Thursday, February 14, 2008

Info-pack on Censorship

UPDATED: 9 February 2008: The Complaints Choir Project (first big ban of the year!), 2007's almost-banned lesbian Xbox scene and 1994's Pain by Eric Khoo.

  • 2008: The Complaints Choir Project is invited to Singapore as part of the M1 Fringe Festival. The Finnish group goes from country to country asking the public to submit random complaints about their lives, then combines the text of the complaints into playful songs. In Singapore, the MDA passes the text of the songs without cuts - complaints range from irritation at neighbours' overuse of karaoke to mild jibes at CPF. However, police inform the organisers a few days before the show that no foreigners will be allowed to perform - a big problem, since the conductor is Malaysian, and the organisers and several other singers are foreign. The group decides to cancel the free public shows and stage a private, invitation-only performance at the Arts House, then uploads the video onto Youtube. Blogger Choo Zheng Xi, 22, who attends one of the private performances, notesthe irony of the MDA’s move: "They didn’t want foreigners to discuss domestic matters, and now this will be broadcast to the world."
    See here, here, here and here for video of Arts House performance.

  • 2007: At the Singapore Design Festival's 20/20 exhibition at the National Library, Brian Gothong Tan's video installation is pulled on opening night. Among the video art works and TV advertisements he had directed, Tan had included a mockup trailer for his planned feature film Invisible Children, which includes a shots of a girl playing a Singapore Airlines stewardess smoking cigarettes and snorting cocaine. SIA is famously protective of the image of the "Singapore Girl" and members of its board are also involved with Design Festival management.

  • 2007: The MDA's Board of Film Censors announces that it will ban the soon-to-be-released Xbox video game Mass Effect II due to the presence of a scene of lesbian intimacy (specifically, one in which a female spaceship commander makes out with a female alien). Amidst media coverage, the decision is reversed, but reports note that two other video games have been banned earlier in the year: "God of War II" for nudity and "The Darkness" for excessive violence and religiously offensive expletives.
    See here.

  • 2007: Two minutes of material are cut from Ekachai Uekrongtham's Pleasure Factory, a feature film set in Singapore's red-light district of Geylang. These include a homosexual sex sequence, a scene where a character masturbates in the nude to prepare himself for sex, and a scene where a girl performs oral sex on a customer - these actions still clearly occur, but their content is toned down by the removal of the most graphic material. Uekrongtham is not perturbed by this: he had feared that the film would actually be completely banned. See here.

  • 2007: Taiwanese director Lee Ang releases his critically acclaimed film Lust, Caution. Aware of our reputation for sexual prudishness, distributors Buena Vista International submit a censored version to the MDA: the same version screened in China and Malaysia, with nine minutes of sexually explicit scenes cut. This version of the film is rated NC (16) and receives no cuts from the Board of Censors. However, Singapore filmgoers raise an outcry over the fact that they are unable to view the original film: many boycott the censored version. In the midst of this, the Straits Times clarifies that many films are pre-emptively censored by distributors before hitting the Singapore market. Buena Vista International eventually agrees to release the uncensored version of the film, one month after the initial release of the cut version. This version is passed with no cuts by the MDA and rated RA(21). See here.

  • 2007: The National Arts Council drops an essay by Jason Wee from the catalogue of Raised, an exhibition on foreign workers, featured as part of the biannual Singapore Art Show. The essay made reference to Operation Spectrum, a series of mass arrests of religious workers and activists in 1987. NAC says the article "was inappropriate in the context of the project theme and the rest of the catalogue contents", and that it "is helping Jason Wee to explore a more suitable platform to publish his article." To date, the article has not been published. See here and here.

  • 2007: The MDA bans Cut Sleeve Boys, a London film on gay British-Chinese men, starring Singapore-born actor (and blogger) Steven Lim. See here.

  • 2007: At the IndigNation Pride Festival, ten items are banned by the MDA and police authorities: 1) Alex Au's "Kissing", a photographic series of same-sex couples kissing; 2) a pencil drawing of copulating lesbians by Genevieve Chua at the Idiosyncrasies art exhibition; 3) a reading of my short story "Lee Low Tar"; 4) a film screening of "Paper Dolls"; 5) a film screening of "The Laramie Project"; 6) "In the Pink", a picnic at Botanical Gardens (banned by National Parks Board); 7) "The Pink Run", a 5km run/walk at Botanical Gardens organised by ADLUS; 8) a treasure hunt by ADLUS; 9) a talk by law professor Dr Douglas Sanders on homosexuality and Asian law; and 10) an autobiographical talk by gay Christian leader Troy Perry. Several events continue in an altered capacity: Alex Au gives several slideshow presentations on the ban of his display; the picnic and ADLUS events occur in a non-organised unofficial manner; Troy Perry attends his event as an audience member as a Singaporean speaker reads aloud from his book and I distribute copies of my short story, dress up as an MDA official and invite audience members to flog me.

