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Rights defender penalised for screening Sri Lankan documentary in Malaysia

Screenshot from the documentary
Screenshot from the documentary "No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka"

No Fire Zone Facebook page

In the following statement, dated October 3, 2013, signatories express shock at the charging of Malaysian human rights defender Lena Hendry for being involved in the screening of a Sri Lankan documentary.

We, the 112 undersigned civil society groups, trade unions and organisations are shocked that the Malaysian government, after the recent general election has resorted to charging human rights defender Lena Hendry on September 19, 2013 for being involved in the screening of a documentary No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka at a human rights event in Kuala Lumpur on July 9, 2013.

Lena Hendry was charged for an offence under the Film Censorship Act 2002, in connection with the screening of a video which was not vetted and approved by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia. If convicted, she faces the sentence of a ". . . fine of not less than five thousand ringgit and not more than thirty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both . . . "

She is charged under Section 6 of the Act that makes it an offence to, amongst others, to produce, manufacture, have in one's possession, circulate, distribute and display such film or film-publicity material which has not been approved by the board.

This may include video material ranging from family videos, videos of political and human rights material including recordings of forums and speeches, videos about citizen rights including the right to free and fair elections or worker rights, and even videos about rights violations in other countries including Palestine.

A " . . . videotape, diskette, laser disc, compact disc, hard disc and other record of a sequence of visual images, being a record capable of being used as a means of showing that sequence as a moving picture, whether or not accompanied by sound . . . ", is also included in the definition of 'film' as provided for in Section 3 of the Film Censorship Act. It is absurd that in Malaysia, the law requires one to get approval of the Malaysia's Film Censorship Board for all such material.

The Act is also discriminatory as it does not apply, amongst others, to ". . . .any film sponsored by the federal government or the government of any state . . . ". The government does not need to obtain approval from the Censorship Board, but everyone else is expected to do so.

At present, the practice of getting approval from the Film Censorship Board usually applies to films screened in cinemas and cineplexes to a paying audience. Even when it comes to television, it is believed that there may be no pre-requirement for getting approval from the Censorship Board for all that is shown except for feature movies.

The charging of Lena Hendry in September 2013 by the Malaysia government is seen as an effort to limit access to information and alternative views particularly those highlighting human rights violations and alternative perspectives. This violates individual and civil society and public rights to information, freedom of expression and opinion.

If the screening and usage of such material incites a criminal act, or violates another person's rights, there are existing laws to address this. There is no requirement for any prior government approval or "censorship".

In Reporters Without Borders' 2013 World Press Freedom Index, Malaysia has fallen to its lowest-ever position because of the decreasing access to information. Malaysia embarrassingly dropped 23 places, and now ranks 145 out of 179.

Article 1 of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states clearly that "Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at national and international levels."

Lena Hendry, has the right to " . . . freely publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms . . . ", and that should include the right to use films, documentaries and other video materials.

To advocate a policy or a law that says that film or video material must be pre-approved by the government before it can be used is in itself a violation of principles of human rights and the UN Human Rights Defender Declaration.

Therefore, we

a) Urge the Malaysian government to immediately and unconditionally drop the criminal charges against Lena Hendry;

b) Urge the repeal of provisions in the Film Censorship Act 2002 that obligates persons to seek approval of the government vis-à-vis the Film Censorship Board before a film, videotape, diskette, laser disc, compact disc, hard disc and other record of a sequence of visual images can be used;

c) Urge the Malaysian government to recognise, promote and respect human rights, including those contained in the UN Human Rights Defenders Declaration.

Charles Hector and Pranom Somwong, for and on behalf the 112 organisations listed below:

