There’s a case going on about a woman who was arrested for screening a film. If you are not familiar with the story, let’s go back when it all began…
Early in 2013, UK filmmaker Callum Macrae approached Pusat KOMAS (an NGO that uses creative media to promote human rights in Malaysia) to organise a screening of his film ‘No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields Of Sri Lanka’. It is an investigative documentary about the final weeks of the Sri Lankan Civil War, where thousands of people were killed by the army.
Two days before the 3 July screening, the Censorship Board called and spoke to Lena, KOMAS’ then Programme Officer, instructing them not to screen it. The reason they gave is because it had not yet been approved by the Board. Lena replied that it was a private screening and attendance was by invitation only. Even the Sri Lankan embassy had asked them to stop the event, but although a meeting was arranged between them and the NGO, the embassy officials didn’t show up.
So, KOMAS went ahead with the screening at the KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH), first for members of the Parliament in the afternoon, then for 150 invited guests at night.
“When we screened the film at night, it was raided by the Censorship Board. Anna, Arul and I were detained. And the reason for our detention was because we screened the film without a licence.” – Lena
Wait… you can get arrested for showing a film?
After three hours of questioning, Anna Har (Board Director), Arul Prakkash (Executive Director) and Lena were released on bail. Then two-and-a-half months after that, ONLY Lena was charged under Section 6(1)(b) of the Film Censorship Act 2002 (Anna and Arul didn’t kena)!
This section of the Act states that no person shall circulate, exhibit, distribute, display, manufacture, produce, sell or hire any film which has not been approved by the Censorship Board. If convicted, a person could face a jail term of up to 3 years, or a fine of up to RM30,000, or both.
So YES, you do need a permit before screening a film! So what is the proper procedure actually? According to the National Censorship Board, or as they would prefer to be known, the Lembaga Penapis Filem (LPF), there are TWO things to consider…
- EACH film must be viewed, censored and considered suitable for screening first before it can be allowed to be in anyone’s possession. Those approved will be issued a Censorship Certificate (Certificate ‘A’).
- Copies of films to be screened and distributed to the public must first be issued a Copy of Censorship Certificate (Certificate ‘B’).
As for the process of how they censor and what is censored, read our old article here.
ALL films have to adhere to the same censorship law, even (or should we say especially) films that come from overseas, be they Marvel movies, or documentaries about the Sri Lankan civil war. But first let’s find how the Film Censorship Act defines a ‘film’: A film is the original, or duplicate, of the whole, or any part—
(a) a cinematograph film; and
(b) 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.
Alamaks, wouldn’t that imply that wedding and other homemade videos also need permit?
Does that mean if we wanna show wedding videos we will go to jail? 🙁
Ehh, if ALL film screenings need permit, then what about wedding, birthday, baby, or graduation videos if people wanna show them at their own functions? What about amateur PowerPoint slides of Bali travel photos made into a video? OH NOOO what about our cat videos that we upload on YouTube?!
HOWEVER, the difference between showing a wedding video to your guests and KOMAS’ screening is perhaps the way it is policed and enforced, from what we gather from this Loyar Burok article.
It’s unlikely the authorities would storm into someone’s reception to punish them for tayang-ing their wedding video, right? Plus, Malaysians can record videos on smartphones and upload them instantly online, so the current way the law is written seems impossible to enforce, “with full compliance neither expected, nor policed” (quoted from Loyar Burok’s article).
Whereas in KOMAS’ case, ‘No Fire Zone’ was a proper full-length documentary about war crimes committed in Sri Lanka. Sensitive stuff right? And more importantly, the Sri Lankan Embassy was said to have communicated with our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the LPF to urge that the KOMAS screening be stopped.
“Lena’s defense has clearly pointed out and is substantiated by documents during the trial, that the authorities’ actions were motivated by an unhappy Sri Lankan embassy that wanted to arbitrarily stop the screening of a film highlighting human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.” – Anna Har, KOMAS Director
Regardless, the implications of a law like this, especially after Lena’s case, are far reaching. Universities and lecturers that used to screen films in their classes, especially KOMAS’ films, now all takut that their college also might be implicated.
“The moment Lena was charged, I was getting calls from people from different unis, colleges, and stuff like that, asking, ‘Eh, cannot show ah? That means I also cannot show?’ ” – Anna
But why is Lena the only one punished when other Malaysians also screened the same film?
Here’s the thing, several other parties had screened ‘No Fire Zone’ as well, but no action was taken against them. Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) screened it just ONE WEEK after KOMAS, despite knowing what happened to the NGO, they insisted on going ahead. It was also screened at the 2015 International Anti-Corruption Conference (IACC) hosted in KL, where our PM opened the conference and many government officials were in attendance.
Just so you know, the documentary has been screened in many places internationally, though obviously our nation’s laws don’t apply there. Around the world, the Sri Lankan government similarly has tried to stop it from being shown – they protested over screenings in the UN and European parliament, just like how they were accused of putting pressure on the Malaysian government to stop KOMAS.
So unfortunately, Lena is literally the ONLY ONE – not just in Malaysia, but in the world – to get in trouble for screening ‘No Fire Zone’!
“I’m the only one who has been persecuted so far for screening. I’m still puzzled on why it happened and why they selected me.” – Lena
We tried to Google but couldn’t find any other Malaysians being convicted under Section 6(1)(a) of the Film Censorship Act. Lena’s lawyer, New Sin Yew from Bon Advocates told CILISOS that the authorities usually use this law to convict DVD sellers! WUUT?
KOMAS strongly condemned the authorities’ decision to pick on Lena, calling it “selective persecution” at a press conference on 27 Feb.
“There were three of us at the screening and KOMAS is regulated by more than three people. She was a staff of KOMAS, but they charged her, not the rest of us. KOMAS then is responsible more than Lena. By right, everybody else can kena.” – Anna
KOMAS is appealing to people to show Lena support by using this hashtag…
Lena’s case has been going on until today. Back and forth, back and forth, going to the courts, it would take a toll on anyone. If you want to read the full chronology of events click here.
Finally on 21 Feb 2017, the Magistrate’s Court declared a GUILTY verdict. Lena stood in the dock expressionless as she heard the verdict. She was disappointed, only saying this: “We will definitely appeal. No proof to convict me.” The judge then set 22 March for the sentencing.
As for Lena, her whole world will be turned upside down if the court goes through with it. This is a CRIMINAL conviction… which means she will have a record hanging over her head for the rest of her life! She might have problems looking for a job next time, problems getting a loan, problems travelling, and so on. Not only has it turned this woman into a ‘criminal’, fighting the battle has taken up three plus years of her life.