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Mr Lim Hock Siew (Left), Mr Said Zahari (Right) Screenshots from video produced by Mr Martyn See.

Lift ban on films on ex-detainees, says filmmaker

by See Tong Ming, Martyn

In their opinion piece "History is not the preserve of historians" (ST, April 10), Mr Desmond Lee and Dr Janil Puthucheary emphasized that "the history of Singapore is a matter of concern to all Singaporeans because it is our story - citizens, journalists, politicians and historians." I agree.

Historical narrative cannot be the preserve of one just group of people, or worse, of one person. Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself said in 2010, "The final verdict will not be in the obituaries. The final verdict will be when the PhD students dig out the archives, read my old papers, assess what my enemies have said, sift the evidence and seek the truth.. I'm not saying that everything I did was right, but everything I did was for an honourable purpose." (NYT, 13 Sept 2010)

Mr Lee and Dr Puthucheary also added that "Singapore's political leadership has always set a high value on honesty, transparency and being straightforward with the electorate. That is why this Government has sometimes gone out of its way to tell citizens uncomfortable truths, even if there is a political price to pay in doing so."

In the spirit of the above, I like to suggest that the Government

  • Lift the ban of my two films "Zahari's 17 Years" and "Dr Lim Hock Siew." Surely, ex-detainees of Operation Coldstore, whom the late Mr Lee described as "my enemies", deserve to have their accounts heard and incorporated into our collective story.
  • Declassify and publicise the files of the Internal Security Department with regards to Operation Coldstore and the numerous detentions of allegedly Communist-inspired activists throughout the 1960s up to 1987's Marxist Conspiracy.

This is crucial as many of these detainees have since alleged physical and psychological ill-treatment during their time in detention. It is also of interest that Dr Janil Puthucheary's father, Mr Dominic Puthucheary, was also a detainee under Operation Coldstore.

Seeking the truth to our history requires a nuanced and multi-faceted approach, and this is best served by open and honest conversations, not by inquisitions, censorship and the labelling of fellow citizens.

Mr See is a filmmaker in Singapore. He had earlier submitted this letter to Straits Times forum on 10 April but has not received any response from ST.