Sean Chan, currently interning at the MCCHR, writes a report of the defence stage of the Lena Hendry trial, which took place on the 9th and 14th December.
Arul Prakash, the executive director of Pusat KOMAS (in 2013) was the witness testifying on 9th December 2016. While on the witness stand, Prakash gave a detailed chronology of events on 2nd and 3rd July. He stated that the KDN officer called Lena Hendry informing that the film No Fire Zone was not to be screened. However, Lena Hendry responded that she, as a staff of Pusat KOMAS, will take instructions from her colleague and the film director. They decided to continue screening the film anyways as for the past 10 years, Pusat KOMAS have been screening similar films such as this without trouble from the authorities.
Pusat KOMAS had sent invites, through Facebook, to close friends and other NGOs about the film screening. It was submitted that Pusat KOMAS had sent invites to a selected group of people and this makes it a private screening.
On 3rd July 2013, while the film was being screened, approximately 30 or more authorities arrived at KLSCAH to stop the screening. Prakash met the authorities outside and negotiated that they allow the film screening to end. In exchange, Prakash and his team will comply with the authorities.
Once the film ended, the KDN officers entered the hall, without prior notice, causing panic among the audience. They demanded for a physical copy of the film, the ICs of the audience and Prakash, Lena Hendry, Anna Har to be brought in for further investigations. According to Prakash, he pleaded for an extension of time as he did not have a physical copy of the film at that moment. Prakash instructed Mandeet Singh to burn Exhibit P11 (55 minute film) onto a CD for the authorities. Prakash also persuaded the authorities not to take the audience’s ICs as they did not do anything wrong.
Since it was nearing midnight, Prakash requested that he, Lena Hendry and Anna Har be brought in by the authorities the next day instead of the night itself. However this request was denied and Prakash and the others were forced to give statements and go through questioning from around 1am to 3am. According to Prakash, the questions asked were not about the legality of the film but were more personal questions that were unrelated to the film.
To prove that Pusat KOMAS screened the film “No Fire Zone: the Killing Spree of Sri Lanka”, New Sin Yew showed the 90 minute film that was available on the website. After that, he showed the film that was burnt onto the CD. Both films were different as No Fire Zone was 90 minutes while the film burnt on the CD was only 55 minutes. Lena Hendry was then called to the witness stand to confirm that the website Sin Yew showed was the exact website of the film screened on 3rd July 2013.
Sin Yew further argued that the film “ No Fire Zone: the Killing Spree of Sri Lanka” fulfills these two sections below, excluding the film from the Film Censorship Act 2002, hence Lena Hendry should not be charged for these crimes.
Section 2(2)(d) of the 2002 Act states that “any film, not being obscene or lewd, which is in the possession of any person or his agent and is intended for his own private use and not for the purpose of sale, hire, distribution, public exhibition or circulation so long as the film remains in such possession.”
Section 2(3) clearly states that “This Act shall not be construed as permitting the censorship of any film or film-publicity material published, displayed, circulated, exhibited, distributed or transmitted over the internet or over intranets.”
On 14th December 2016, Mandeet Singh, a guest of the screening, testified in court. He confirmed that he received a Facebook invite to the screening and that the film was streamed online. Mandeet Singh stated that Prakash had asked him to burn Exhibit P-11 into the CD while he dealt with the authorities, Mandeet Singh did not know why the authorities were around. After the event, Mandeet SIngh went home and was not involved in the situation any further.
Why is this important?
Pusat KOMAS believes that Lena Hendry’s arrest is part of a bigger political picture to “silence information from being disseminated about this issue” and that this law allows authorities to “suppress human rights educators and activists.” If Lena Hendry is found guilty, it might instill fear among human rights activists, students, teachers, filmmakers and deter them from showing films that are for educational purposes, regardless if it was a private event.
This infringes on the right to freedom of expression protected under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution. Although subject to restrictions under Article 10(2) to preserve national security, friendly relations with other countries, public order and morality,the film that Lena Hendry screened was an educational film on an event that had already happened, and it does not appear to pose a threat to national security, relations with other countries or disrupt public order and morality.
This trial will proceed to the next stage, written submissions, which are due on 13th January 2017.
Thank you Sarah-Ann Yong Jenlee and New Sin Yew.