Aliran
All Women's Action Society (Awam), Malaysia
Angkatan Rakyat Muda (ARM), Malaysia
Aksi For Gender, Social And Ecological Justice, Indonesia
Asean Youth Assembly
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, law and Development (APWLD)
Academy of Tamil Studies, Malaysia
Boat People SOS
Burma Partnership
Cambodian Human Rights Association (ADHOC )
Campaign for a Life of Dignity for All (KAMP), Philippines
Civil Right Committee of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Malaysia
Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC), Malaysia
Centre of Education, Research and Development (CEDAR) Malaysia
Centre for Independent Journalism, Malaysia
Child Development Initiative Malaysia
Committee for a Workers' International (CWI), Malaysia
Community Action Network, Malaysia
Community Resource Centre
Council of Temples Malaysia
Dapur Jalanan Kuala Lumpur
Dignity International
Empower Foundation, Thailand
Engage
Federation of Indian Non-Governmental Organisations
Foundation for Women, Thailand
Friends of Burma, Chiang Mai
Gabungan Pertubuhan-pertubuhan Masyarakat India Selangor
Gender and Development Advocates (Ganda) Filipinas
Group of Concerned Citizens Malaysia
Human Rights Ambassador for Salem-News.com, UK
Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) Indonesia
Indian Malaysian Active Generation (Image) Malaysia
Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) , Malaysia
JERIT, Malaysia
Kelab Bangsar Utama, Malaysia
Kesatuan Kebangsaan Pekerja Pekerja Perusahaan Alat Alat Pengangkutan Dan Sekutu (NUTEAIW)
Kesatuan Sekerja Industri Elektronik Wilayah Selatan Semenanjung Malaysia (KSIEWSSM)
Kuala Lumpur Indian Entrepreneurs and Professionals
Law and Society Trust, Colombo Sri Lanka
LLG Cultural Development Centre, Malaysia
MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)
Malaysian Association of Indian University Graduates
Malaysian Dravidian Association
Malaysians for Beng Hock
Malaysian Hindu Youth Council
Malaysian Indian Business Association
Malaysian Indian Development & Unity Association
Malaysian Indian Entrepreneurs and Professionals
Malaysian Indian Historical Association
Malaysia Indian Progressive Educational Society
Malaysian Indian Youth Development Foundation
Malaysian Physicians for Social Responsibility
Malaysia Youth & Students Democratic Movement
Malaysia Tamil Artiste Association
MAP Foundation, Thailand
Maruah, Singapore
Migrant CARE
MTUC (Malaysian Trades Union Congress) Pahang
National Union of Bank Employees, Malaysia (Nube)
Nationwide Human Development And Research Centre Malaysia
Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia ( NAMM)
Network for Democracy and Development
Parti Rakyat Malaysia (PRM)
Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)
Pax Romana ICMICA
Peace Institute of Cambodia
Peace Women Across the Globe Indonesia
Peoples' Empowerment Foundation (PEF), Thailand
Peoples Service Organisation (PSO), Malaysia
PERGERAKAN Indonesia
Perkumpulan Tafena Tabua, Kupang - Indonesia
Persahabatan Semparuthi Johor, Malaysia
Persatuan Alumni PBTUSM KL & Selangor
Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (EMPOWER)
Persatuan Masyarakat Selangor & Wilayah Persekutuan (Permas)
Persatuan Sahabat Wanita, Selangor (PSWS), Malaysia
Projek Dialog, Malaysia
SABM Melbourne, Australia
Sahabat Rakyat Working Committee, Malaysia
SALT (School of Acting Justly Loving Tenderly and Treading Humbly), Malaysia
Sarawak Dayak Iban Association
Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
Selangor Indian Entrepreneurs and Professionals
Semparuthi Iyakkam Malaysia
Sisters In Islam, Malaysia
Suaram (Suara Rakyat Malaysia)
Tenaganita, Malaysia
The Asian Muslim Action Network (Aman) Indonesia
The Association of Women Lawyers, Malaysia
The Filipino Women's Organisation in Quebec, Canada
VIVAT International-Indonesia
WH4C (Workers Hub For Change)
Women's Centre for Change (WCC) Penang
Women's Network for the Advancement and Peace, Thailand
Women's Rehabilitation Centre (WOREC) Nepal
World Tamil Federation - Malaysian Chapter
Writer Alliance for Media Independence (Wami), Malaysia
Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association, Thailand
Yayasan LINTAS NUSA Batam - Indonesia
Youth for Peace Cambodia
Advocacy and Policy Institute (API), Cambodia
Labour Behind the Label, United Kingdom
ARTICLE 19
Forum for Democracy in Burma
Bersihkan Malaysia Perth, Australia
Women's Aid Organisation, Malaysia
WAC, Philippines
Housing Rights Task Force, Cambodia.
NLD LA Malaysia
Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM)
Cereal (Centro de Reflexión y Acción Laboral)

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Malaysia: Time to abolish censorship

    The main issue here is that the government has opted to impose the old-fashioned law for the screening of a human rights-themed documentary, with a topic that is certainly of public interest: impunity of the state. Furthermore, the government has specifically targeted a person whose work is dedicated to promoting human rights. Sri Lanka's culpability for possible war crimes during final offensive against the Tamil separatist insurgency in 2009 has been the subject of much concern in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

  • Malaysia: Drop Charges for Film Screening
  • Index Freedom of Expression Awards: Journalism nominee Callum Macrae smeared in Sri Lankan media
  • Malaysia: Drop charges for showing film

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

  • Malaysia: Drop charges against Lena Hendry

    We write to you as organisations that are deeply concerned by the decision of the Malaysian authorities to prosecute Lena Hendry for her involvement in the screening of the award-winning human rights documentary, “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka,” in Kuala Lumpur on July 9, 2013. The charges against her violate Malaysia’s obligations to respect the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, notably to receive and impart information. We respectfully urge you to drop the charges against Hendry. Her trial in Magistrate Court 6 in Kuala Lumpur is slated to begin on December 14, 2015.

  • Malaysia: Drop Dubious Case Against Rights Activist

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