The political exiles featured in a documentary that cannot be shown in public or distributed here should not be allowed to air their "self-serving accounts" of the fight against communism, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Local film-maker Tan Pin Pin's To Singapore, With Love had to be seen in the historical context of the communist insurgency, an armed struggle for power that raged for 40 years and killed thousands, he pointed out.
He was commenting for the first time on the film that has been in the news since the Media Development Authority recently classified it "Not Allowed for All Ratings" because it was deemed to undermine national security.
Ms Tan has submitted the film - unchanged - to the independent Films Appeal Committee and said on Thursday she hoped the classification could be reviewed.
It came up at last night's National University of Singapore Society forum when Institute of Policy Studies senior research fellow Gillian Koh cited it as she asked Mr Lee how the more "controversial" points of history could be discussed more normally.
He said there was no hindrance to discussing the past in a normal way, noting that some historians propound revisionist views of history and others rebut them.
But Ms Tan's film involved people who figured in the communist insurgency. "It was a violent struggle; it lasted for 40 years from 1949. On one side, you had the non-communists, democratic groups; on the other side, you had the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and their sympathisers in the Communist United Front... It was an armed struggle for power," he said, adding that these were matters of historical record, not seriously disputed.
The six self-declared CPM members in Ms Tan's film do not deny having been guerillas, and one even shows himself in jungle green carrying weapons.
After the insurgency, many communists returned to Singapore with their families after owning up to their actions.
They included former communist leaders Eu Chooi Yip and P.V. Sarma who returned from China in 1991. "They were superiors of some of the people who are in the movie - cleared their accounts, made their peace, lived and died here," Mr Lee said.
There is nothing to stop the exiles in Ms Tan's film from doing the same, he added.
"Well, they've chosen not to do so. It's their prerogative. But if they have chosen not to do so, why should we allow them, through a movie, to present an account of themselves, not of documentary history objectively presented, but a self-serving personal account conveniently inaccurate in places, glossing over inconvenient facts in others?"
This, he said, would sully the honour and the reputation of security forces, and the people who fought the communists to build the Singapore of today.
A film, he added, is a different medium from a book.
"You write a book, I can write a counter book. The book, you can read together with the counter book," he explained. "You watch the movie, you think it's a documentary. It may be like Fahrenheit 9/11, very convincing, but it's not a documentary. And I think that we have to understand this in order to understand how to deal with these issues."
Professor Tommy Koh, who chaired the forum, noted that the influence of communism had waned, and would no longer pose a security threat to Singapore.
But Mr Lee replied: "Communism is over, but I don't think the people who used to support communism... have given up the fight for a place on the winner's podium."
This article was first published on Oct 4, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.