The ICJ expressed concern at today’s decision by the Kuala Lumpur High Court to dismiss the challenge by Lena Hendry, programme coordinator of the human rights advocacy organization Pusat Komas, to the constitutionality of elements of the Film Censorship Act 2002.
Lena Hendry was charged on 19 September 2013 in the Sessions Court for allegedly violating section 6(1)(b) of the Film Censorship Act 2002 for showing a film that had not been approved by the Malaysian Film Censorship Board.
The charges came after she had organized a public screening on 3 July 2013 of the film No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, which documents human rights abuses committed during the final weeks of the civil war in Sri Lanka.
The ICJ considers that the Film Censorship Act has been used to violate Lena Hendry’s right to freedom of expression and to undermine the critical work of human rights defenders in the Malaysia.
It fears that today’s decision may pave the way for continued curtailment of the right to freedom of expression, using section 6(1)(b) of the Act. That provision requires the Malaysian Censorship Board to review and approve all films and film-publicity materials prior to exhibition.
Judge Kamardin Hashim of the Kuala Lumpur High Court read out his decision this morning, but Lena Hendry and her lawyers have yet to receive a written version of the decision.
Andrew Khoo of Bar Council Malaysia, an affiliate of the ICJ, was present in court when the decision was read.
He said that the High Court rejected Lena Hendry’s arguments that section 6(1)(b), read together with 6(2)(a) of the Film Censorship Act 2002, is unconstitutional and imposes an unreasonable restriction on her freedom of speech and expression under article 10(1)(a) of the Federal Constitution.
Edmund Bon, lead counsel for Ms. Hendry, said: “We disagree with the approach taken by the learned judge and we will therefore be filing an appeal next week because this is the first time the Act is being challenged. It will affect many people who use film as a medium of instruction and guidance.”
Lena Hendry’s lawyers also said that they will apply for a stay of the actual trial at the Sessions Court pending the appeal to the Court of Appeal.
Lena Hendry’s trial had been stayed pending the outcome of the constitutional challenge If found guilty, she could be sentenced to a maximum of three years imprisonment and or a fine between RM 5,000 to RM 30,000 (approximately US$ 1,530 to US$ 9,175), or both.
The ICJ said the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted unanimously by the General Assembly, provides for the right “ freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms” and that States must protect that right.
The ICJ reiterates its call on the Malaysian Government to immediately drop criminal charges against Lena Hendry and to ensure the full respect for the right to freedom of expression in the country.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t +66 2 619 8477; email: emerlynne.gil(a)icj.org