Activists establish Malaysia’s first human rights film archive

Activists establish Malaysia’s first human rights film archive

The old man watched intently from his wheelchair, as images from decades of Malaysia’s social movements flashed throughout the screen of a theatre. Masses in the roads facing down the law enforcement. The outcry associated with politicians and active supporters and workers. Trees collapsing, excavators clawing into slums.  

The scenes are all moments in more compared to 2, 100 hours of digitised video footage contained in Arkib Filem Rakyat , Malaysia’s 1st archive dedicated to preserving the history of the nation’s social movements. The internet website launched within September, sharing the trailer of the store during the human rights-focused Freedom Film Festival in Kuala Lumpur that month.  

The particular visual archive, certainly one of few dedicated to interpersonal issues in Southeast Asia, emerged from three decades of grassroots documentary work with a scrappy crew associated with activists intent upon sharing the legacy of ongoing struggles for human legal rights in Malaysian culture.

“These materials, we do not see in the media, we don’t see these stories documented in textbooks just for students, ” said Brenda Danker, the co-founder of Freedom Film Network and organiser of FreedomFilmFest who played a leading role in establishing the archive. “We don’t see historians having access to what happened 20 years ago. ”

“We possess a lot of this documentation of people who are either unable to articulate today or are no longer around, ” she additional.  

Pusat Komas activists documenting evictions of the urban poor community in Kuala Lumpur in 1993. Picture: courtesy of Pusat Komas

Malaysia’s parliamentary democracy was directed by one right-wing ruling coalition meant for 61 years, only slipping from strength in November following a tumultuous election. For many years, opposition groups and activists calling in order to reform a political system widely viewed as rooted in patronage and corruption often faced brutal repression, as recounted within the archive’s testimony of Saari Sungib, the particular seemingly anonymous old man in the back of the theatre.

“We must expose their lies, their evil, their fraud, ” a younger Sungib mentioned in undated testimony of his detention by Malaysian protection forces, featured within the archive.  

Now crippled by Parkinson’s condition, Sungib was a former opposition parliamentarian using the People’s Justice Party, detained twice under the Internal Security React (ISA), which permitted the government to incarcerate anyone for up to two years without trial plus extend their imprisonment as needed. Greater than ten, 000 people , including Malaysia’s newly elected Prime Ressortchef (umgangssprachlich) Anwar Ibrahim, were detained under the ISA until its repeal in 2012. Many suffered torture.

“What was done in the interrogation area, we reveal it, we write about this, we publish it, we release it in alternative media so that people hear about it, ” Sungib said.  

Before the archive was created, the majority of the footage lay in danger of mould or warping in plastic cartons often exposed to humidity in the air and susceptible to seizure by law enforcement, veteran Malaysian activist Tan Jo Hann recalled. But now kept in digital form, the decades of documentation and memories from the era can in theory survive forever.  

Veteran Malaysian activist Jo Hann Tan speaks to the audience at the archive launch. Photo: thanks to the Freedom Movie Festival

In 1993, Tan founded Pusat Komas, the company which contributed over any other to shaping the archive’s articles. Focused on organising urban poor, working class and indigenous communities through media, the organisation evolved into a chronicler of Malaysia’s most important social actions.  

Tan, who invested seven years being a freelance photojournalist in the Philippines before returning to Malaysia, knew the value of images in taking the abuses associated with authorities and the challenges of oppressed neighborhoods. He secured funding for some VHS cameras and a $20, 000 editing studio.  

“We really need that tech support team to document our actions, ” he or she said. “This is how the role associated with Pusat Komas became vital: no one was doing it on a systematic basis. ”

The group dispersed cameras to Jamaah Asli indigenous towns fending off deforestation, invited victims associated with torture such as Sungib to give testimony within the Pusat Komas office and coverred rallies and protests against the death penalty and government corruption. On top of this, they were aided with a sympathetic commercial video clip production company, moonlighting as documentarians of the country’s overlooked social justice struggles.

Tan conducting a grassroots journalism training workshop along with community and civil society representatives in Kuala Lumpur within 1993. Photo: courtesy of Pusat Komas

But for years, Pusat Komas had to keep a low profile and could not even register being an official nongovernmental company (NGO), registering rather as a company under Tan’s name, which exposed him to great liability. The only real nonprofits that existed at the time were of the tamer, Rotary Membership variety, he mentioned.

