Trial starts of woman who faces jail for screening a Channel 4 film
For Lena Hendry, a mild-mannered member of a small civil rights group in Malaysia, it was just another “film night” at Kuala Lumpur’s “Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall”. Her organisation, called KOMAS, has been using the facility for years to show documentaries and movies about human rights. On the evening of 3 July, however, a number of unexpected guests turned up.
Thirty Malaysian policemen, government officials and immigration officers tried to shut the screening down. They also made three arrests and harassed members of the audience – according to those in attendance. “We were shocked by what happened,” said Ms Hendry.
The film that KOMAS was trying to put on was Channel 4′s “No fire-zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka,” a multi-award winning documentary about the Sri Lankan government’s brutal assault on Tamil civilians at the end of that country’s civil war in 2009. The film’s findings have been supported by the United Nations and other human rights groups – but it seems that officials from the Sri Lankan and Malaysian governments were determined that the people at “Assembly Hall” would be denied a chance to see it.
Earlier on 3 July, an official from the Sri Lankan Embassy met with the hall’s management team in an attempt to persuade them not to show “No Fire Zone” – but they refused. Malaysian officials tried again later that evening. However, they were late arriving at the hall and a “full-house”, according to Ms Hendry, had already begun watching it.
The authorities allowed the film to continue but Ms Hendry and two others were arrested on suspicion of violating section 6 of the “Film Censorship Act” – the charge being that they had not submitted it to the country’s film classification board for review. Malaysian officials waited at Chinese Assembly Hall until the film was over, recording the details of everyone in attendance as they left.
Charges against two KOMAS members were dropped but the charge against Ms Hendry still stands and her trial began this morning in Kuala Lumpur. KOMAS argues that the “Film Censorship Act” does not apply in this case – the screening was a private affair with guests required to register in advance – a format that has been used on numerous occasions in the past, it says. If Ms Hendry is found guilty, however, she is liable to spend up to three years in prison.
International human rights groups today said the trial represents a fundamental attack on Malaysians’ basic right to freedom of expression. Furthermore, Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson warned that such actions would only invite greater scrutiny of Malaysia’s civil rights record.
As for Lena Hendry, she told Channel 4 News today she was simply “hoping for the best”. The verdict in her trial is expected in about five or six months.
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