  • 2007: The MDA officially bans Martyn See's Said Zahari's 17 Years, a short documentary on the imprisonment of Said Zahari, a former editor of the newspaper Utusan Melayu and long-term political detainee of Singapore. Strangely, MDA had previously officially rated the film PG and passed it without cuts for the 19th Singapore Film Festival in April 2006, but the screening was cancelled mysteriously four days before release. The Asian Film Archive made a second application to screen the film as part of The Substation’s 6th Asian Film Symposium in September. Once again, the film was passed clean with a PG rating, but in a closed-door meeting, the MDA advised representatives of both The Substation and the Asian Film Archive that screening of the film might lead to defamatory lawsuits. The ban would only be confirmed a year later, following a third application for an exhibition licence by See himself. On 10 April 2007, the film was officially banned by MICA under Section 35(1) of the Films Act, which grants the Minister unilateral power to ‘prohibit the possession or distribution of any film contrary to public interest’. See was required to surrender all copies of the film in his possession before the ban took effect on 12 April. By this time, however, the film had been shown at several public screenings abroad and an unknown third party had uploaded a bootleg copy of the film onto the Internet. See here.

  • 2007: The MDA bans Solos from the Singapore Film Festival. Directed by Kan Lume and Loo Zihan, the movie deals with a man and a boy and his mother as they struggle with their feelings and desire for each other. The Board of Film Censors takes issue with the “prolonged and explicit homosexual lovemaking scenes including scenes of oral sex and threesome sex”. It is set to premiere at the Busan Film Festival, two years after its filming. See here.

  • 2007: SooBin Art Gallery opens a month-long exhibition showcasing the oil paintings of female Beijing artist Chen Xi. The centrepiece was to have been Fly Onto Clouds, a 4-metre high image of a nude woman covered with soapsuds, standing against a black backdrop with a parrot flying over her head, but the painting is deemed too sexually provocative by MDA, which bars the gallery from displaying the work in full public view at the gallery’s location at the ground-floor atrium of the MICA Building. Gallery owner Chua Soo Bin was able to display the work in the atrium for only a few hours during its reception, after which it is turned around to face the wall, then kept in the gallery office viewable upon request by prospective buyers. The painting was eventually sold to an unnamed Singaporean purchaser for S$92,000 (approximately US$60,000).

  • 2007: The MDA bans the DVD of Madonna's The Confessions Tour: Live from London, as it features the singer performing the ballad Live To Tell while suspended from a giant mirrored cross, on grounds that it is religiously insulting to Christians.
  • 2006: The MDA bans SuperStar, a book of Asian celebrity photographs by internationally-acclaimed Singapore-born photographer Leslie Kee. The rationale given is that the book features full frontal male nudity, revealing genitals and pubic hair. Approximately 10% of the 640-page book is comprised of nudes (including Aaron Kwok, Daniel Wu and Roy Chiu); other portraits (such as those of Zhang Ziyi, Shu Qi, Faye Wong and Tony Jaa) are clothed. Sales of the book (at $400 apiece) were aimed at raising money for tsunami relief.
    For more information, click here and here.

  • 2006: MDA imposes a fine of $10,000 on Singapore's only cable television operator, Starhub Cable Vision (SCV), for airing scenes of lesbian sex and bondage in the American reality TV show Cheater, which documents private investigations of people who are in relationships. This particular episode had featured a woman who cheats on her boyfriend with another woman and aired at midnight from 22 to 26 May and again on 29 August with explicit scenes pixellated. MDA not only complained that ‘the visuals were deemed to be sexually suggestive and offensive to good taste and decency’, but also found that ‘the programme also promotes lesbianism as a lifestyle, which breaches the Programme Code’, as the woman is able to persuade her boyfriend to accept her lifestyle and engage in threesomes. SCV representatives communicated that they were disappointed with MDA's decision, and noted that no problems had arisen when the episode was aired in China, India and Indonesia.

