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Violation of freedom of speech and expression by denying permission to screen documentaries

Documentary Filmmakers



HRDA has issued an urgent appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of India on 15 June over the blatant violation of freedom of speech and expression by denying permission to screen three documentaries at a film festival by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. The Kerala State Chalachithra Academy is a body under the state government’s Department of Cultural Affairs. Mr. Kamal is the Chairman of the Kerala Chalachitra Academy and Festival Director of the International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram, which was inaugurated by Kerala Chief Minster Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan on June 16, 2017.

The ‘International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala’ is being organised in Thiruvananthapuram. The Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting denied censor exemption to three documentaries, based on recent controversies, for screening at the festival. The three short films were:

• ‘The Unbearable Being of Lightness’ (about Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula, who allegedly committed suicide).

• ‘In the shade of Fallen Chinar’ (on the unrest in Jammu & Kashmir).

• ‘March, March, March’ based on the students’ agitation at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).

The ministry did not cite any reason for denying censor exemption for these films which are based on socially relevant themes. It is further learnt that films screened at film festivals do not require a certificate from the Censor Board but they must have a censor exemption certificate from the ministry. Without censor exemption, no documentary or feature film can be screened at a festival.

These incidents of denial of permission to screen documentaries are a clear and blatant violation of fundamental rights ensured to every citizen under the Indian Constitution and international conventions on human rights. The right to freely express one’s opinion in varied forms have been violated.

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