Singapore bans film about ex-political detainee

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore is banning a film about a former political detainee who was held for 17 years without trial to protect public interests, the government said.

The film “Zahari’s 17 Years” about former journalist Said Zahari -- arrested in 1963 for suspected subversive activities, including communist sympathies -- will be banned because it is “against public interests”, the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts said on Tuesday.

“The film gives a distorted and misleading portrayal of Said Zahari’s arrest and detention under the Internal Security Act,” the Ministry said in a statement.

“Zahari’s 17 Years” is directed by local film director Martyn See, who was investigated by the Singapore police for a year after he produced a documentary about opposition leader Chee Soon Juan in 2005.

Singapore, which is frequently criticized by human rights groups for its restrictions on the opposition and media, bans political films that contain “biased references to or comments on any political matter”.

See said he has been asked to turn over all copies of the banned film on Tuesday by Singapore’s Media Development Authority, which has also rejected his application to screen it in the city-state.

“Zahari’s 17 Years” is a 50-minute long interview with Zahari about his 17-year detention -- one of the longest in Singapore -- and the fear among former political detainees to talk about their experience, See said.

“The government is clearly not allowing history to be heard. It does not want to acknowledge the history of detention because it is an acute embarrassment,” See said.

The film has been screened in film festivals in Malaysia and Canada, he said.

The Ministry said “Zahari’s 17 Years” was an attempt by Zahari “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.”