  • 2006: The Far Eastern Economic Review publishes a sympathetic interview with opposition party leader Chee Soon Juan. MM Lee Kuan Yew and PM Lee Hsien Loong sue FEER for defamation, claiming the Review had alleged they were corrupt. Despite the fact that the Review is a foreign Hong Kong-based journal with no assets in Singapore, the government demands that FEER appoint a legal representative within the Singapore and pay a S$200,000 security bond. After FEER refuses to comply with these regulations, the government bans the sale and distribution of the journal criminalises the act of subscribing to the journal. The editor responds in October by publishing a special edition of FEER, focussing on the shortcomings of Singapore's socioeconomic success, announcing their willingness to defend themselves in court.
    For more information, click here.

  • 2006: The IMF and World Bank Meetings are held in Singapore. Due to local law, for the first time in the history of the meetings, outdoor demonstrations are banned. Indoor demonstrations are only allowed within an area in Suntec City spanning 14m by 8m. 27 accredited protesters are denied entry to Singapore and are forced to leave the country as police claim they have been involved in violent demonstrations; when WB/IMF officials object, 22 of these 27 are eventually permitted to enter the country. As IMF and WB traditionally seek to engage with civil society organisations to address issues of global justice, IMF President Paul Wolfowitz condemns Singapore's actions as authoritarian, saying they are "going back on an explicit agreement", making their organisation look bad, and that these actions will have an impact on future decisions over whether to hold conferences in Singapore.

  • 2006: At the time of the IMF meetings, three local activists, including the 20 year-old guitarist Seelan Palay, are detained for two days and have their computers seized for planning to distribute anti-globalisation flyers. They are investigated under the Printing and Processing Materials Act, which states that those in posession of materials that contain "any incitement to violence or counselling disobedience to the law" could be jailed up to 3 years, fined, or both. Police also confiscate flyers from opposition politician Chee Soon Juan and his sister Chee Siok Chin, who were distributing them to advertise an Empower Singaporeans Rally and March.
    Also see Palay's 400 Frowns website, sometimes mistakenly identified as the reason for his detention.

  • 2006: Political podcasting and videocasting is banned during the election period. All bloggers who desire to "persistently propagate, promote or circulate political issues relating to Singapore" are required to register with the MDA. Nonetheless, the Internet becomes a strong force for political discussion during this period, and no penalties are suffered when the "Persistently non-political podcast" of the mrbrown show satirises the PAP's treatment of opposition candidate James Gomez.

  • 2006: Smegma, an English-language play by Agni Kootthu (Theatre of Fire) is denied performance in a strange sequence of events. Despite the issuance of the licence on 1 August, the licence is suddenly annulled the MDA on 5 August, the day of performance. Their letter states: "After careful consideration, we find that the play undermines the values underpinning Singapore's multi-racial, multi-religious society, and may negatively impact upon our bilateral relations with our neighbours. The play portrays Muslims in a negative light. Two playlets featuring Muslim terrorists are also provocative in view of the increased tension in the Middle East. In view of this, MDA has decided not to let the play be staged."

  • 2006: On 30 June, blogger mrbrown writes an article, titled "S'poreans are fed, up with progress!", for his weekly opinion column in Today newspaper concerning the rising costs of living in Singapore. An official from MICA publishes a response letter on the same newspaper calling mrbrown a "partisan player" whose views "distort the truth". On July 6, the newspaper suspends mrbrown's column. To express protest, 30 people gather in Raffles City wearing brown in a "flashmob" demonstration orchestrated via SMS. Although this is in contravention of the Unlawful Assemblies Act, no-one is charged.

  • 2006: Filmmakers Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen are forced to remove trailers of Singapore Dreaming from television due to their heavy use of Singlish. The Board of Censors also requires the filmmakers to dub over all Hokkien vulgarities from the film. Goh points out to the Board that Singapore films with English vulgarities are often left uncut. When he asks, "How come I can swear in English, and I can’t swear in a local dialect?", he is told "Because then people might relate to your film better."
    An interview here.

  • 2006: At the annual IndigNation festival on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, two artworks are censored by the MDA. Poet Koh Jee Leong is prevented from reading aloud a poem entitled "Come On, Straight Boy", on the grounds that it encourages gay sex. Samuel Woo and Alecia Neo's Shitlosophy: Everybody Shits, an installation work of Polaroid photographs portraying wide array of Singaporeans posing as if defecating on the toilet. Despite the absence of pornographic features from the work, the MDA places an R(A) rating on the exhibition and removes four photographs, including one of a policeman on the toilet, a woman wearing a school pinafore on the toilet, a basketballer wearing Chinese High PE clothes on the toilet, and two women in the same toilet cubicle.
    For more information, click here.

