PETALING JAYA, Feb 27 — Human rights group Pusat Komas criticised today the criminalisation of a documentary screening, asking if censorship laws also covered other content like wedding videos.
Pusat Komas director Anna Har slammed the government’s seemingly arbitrary prosecution which resulted in an activist’s conviction for screening a documentary without approval from government censors, saying that such action curtails the work of human rights groups that rely on films and videos to get their message across.
“What does this mean now? Nobody can make films? Everybody who makes a wedding video have to send to our dear censors? That means they won’t be able to sleep for the next ten years,” she said in a press conference here to seek the government’s unconditional release of activist Lena Hendry.
Har later went out to say that activists campaigning for Lena’s release from the criminal conviction are mulling a “day of action”.
“We are thinking (if) every film must have a permit, we actually may be thinking to invite everybody — bring your wedding videos, bring your baby videos, birthday videos and let’s just go to LPF and ask the censors, can I have a permit...?” Har said.
She also questioned the alleged selective prosecution of Lena, pointing out that the entire documentary can be viewed online.
Hendry said that she was the only one who has been prosecuted for screening the documentary without the Film Censorship Board’s approval, despite numerous screenings of the same documentary locally by others.
“The film itself is not porn or a violent film... It’s a documentary which is based on facts, it’s based on a lot of investigation and it has also been screened in Malaysia so many times after that,” she said, also highlighting that her case involves the right to freedom of expression.
“Another puzzling part about this is it’s a criminal conviction. A simple thing like not getting a licence for screening a film is run under criminal law and I would have a criminal conviction for the rest of my life if it’s not overturned,” she added.
Har said the criminal record could affect Hendry in matters such as getting bank loans and ability to travel, noting that a jail term and heavy fine should not be used against mere procedural matters of obtaining permits for film screening.
Citing a 2014 memo by the American Bar Association Centre for Human Rights, Har said the centre’s commissioned research showed Malaysia’s Film Censorship Act to be much more restrictive than other forms of censorship in Asia.
Besides seeking a review of local censorship laws, Har suggested that Malaysia could instead move away from a censorship system to a classification system where films are given ratings based on content.
In the memo sighted by Malay Mail Online, Malaysia’s restrictions on films were described as “harsh” by regional standards, as countries such as India and Thailand often permit screening of controversial films and Hong Kong still allows films to be screened with restricted ratings.
Those present to speak out in support of Hendry today are filmmakers Amir Muhammad, Nadira Ilana, Tan Chui Mui, academic Prof Zaharom Nain, Proham and Hakam representative Ivy Josiah, and representatives from Bersih 2.0 and Women’s Aid Organisation.
Last Tuesday, the Magistrate’s Court found Lena — a former programme director of Pusat Komas — guilty under Section 6 of the Film Censorship Act 2002, which comes with a maximum penalty of three years’ jail, or a RM30,000 fine or both.
The court has fixed March 22 for the sentencing of Hendry over the offence.
The High Court had last September reversed the acquittal of Hendry, who was charged in September 2013 under the Film Censorship Act 2002 for screening No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka without approval from the Censorship Board, and ordered her to enter her defence.
She was alleged to have screened the documentary without the authorities’ permission at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Chamber of Commerce Hall on July 3, 2013 at 9pm.