Home Civil Society Voices 2015 Civil Society Voices HRW: Drop charges for showing film

HRW: Drop charges for showing film

Lena Hendry - Photograph:Haris Hassan/ fz.com

Join us on Telegram and Instagram for the latest.

The Malaysian authorities should end their prosecution of a local activist for her role in showing a documentary film without censorship board approval, Human Rights Watch has said.

Malaysia’s Federal Court will hear Lena Hendry’s challenge to the constitutionality of the Film Censorship Act on 14 September 2015.

Hendry, a staff member of the human rights group Pusat Komas, was charged under the act for organising a private screening of the award-winning documentary, “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka,” on 3 July 2013, in Kuala Lumpur. If convicted, she faces up to three years in prison and a fine of up to RM30,000 ($7,000).

“Prosecuting someone for the private showing of an award-winning film shows how determined Malaysian authorities are to stomp on the right to free expression,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should call off its intensifying assault on free expression and promptly amend the Film Censorship Act.”

Section 6 of Malaysia’s Film Censorship Act, under which Hendry is being prosecuted, prohibits the “circulation, distribution, display, production, sale, hire” or “possession” of any film, whether imported or domestically produced, without first obtaining approval from the government-appointed Board of Censors. The law defines “film” very broadly – and could potentially be applied to home videos or videos taken on a smartphone. Should the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest, rule against Hendry, her case will proceed to trial.

To date, the Film Censorship Act has been seldom invoked, and Pusat Komas regularly screens films on politics, human rights, culture, and other issues without censorship board approval, with admission by pre-registration only.

READ MORE:  Tindakan SKMM menyekat paparan dalam talian semasa banjir dikecam (Malay/English)

The charges against Hendry appear to have been primarily motivated by the Malaysian government’s desire to appease Sri Lankan embassy officials, who had publicly demanded that the film not be shown and visited the venue, the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, on the day of the film’s showing to urge the venue’s managers to cancel the event.

“No Fire Zone” concerns war crimes committed in the last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, including Sri Lankan army artillery attacks that indiscriminately killed thousands of civilians and the extrajudicial executions of captured fighters and supporters of the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

The authorities’ politically motivated prosecution of Hendry is contrary to internationally recognised standards for the protection of freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said. The imposition of criminal penalties for choosing to possess or show a film that the government has not previously approved is not necessary to protect national security, public order, public morals, or the rights and reputations of others, and imposes a disproportionate burden on a fundamental right.

“Rather than acting like a ‘big brother’ to censor films Malaysians have a right to see, the government should change the law that allows this misuse of power,” Robertson said. “Malaysians should never have to fear arrest for organising a film festival or going to watch a movie.”

14 September 2015

Thanks for dropping by! The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

Our voluntary writers work hard to keep these articles free for all to read. But we do need funds to support our struggle for Justice, Freedom and Solidarity. To maintain our editorial independence, we do not carry any advertisements; nor do we accept funding from dubious sources. If everyone reading this was to make a donation, our fundraising target for the year would be achieved within a week. So please consider making a donation to Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara, CIMB Bank account number 8004240948.
Notify of
1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x