Home Ministry witnesses deny discussing film censorship trial in WhatsApp group

File picture shows a screen from activist Lena Hendry’s documentary on Sri Lanka’s civil war. — AFP pic
File picture shows a screen from activist Lena Hendry’s documentary on Sri Lanka’s civil war. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 — Two Home Ministry officers denied at the Magistrate’s Court here today that their superior had used a WhatsApp group to discuss the case of an allegedly illegal film screening in which they were all witnesses.

They were testifying in an ongoing trial against human rights activist Lena Hendry for allegedly screening a documentary on Sri Lanka’s civil war without obtaining approval from the government’s censorship board.

Muhd Haniff Zainudin, an officer who had gone undercover for the 2013 documentary screening, disagreed when asked to comment on the ministry’s director of Film Censorship Control and Enforcement division Omar Mohd Bahari’s previous testimony of contacting him to discuss the trial.

“Disagree,” the Home Ministry assistant enforcement officer said during cross-examination by defence lawyer New Sin Yew.

He gave the same answer when the defence lawyer cited Omar’s testimony that the facts of the case was shared in a WhatsApp group on the mobile messaging app.

Muhd Haniff, the prosecution’s fourth witness who only started using WhatsApp last year, said he does not know of a WhatsApp group being created for discussions about the trial.

He said he did not contact anyone or went for any meetings before coming to court today to testify.

Norhafizad Abu Kassim, whose role in the Home Ministry operation was also to go undercover to view the public screening, similarly said he had not contacted any of the other witnesses or anyone prior to his testimony today.

He said he had found out in a letter last December that he was to be a witness for this case, listing the other witnesses named there as the head of the raid Mechellister Saimon, photographer Norazwan Mohd Noor, ministry officer Mohd Hafizi Zakaria and fellow undercover officer Muhd Haniff, but said he did not notice if Omar was mentioned.

New said Omar had previously testified that he had contacted Norhafizad about this case, but the latter told the court today that he disagreed.

Norhafizad disagreed however that his then boss Omar had lied, later saying “I’m not sure” when asked if he agreed that Omar had contacted him over the facts of today’s case.

He then said Omar did not contact him through WhatsApp, later replying in the negative when asked about Omar’s testimony that the facts of the case were shared in a group chat using the social media tool.

“Don’t have. No sharing,” said the assistant enforcement officer formerly stationed in Kuala Lumpur and now based in Pahang.

On the first day of trial last December, Omar had reportedly testified in court about the existence of a WhatsApp group among the witnesses of this trial, with news portal Malaysiakini reporting that the Magistrate’s Court heard that the witnesses had communicated with the prosecution in the same messaging group.

The Magistrate’s Court had then reportedly given out instructions against such communication between the witnesses and prosecutor.

Lena, a Pusat Komas coordinator, was charged in September 2013 with screening the documentary, “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” on July 3, 2013, at the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall without approval from the Film Censorship Board.

Section 6(1)(b) of the Film Censorship Act states that no person shall “circulate, exhibit, distribute, display, manufacture, produce, sell, or hire any film or film publicity material” without the Board’s prior approval.

Anyone found guilty under the provision faces either a fine of up to RM30,000, not more than three years behind bars, or both.

On September 14 last year, the Federal Court sent Lena back to the Magistrate’s Court to stand for trial, after it dismissed her challenge to Section 6(1)(b) over its alleged breach of the constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression and speech.

The hearing before Magistrate’s Court judge Mohd Rehan Mohd Aris will resume tomorrow.

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