“NGO was a bad word in Malaysia, ” Tan recalled. “They would not dare to show themselves as an NGO person. ‘Ah, you happen to be communist, ah you are an anti-government, my oh my, you are a stooge of the U. S i9000. ’”

As Pusat Komas amassed footage in dozens of cassette tapes, the organisation got nowhere safe in order to store it. The videos piled up within plastic boxes spread about different houses and the office plus always at risk of being confiscated by specialists.

“We have a system, ” Tan said. “All of the footage that is valuable to us at any moment’s discover we can move this, can vacate all of this and hide it somewhere. ”

In 2003, Pusat Komas started the Freedom Movie Festival, another underground initiative to highlight Southeast Asia’s active supporters and workers and human rights work. The government applies rigid censorship laws plus authorities have previously interrogated the festival’s movie director and raided the festival’s office.  

The festival keeps lawyers on hand at every event. On the festival this year, federal government officials paid a trip to inquire about the material of the film screenings but ultimately allowed the festival in order to persist.

“What’s in the mass media is very restrictive, ” Danker said. “And government control is extremely high. So it’s very hard to get a story apart from the government narrative on the mainstream press. ”

In 2017, Danker and Freedom Movie Network Programme Supervisor, Huey Shin Choo, along with a team of volunteers and experts, began setting the particular archival process in motion, organising the particular painstaking digitisation from the reams of DVDs, mini DVs, CDs and other assorted cassettes and tapes, transforming analog on an previous desktop using decades old  editing software.

Experienced activists like Bronze, who had in many cases been present in the scenes featured within the footage, reviewed and categorised the video clips to make it easier to get future audiences associated with students, journalists, historians and other activists to find through the public catalog.  

“I think getting this in an organized systematic archive would allow it to be more accessible, allow more people to have access to it to really understand or even find out more about the history of Malaysia, ” Choo said.

The team at the rear of the archive. Picture: courtesy of the Independence Film Festival

The particular archive, like the function of Pusat Komas and the Freedom Movie Network is intended to catalyse broader movements across Southeast Asian countries to empower neighborhoods to document their own issues.

“Without archives of preservation, there is no proof to prove your own documentation of individual rights violations, ” said Arul Prakkash, Asia Pacific senior programme manager for the non-profit  Witness, which trains activists in documenting human legal rights abuses. “I don’t know of any [other] upkeep of human rights videos being performed systematically [in Southeast Asia]. ”

He pointed towards the election of Philippines’ president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. –  the son of the former dictator who else placed the country below martial law, killing plus torturing thousands and allegedly pilfered billions from state coffers –  as an example of the cost of failing to preserve the particular struggles and violations of the past. Within the recent Philippines’ selection, the Marcos household employed a vigorous false information campaign to reinvent their own legacy and show themselves as sufferers of the mainstream push.

“The younger generations [in the Philippines] aren’t even aware of what happened during the martial legislation era, what had been done by Marcos and so on, ” Prakkash said. “We need to use visuals and when visuals are not maintained from the era, how is your day going to see, how are you going to understand? ” 

Katrina Maliamauv, Executive Movie director of Amnesty Global Malaysia, echoed the significance of sharing historical context and a sense associated with continuity for long term generations of activists in Malaysia and across Southeast Asian countries.  

Her mother, the groundbreaking activist who also illuminated migrant workers’ rights issues in the 1990s, was actually arrested for her activism. She passed away in 2014 and is featured in the archive.

Maliamauv thinks the goals her mother and other activists still live on. While not always achieved in their lifetimes, progress builds up incrementally, producing waves of change as time passes. She said she could feel this when watching scenes from the archive, also knowing some of the communities protesting on camera would lose their forests, their houses and sometimes even their lifestyles.

“I cannot feel a feeling of defeat and hopelessness when I see these things, ” she said. “Because, we people have tried, and something comes from it… it is also a reminder which the struggles need to continue, and many people failed to survive, many people failed to get justice. ”

Records such as the Arkib Filem Rakyat extend framework about the past and situate Malaysia’s advocacy before and over and above any individual lifetime.

“It is usually counter to what censorship tries to do, which usually silences and diminishes our imagination, ” Maliamauv said. “I think the archive provides a source of energy and ideas, which can actually challenge us to think beyond the restrictions of now. ”