By Mariam Mokhtar (First appeared in Free Malaysia Today on July 4th, 2014)
Lena Hendry is like any other Malaysian. She likes reading, watching films, listening to music and travelling. She went to Convent Bukit Nanas and after graduating in Psychology from HELP University College in Damansara, worked for Komas, a Malaysian human rights non-govermental organisation (NGO).
She says: “I am an average sort of person, who wishes to do something, to help Malaysia.”
The state of affairs in Malaysia is becoming desperate. Race and religion are being used to tear the country apart. Extremism goes unchecked and violence is increasing. The public’s perception, is different from that of the authorities.
There is deepening concern over the arbitrary use of the Sedition Act by the authorities, to stifle creativity and ban freedom of expression.
Anyone who opposes the official line risks arrest, or termination of their services. Today, academics, Opposition MPs, and human rights defenders are facing, or will face, prosecution. Tomorrow, it could be you.
On July 9 2013, Lena, who is a programme co-ordinator for Komas, screened a film called “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, at a human rights event, at the Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, in Kuala Lumpur.
Komas has screened films of a similar nature for 11 years. The film, directed by Callum Macrae, is an educational film documenting the war crimes committed during the Sri Lankan civil war.
The Sri Lanka people have been killed for their beliefs and ethnicity. Lena said: “It is important that the people of Malaysia are aware of such happenings outside of the country.”
There had been no publicity for the film, as it was a private event and access was by invitation only.
Halfway through the event, the premises were raided and screening halted. Afterwards, three Komas members, including Lena, were arrested.
“The only opposition to the event came from the Sri Lankan High Commission, which approached the owners of this venue to try to persuade them to cancel the booking and thus prevent the screening,” said Lena.
Lena believes that the raid was conducted because the Malaysian authorities had been pressured, by the Sri Lankan government, which denies that the atrocities and the events, depicted in the film, took place.
In September 2013, Lena was charged under the Film Censorship Act 2002, because “…the film had not been vetted nor approved by the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia…” If convicted, she faces a fine, imprisonment or both.
The Film Censorship Act relates to “any film”. There is no clear guideline or definition of the type of film which is covered by the act.
Lena’s concern is that the charge, will ultimately affect Malaysians, “The average Malaysian should care because this law is opening up a can of worms. The law says “all films” are illegal, so, it could include your wedding video, your child’s first birthday party and so on”.
Before long, you could be arrested for recording a video on your mobile phone, and showing it to your friends.
Lena maintains that films are a form of creative expression and that viewers should judge their true nature, adding: “It is not up to a body to decide what you should watch, or not watch.”
Lena has encountered many filmmakers who are directly affected by the ruling. She expressed frustration that instead of questioning the validity of the law, they comply with the unreasonable nature of the law.
“The law has not previously been applied to human rights’ activists. The government is practising double standards, because many propaganda films are shown without any restrictions,” she added.
Despite the parallels between Sri Lanka and Malaysia, such as our human rights abuses, the lack of press freedom, the persecution of journalists and NGOs, Lena believes that the government does not fear the similarities.
“Why did they stop the screening of a human rights film? Why is the government bowing to pressure from Sri Lanka?” asked Lena.
When told that Malaysians are not unduly bothered about the charges brought against her, she said: “I am concerned about the potential consequences, because the law has not been used against a human rights’ defender or an average Malaysian citizen. Previously, the law was used to prosecute illegal DVD sellers.
“By enforcing this law, the government appears to be starting something bigger. They probably plan to make censorship the next big thing, after ISA and Sedition. All are draconian.
“People should be made aware that censorship is not necessarily good and is ineffective in the age of the internet.
“Pornographic and violent videos are openly available, but ultimately only self-regulation counts. Nobody should be able to tell you what you can or cannot watch.
“Persecuting me is like stifling Freedom of Expression. Be warned! A home video of your singing or your holiday, will be deemed illegal if shown to anyone,” said Lena.
Footnote: Lena’s appeal has been delayed as the High Court has not submitted its written judgment yet.
A petition to drop all the charges against Lena can be seen at https://www.change.org/petitions/drop-the-criminal-charges-against-lena-hendry-dato-sri-mohd-najib-bin-tun-haji-abdul-razak-prime-minister-of-malaysia-and-tan-sri-abdul-gani-patail-the-attorney-general-of-malaysia
The film “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” can be seen at, www.torrenting.com-No.Fire.Zone.the.Killing.field.of.Sri.Lanka.