The former programme coordinator of Pusat Komas, Lena Hendry, was sentenced to pay a fine of RM10,000 or spend a year in jail by the Magistrate’s Court in Kuala Lumpur for screening the Sri Lankan civil war documentary No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka before submitting it for approval by the Malaysian Censorship Board.
Under Section 6 of the Malaysian Film Censorship Act 2002, it is considered an offence which carries a jail sentence of not more than three years and a fine not exceeding RM30,000. The fine meted out to Lena is the maximum amount that can be set by the Magistrate’s Court.
Pusat Komas finds the decision by the magistrate disturbing and almost incomprehensible – that a human rights defender has been punished for wanting to raise awareness of, and concerns for marginalised communities suffering from human rights violations and atrocities.
The decision by the Magistrate’s Court has set a dangerous precedent – that it is now unlawful for people to document and screen videos without sending their videos to the Film Censorship Board.
This outcome has serious implications for freedom of expression in Malaysia, a basic right guaranteed in the Malaysian Constitution under Article 10, which guarantees Malaysian citizens the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association.
It was obvious from the start that the Malaysian government’s decision to charge Lena in court in 2013 was motivated by an unhappy Sri Lankan embassy that wanted to arbitrarily stop the screening of a film highlighting human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
Pusat Komas is seriously concerned with the court’s decision to slap Lena Hendry with a RM10,000 fine, and what’s more devastating, convict a human rights defender for highlighting human rights abuses.
What is more disturbing is that on 10 March 2016 it was the Magistrate’s Court in Kuala Lumpur that had acquitted Lena – but the prosecution then appealed.
We believe that the court should have decided against Lena Hendry’s conviction in the first place to send a clear message that it is not an offence to screen a documentary which supports human rights and educates people on that subject.
We also strongly urge the government to seriously commit to and align its laws to international standards of human rights. The Film Censorship Act 2002 needs to be seriously reviewed or totally removed.