KUALA LUMPUR: Amnesty International (AI) has expressed concern about the wide, arbitrary powers granted to the Film Censorship Board by Section 6 of the Film Censorship Act 2002 and the heavy, disproportionate punishment that was levied by the Act.
The organisation urged the Malaysian authorities to immediately repeal or amend all laws, including the Film Censorship Act, which restricts the right to freedom of expression and ensures that they are in strict compliance with international human rights law and standards.
AI was welcoming the Kuala Lumpur magistrate court acquitting activist Lena Hendry on Thursday of criminal charges for screening a film on human rights violations in Sri Lanka. “It’s shameful that the Malaysia authorities charged her in the first place,” said a AI Deputy Director Josef Roy Benedict. “This case highlights the shrinking space for human rights defenders carrying out their legitimate human rights work.”
AI believes that the arrest and detention of Hendry in 2013, together with her colleagues from her organisation KOMAS, and her eventual charges were politically motivated and a blatant abuse of the legal process. “It also contravenes Malaysia’s international obligations and commitments to uphold the right to freedom of expression,” said Benedict.
The organisation also believes that the long, drawn-out trial of Hendry that began in September 2013 was part of a wider pattern of intimidation, harassment and criminalisation of human rights defenders in Malaysia. “This runs contrary to the government’s recent vote in favour of a UN General Assembly resolution in November 2015 which recognises the important role of human rights defenders globally,” pointed out Benedict.
Hendry was charged in 2013 under Section 6 of the Film Censorship Act 2002 for screening a film on alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both the Sri Lankan Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) at the end of the armed conflict in 2009. The film was entitled “No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”.
Hendry was the first human rights defender charged under this law which criminalizes the act of possessing or exhibiting films not approved by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia. She faced up to three years imprisonment, a fine not exceeding RM 30,000 or both.
The magistrate found that the prosecution had failed to prove its case against her. However, the authorities can still appeal the decision.