  • 2005: Singaporean director Martyn See is forced to remove his debut documentary film Singapore Rebel from the 2005 Singapore International Film Festival due to his violation of the Films Act section pertaining o political films. The film is a portrait of Chee Soon Juan and his acts of civil disobedience. See withdraws the film because he faces a $100,000 fine and a two-year jail sentence imposed by the Singapore Board of Censors.

  • 2005: MDA withholds the license for the play Human Lefts by the Fun Stage until the group rewrites portions of their script; specifically, references to the death penalty. The play was originally written about the hanging of Shanmugam Murugesu and was to have been staged one day after the controversial execution of Australian national Nguyen Tuong Van.

  • 2005: Hung at Dawn, a Substation concert in commemoration of former national athlete Shanmugam 'Sam' Murugesu, who was executed for marijuana dealing on Friday May 13. Police ban the use of Sam's face on publicity materials, as this would be tantamount to "glorifying" an "ex-convict" and "executed person". The Think Centre remarks, "This marks a new development in [the] Singapore history of censorship - that someone's image is censored because the person looks too nice."
    Click here for more information.

  • 2005: Chen Jianhao, a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is made to apologise and shut down his blog containing criticisms on government agency A*STAR, after its Chairman Philip Yeo threatens to sue for defamation. Also, three bloggers are arrested and charged under the Sedition Act for posting racist comments on the Internet; two are sentenced to imprisonment. The Teachers' Union announces that it is offering legal assistance to teachers who want to take legal action against students who defame them on their blogs, after five students from SAJC were suspended for three days for allegedly "flaming" two teachers and a vice-principal on their blogs.

  • 2005: The gay website is banned in October. Another gay website,, is fined $5,000 by the MDA and forced to remove "offensive" content. Fluffboy was, according to some sources "a strong arm of the sgboy forum Eros and Orges", although a direct connection between the two sites was never proven. Fluffboy focussed on casual sex contacts, erotica, picture-sharing and commercial erotic photography, some of which involved underage boys, according to the MDA. It was impossible to fine this site as it was based on an overseas server.
    Click here for more information.

  • 2004: The Economist magazine pays US$230,000 in damages to PM Lee Hsien Loong and his father MM Lee Kuan Yew, and apologises "unreservedly" for an August article that noted "a whiff of nepotism" in the appointment of Lee's wife, Ho Ching, as chief executive of a government investment company.

  • 2004: A new series of anti-gay initiatives ultimately culminates in the banning of the "Snowball" and "Nation" gay parties. Manazine, a gay-oriented magazine, is told to "tone down" its "overtly homosexual content" and subsequently ceases production. A forum called "The Lovers' Lecture Series" organized by The Fun Stage in conjunction with their gay play "Lovers' Words" is denied a license. The gay Taiwanese movie Formula 17 is banned.

  • 2003: Royston Tan's short film 15, on teenage gangsters in Singapore, suffers from 27 cuts from the Board of Censors. Among the objections raised are that scenes depict gangsterism, truancy, self-mutilation, delinquency, Hokkien rap and the Esplanade. T he film is eventually released with an R(A) rating. Tan's response is to create a short film, Cut (2004), parodying the MDA's policies cutting films. This is screened at the Film Festival, but is subsequently also banned.
    A low-resolution version may be seen at the following site; a higher-res version here.

  • 2003 : Following a report in Today newspaper on the trauma of SM Lee Kuan Yew in London after his wife had suffered a stroke, an advisor to Mr Lee reprimands Today editor Mano Sabnani for allowing the report to be published. The young journalist who wrote the story, Val Chua, reportedly has her press card suspended.
    From here.
  • 2003 : The police reject three applications by a White Ribbon Campaign group to stage outdoor events to mark the International Day Against Violence Against Women. Police first deny the group a permit for a march - and later turn down its application to hold a children's drama presentation - because such events may threaten "law and order." The group then apply to hold an outdoor children's choir performance, but that is also rejected.
    From here.

  • 2002: Causeway, a Malay language play by Teater Ekamatra is censored by NAC, which expresses concern over a scene where a Malaysian character has the final say on a debate with a Singaporean character over the tudung issue, and also a scene where a boy remarks that his elderly relative "smells like a cow". In the case of the latter, the playwright Alfian Sa'at is asked whether such an act of insolence by an 8-year old character would "upset the Malay community". In fact, in Islam, it not cows but pigs which are taboo.

  • 2002: A documentary on opposition politician J. B. Jeyaretnam, called A Vision of Persistence, is withdrawn from Singapore International Film Festival. Lecturers and students from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, who made the video, are warned that the Political Videos Act could be used against them. The film-makers make the decision not to be so persistent about screening the film.

