which documents the trials and tribulations of opposition leader Dr Chee Soon Juan, who has been imprisoned repeatedly for exercising his right to free speech and sued for defaming present and past prime ministers (see IFEX alerts of 26 September, 31 August, 11 May and 23 March 2005).

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