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Singapore artists urge overturn of documentary ban

Singapore (AFP) - Leading Singaporean artists and activists urged the government Thursday to allow the exhibition of a documentary about the city-state's political exiles which has been banned on grounds of national security.

They expressed "deep disappointment" at the decision by the Media Development Authority (MDA) to ban the public showing of "To Singapore, With Love" by local film director Tan Pin Pin.

"We would like to emphasise that censorship does nothing to promote a vibrant, informed society. We thus urge the MDA to reconsider its decision," said a statement signed by 39 artists and activists.

They include director Anthony Chen, a winner of the prestigious Camera d'Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as theatre directors Ivan Heng, T. Sasitharan and Ong Keng Sen, all winners of the Cultural Medallion, Singapore's top state award for artists.

The MDA, Singapore's media regulator, on Wednesday banned the 70-minute documentary, saying it provided a "distorted and untruthful" account of nine former political activists and student leaders.

They fled Singapore from the 1960s to the 1980s and current live in Britain, Thailand and Malaysia.

MDA said the film's contents undermined 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".

- 'Not allowed for all ratings' -

It said a number of the exiles were former members of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) which had sought to overthrow governments in Singapore and Malaysia in the 1950s and 1960s.

The film, made from interviews of the exiles, was classified as "not allowed for all ratings", meaning it cannot be screened publicly or distributed in Singapore.

A description posted on the film's official website said the documentary explores how the exiles "lived their lives away and how they still view the Singapore of their dreams".

"They are now in their 60s to 80s. Some were activists, student leaders, others were card carrying communists," it said.

In their statement Thursday, the Singaporean artists suggested that rather than banning the documentary, authorities should "release their version of the events in question, so that viewers can make up their own minds".

"Banning the film will only reinforce the view that our government is trying to limit discussion around our very own history," they said, adding that the film was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival and won "multiple awards all over the world".

"It has received high praise from filmmakers, critics and festival programmers. Many commentators have described it as essential viewing for all Singaporeans," they added.

Tan, the film's director, is a rising star in Singapore's tiny but vocal arts community.

She is among seven local directors selected to produce an MDA-funded film to celebrate the city-state's 50th year of independence next year.

The wealthy Southeast Asian island nation 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.