  • 2002: Escape from Paradise, a bestselling book by John and May Chu Harding, is withdrawn from bookstores and libraries. Enquiries reveal that the book was removed due to threats of legal action by Helen Yeo, a Singapore lawyer and wife of former Cabinet Minister Yeo Cheow Tong, as her firm had been mentioned in conjunction with an illegal house sale. The book describes May Chu's escape from an arranged marriage in Singapore and never mentions Helen Yeo directly. The Hardings respond by setting up vicious websites to destroy the credibility of Helen Yeo and her husband. Yeo never makes good on her threats to sue the Hardings. The book remains a top-seller for Singaporeans on
    Click here for more information.
  • 2002 : UnionWorks' Mandarin radio station is fined $15,000 for adding "injections of personal remarks and observations by the newsreader, which were unwarranted in normal news bulletins," said the Singapore Broadcasting Authority (SBA).
    From here.

  • 2002: The zany Hollywood comedy Zoolander is banned in both Singapore and Malaysia for its fictional depiction of Malaysia as impoverished and dependent on sweatshops. The ban is lifted in 2006.

  • 2001: Sintercom, a non-partisan Internet website set up by Tan Chong Kee, closes in response to the Singapore Broadcasting Authority demanding that the site be gazetted as a political website that "engages in the propagation, promotion and discussion of political issues relating to Singapore." Sintercom had been one of the first websites where Singaporeans could exchange political opinions.

  • 2001 : Police arrest internet critic Robert Ho Chong at his home after being charged with an offence punishable by up to three years in jail. The 51-year-old former journalist posted articles before the general elections urging opposition candidates to enter polling stations, as did the PAP leaders in the 1997 elections. The police classified Ho's article as an attempt to incite violence or disobedience to the law that was likely to lead to a breach of peace.From here.

  • 2000: Agni Koothu's English-language run of playwright/director Elangovan's play Talaq is banned for its depiction of marital violence in the Indian-Muslim community, despite the play having been staged successfully in Tamil in Dec 1998 and Feb 1999, with a bilingual edition of the script published with funding from NAC. The Public Entertainment Licensing Unit (PELU) has no objections to manager S. Thenmoli seeking to document the rehearsal at the Drama Centre, where she had made a paid booking. However, on her arrival, the then Executive Director of NAC calls the police in for alleged trespassing, resulting in a four-hour standoff ending in S. Thenmoli's arrest. The furor over the ban ultimately leads to a reform of arts licensing.

  • 2000: National Arts Council pulls out funding for a production of Drama Box's Mandarin play Vaginalogue, protesting against the use of the image of a vagina in the play. Director Kok Heng Leun claims that the image was taken from a health brochure readily accessible to the public. The play describes women's relationships with their vaginas in the manner of the Vagina Monologues.

  • 2000: Speaker’s Corner opens at Hong Lim Park. The Straits Times reports that "the Speakers' Corner at Hong Lim Park is a place where Singapore citizens can speak freely in public without having to apply for a Public Entertainment License", although speakers must apply for a permit at the nearby police post first and are forbidden from discussing racially or religiously seditious issues. A year later, James Gomez, commemorating the Corner’s first year anniversary, says, "The only thing which has grown at Speaker's Corner is the grass."

  • 2000 : A Radio Corporation Singapore (RCS) radio report on a Human Rights Day event at Speakers Corner was re-edited after the first report went on air containing comments by JB Jeyaretnam and a letter by Kofi Annan. Shortly after, a spokesperson for RCS said that the journalist Fauziah Ibrahim had "resigned."
    From here.

  • 1999: sex.violence.blood.gore by The Necessary Stage, receives 3 cuts to the script for being "racially/religiously inflammatory". The decision by PELU is delivered one day before the play opens. The play is eventually performed and the censored portions photocopied and distributed to audience members. A copy of the letter from PELU is read out in the middle of the performance in a matter-of-fact tone.

  • 1999: In the heat of the moment, lead guitarist and vocalist of the Boredphucks, San Singer (aka Sanjeev Veloo), utters a Hokkien expletive during a performance at the Youthpark. He is consequently charged with offending the decency of women and violating the Public Entertainment Act. Although the charges are later dropped, Singer, along with Boredphuck's bassist, JBoss, and drummer, Wayne Thunder are suddenly not permitted to play live in Singapore. When the ban is lifted later in the year, the group releases a playful album entitled "Banned in Da Singapura" and later moves to Melbourne where they achieve success under their new name, the Suns.

  • 1999: The title of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me is seen as too sexually graphic, and it is suggested that it be changed to "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shioked Me"; this decision is ultimately overturned in favour of the original title, after realisations that this had served merely to highlight to Singaporeans the meaning of "shag", and tarnished the meaning of the word "shiok".

  • 1998: An amendment is made to 1981 Films Act with an introduction of the Political Videos Act, approved overwhelmingly in Parliament. In part, the vague and sweeping legislation defines a party political film as one "made by any person and directed toward any political end in Singapore" or one that contains "partisan or biased references on any political matter."

  • 1998: Hong Kong artist Zunzi Wang's artwork, a political cartoon featuring caricatures of then-SM Lee and PM Goh, is removed by officials from the Singapore Art Museum and destroyed just prior to the opening of ARX5. The artist is not informed until the opening.
  • 1998 : The Undesirable Publications Act is amended to include CD-ROMS, sound recordings, pictures, and computer-generated drawings, and to raise the fine for distribution or possession of banned publications. The Government also publicises the list of banned English-language publications, which is made up primarily of sexually-oriented materials, but also includes some religious and political materials.
    From here.

  • 1997: Singapore Broadcasting Authority issues Internet Code of Practice.

  • 1996: Singapore begins to regulate Internet usage, officially blocking a "symbolic" list of 100 sites, dealing with pornography, illegal drugs and extreme religion, including, and According to the Internet Code of Practice, prohibited content which ISPs must block includes "that which depicts nudity in a titillating fashion; promotes sexual violence; shows people engaged in explicit sexual activity; advocates homosexuality or lesbianism; shows sexual activity by a person who is or appears to be less than 16 years old; depicts incest, bestiality, pedophilia, or necrophilia; depicts extreme violence or cruelty; or "glorifies, incites or endorses ethnic, racial or religious hatred, strife or intolerance." Actual blocking is minimal.
    Click here for more information.

  • 1995: American Academic Dr Christopher Lingle's article in the International Herald Tribune, "Smoke over Parts of Asia Obscures Some Profound Concerns," states that an unnamed country uses a "compliant judiciary to bankrupt opposition politicians". SM Lee Kuan Yew files a civil libel suit. IHT pays S$213,000 in damages plus costs for the civil suit. Lingle is separately ordered by the courts in April to pay S$71,000 in damages, plus costs, to the Senior Minister.

  • 1995: Theatreworks stages a successful run of A Language of Their Own in New York, but is banned from staging it in Singapore as it involves a sympathetic portrayal of gay Asian relationships. Written by Chay Yew, a Singapore playwright who migrated to America, the play has become a canonical text in Asian-American studies. It is finally performed in Singapore in 2006 and is nominated for Best Script in the Life! Theatre Awards.

  • 1994: Performance artists Josef Ng and Shannon Tham create artworks in protest against the arrest of twelve homosexual men through police entrapment. As part of their performances, Ng trims his pubic hair and Tham vomits into a bucket before an audience. The New Paper reports on this and brands the performances as vulgar and obscene; as a result, performance art without a licence is banned until 2003, and Ng and Tham are not to be given licences to exhibit art in Singapore. (Ng works today in Bangkok, and has since then presented artwork on at least one occasion without reprisals in Singapore, in 2000.)
    Click here for more information.

  • 1994: The Straits Times publishes a report associating The Necessary Stage, a theatre group in Singapore, with Marxism. One of their dramatic techniques is forum theatre, invented by Marxist theatre activist Augusto Boal, which allows audience members to intervene in plays to solve characters' problems. Although The Necessary Stage is cleared of suspicions of using forum theatre for Marxist purposes, forum theatre is banned together with performance art. The Ministry of Home Affairs announces that the government "is concerned that new art forms such as "performance art" and "forum theatre" which have no script and encourage spontaneous audience participation pose dangers to public order, security and decency, and much greater difficulty to the licensing authority. " (Forum Theatre has been revived by The Necessary Stage since 2001, without repercussions.)

  • 1994: PM Goh Chok Tong publicly castigates author Catherine Lim for writing two politically critical articles in the Straits Times. The PM argues that if she wants to voice her opinion on politics she should join a political party. His invocation of the concept of an invisible "out-of-bounds marker", aka OB marker, becomes a by-word among Singaporeans when discussing the problem of never knowing precisely how much free speech one has.

  • 1994: Eric Khoo's short film Pain wins him the Best Director and Special Achievement Awards at the Singapore International Film Festival. It is banned from public viewing due to its graphic violence. It tells the story of a sado-masochistic young man obsessed with pain, who commits a crime involving brutality and torture. Khoo goes on to find official recognition as a cinematic auteur; the ban on "Pain" is finally lifted at the 1998 Singapore Film Festival.

  • 1994: All written materials published by the International Bible Students Association and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society are banned. Both are publishing arms of the Jehovah's Witnesses. Although ownership of Bibles published by both groups has not been outlawed, in practice Bibles have been confiscated, e.g. in 2004, when eleven individuals were detained for attempting to bring JW publications into the country from Malaysia. In such cases, no charges were filed.
    Click here for more information.

  • 1993: Shortly before staging, the Ministry of Health withdraws its funding from Off Centre, a play by The Necessary Stage on mental illness. MOH claims that the play misrepresents the insane. TNS stages the play with its own funding, to critical acclaim. The play is now recognised as a landmark play in Singapore theatre and will be an O-level literature text from 2007 onwards.

  • 1992: Four plays for Theatreworks's Theatre Carnival On The Hill are censored: Desmond Sim's Blood and Snow has 14 pages cut; Theresa [last name not given]'s Bra Sizes has all references to "breasts" cut; Robin Loon's Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder has its few "fucks" cut. Gung Ho Theatre's "Too Glam One", a commentary on the 1992 survey on morals, is banned for "crude and vulgar language". The Censorship Review Committee publishes a report on 18 October stating that plays need not be vetted if they are by "established" theatre groups. R(A) ratings for plays are also instituted, allowing for greater freedom of drama in front of a mature audience. During this period, Tan Tarn How's political satire The Lady of Soul and the Ultimate S-Machine is a subject of contention between Theatreworks and MITA/PELU - these government bodies object to the reference to Asian dragons in the prologue, the notion that Singapore is a nation without a soul, the apparent promotion of sex and Communism, the mockery of past committees as inefficient, the unfavourable portrayal of ministers and civil servants and their overseas trips, and the idea that politicians are more interested in winning votes than delivering on their promises. Approximately 1/20th of the plays is scheduled to be cut. However, on review by the Censorship Appeals Committee, the play is ultimately passed in its entirety.

  • 1989: Singapore bans Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses for its "blasphemous" depiction of the prophet Muhammad. Singapore is not alone: India is the first country to ban the book in 1988, and the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issues a fatwa in 1989 commanding all Muslims to execute those involved in the writing and publishing of the book. The Japanese translator of the book is fatally stabbed; the Italian translator and the Norwegian publisher survive assassination attempts. Rushdie himself is forced to go into hiding.

  • 1988: Lest the Demons Get to Me, a play by Russell Heng, is to be staged by Theatreworks for the Arts Festival Fringe, but its licence is not approved by the Ministry of Community Development, as "perhaps the theme of transvestism and transsexuality was not suitable for the event". It is a monologue from the perspective of an intellectual transvestite at the time of the destruction of the transgender bazaar culture. The play is given an uncut staged reading in 1992.

  • 1986: Authorities close the Rainbow Lounge at Ming Arcade, Singapore’s first disco and live music venue, on the grounds that a member of the house band, Speedway, had made a risqué remark in Hokkien while onstage. The founder, Dr Goh Poh Seng, goes into self-exile in Canada, “disillusioned and hounded by authorities” for his efforts to push the boundaries of culture in conservative society. He does not visit Singapore again until Writers Festival 2007, where he is lauded for his legacy as the creator of Singapore’s first English-language novel. (See The Sunday Times, December 16, 2007, L6.)

  • 1984: Japanese New Age musician Kitaro is barred from entry to Changi Airport because of his long hair; officials insist that in order to perform, he must first cut his hair (in keeping with a Singapore campaign from the 70s against long hair in men). Kitaro refuses and cancels his concert in Singapore.

  • 1983: In the wake of the 1979 Speak Mandarin Campaign, local radio stations are barred from airing shows in Chinese dialect from 1 January onwards, destroying the culture of dialect storytellers such as Lee Dai Soh. (Television shows in dialect had been banned a year earlier; even Hong Kong Cantonese serials had to be dubbed in Mandarin before airing.) While the ban remains largely in place today, a brief news programme conducted in different dialects has been permitted for the benefit of the elderly.

  • 1982: Cosmopolitan magazine is banned for "promoting sexual permissiveness". In 2004, the ban is lifted by the MDA, with the stipulation that the magazine must not contain exploitative sex or nudity, and must be shrink-wrapped with a label on its cover reading "unsuitable for children".

  • 1982: Ten years prior to the ban on chewing gum, S Dhanabalan complains that HDB spent $75, 000 a year removing chewing gum wads from walls and floors in housing estates. Consequently, TV commercials for chewing gum are banned.

  • 1980: The Hollywood film Saint Jack is banned. Based on Paul Theroux's novel of the same name on the sex trade in Singapore, the movie was filmed locally by director Peter Bogdanovich in 1978. It is eventually given a single late-night screening at the Singapore Film Festival, on grounds of its historical value, in 1997. The ban is lifted in 2006.

  • 1976: Theatre director Kuo Pao Kun is stripped of his citizenship and detained without trial for alleged Communist activities in a sweeping anti-leftist purge. Over his 4 1/2 years of incarceration, Kuo studies Malay and reads Shakespeare. He is released in 1980 and re-emerges as a powerful force in Singapore drama, winning the Cultural Medallion in 1990.

  • 1973: Despite the dwindling of the Singapore film industry following separation from Malaysia, Tony Yeow and James Sebastian direct Ring of Fury, a gripping kung fu action tale set in Singapore. The film is banned locally for its depiction of a gangsterism in Singapore, but gets screenings in Australia, Hong Kong and even Africa. Its first public screening in Singapore is in 2005. See here.
  • 1971: A succession of crackdowns on newspapers. On May 2, four editors of the Nanyang Siang Pau, a reputed Mandarin newspaper, are arrested and imprisoned on charges of "fanning Chinese Chauvinism", "glamourising Communism" and for being involved in a "black operation". The newspaper will eventually cease to exist when merged with the Sin Chew Jit Poh on March 16, 1983 to form the current Lianhe Zaobao. On May 16, seven editorial staff resign from the Eastern Sun, an English-language newspaper, after Lee Kuan Yew alleges that "a certain English newspaper" is involved with black operations and is funded with loans from Communist China. On May 28, he Singapore Herald, an English-language tabloid newspaper, has its publishing license suspended by the government. The government accuses the paper of being involved in "black operations", of being funded by questionable foreign sources, of working up agitation against national policies and institutions, and of "taking on the government".

  • 1968: The Equator Art Society opens an exhibition of paintings portraying Americans as morally degraded figures; this is interpreted as being a socialist protest against Singapore's endorsement of America in the Vietnam War. The exhibition is closed within a day of opening and the President of the Society is detained; members do not submit their names of board members to the Registrar of Societies in the following years, and the Society is forced to dissolve in 1974.

  • 1965: On 30 September, less than two months after separation from Malaysia, the Managing Director of the Singapore-based Malay language newspaper Utusan Melayu is called to the Ministry of Culture to meet with the Minister and Prime Minister. He is shown a map of Malaya and is warned against reporting anything sensitive occurring below the Straits of Johor. Lee Kuan Yew presents the Director with a copy of the Sedition Act before his departure. The incident will be referred to again in 1967 when PAP MPs Rahamat bin Kenap and Othman Wok accuse the paper of printing "humiliatory articles" to cause political tension between Malaysia and Singapore. In the wake of this, Utusan Melayu shifts its Headquarters to Malaysia, where it remains, although it continues to circulate in Singapore until 1969.

  • 1959: Shortly after PAP takeover, pinball machines and jukeboxes are banned in the crackdown on "yellow culture", the decadent culture of Western imperialists. Jukeboxes are only officially legalised again in 1991. See here.
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Ng Yi-Sheng for posting it on his blog, at


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

2007: At the Singapore Design Festival's 20/20 exhibition at the National Library, Brian Gothong Tan's video installation is pulled on opening night. Among the video art works and TV advertisements he had directed, Tan had included a mockup trailer for his planned feature film Invisible Children, which includes a shots of a girl playing a Singapore Airlines stewardess smoking cigarettes and snorting cocaine. SIA is famously protective of the image of the "Singapore Girl" and members of its board are also involved with Design Festival management.

As much as it is really disappointing to have to pull out an art installation on an opening night, I do believe that perhaps Tan has taken this one step too far. The Singapore Girl is not only the image of SIA. More importantly, it has also become synonymous with Singapore’s image. Taking a jibe at a symbol that unmistakably has grown to represent Singapore is really disrespectful to our small nation state.

Although members of SIA’s board are involved with the Design Festival management, I believe that it is this macro view of events that influenced their decisions and not merely the protection of the branding image.

Bao Rong, Lionel, Michelle, Qian Sheng