Lens on death penalty

Timely issue: S-Ploited (right) made ‘Menunggu Masa’ to raise public awareness on the severity of the death penalty and the impact it brings to individuals.

AGILANDEWARI Mainthan was just three years old when she was last held by her father.

Her father, Mainthan, has spent the last 14 years on death row after being convicted of murder, a murder he claims he did not commit. Multiple discrepancies abound in the case, yet, Mainthan remains behind bars.

The impact and effect of the death penalty in Malaysia has long been debated, hence, when lawyers Seira Sacha Abu Bakar and Sherrie Razak heard about Mainthan’s case from their friend, human rights lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad who represented him for his second review application at the Federal Court, they knew straight away that they have to highlight his story in a documentary.

“We wanted to let people know about the severity of the death penalty and the impact it brings to individuals, that is why we created our story of Menunggu Masa, which means waiting for time,” says Sherrie, who with her long-time friend Seira Sacha form the documentary filmmaking duo S-Ploited.

Since they won the Freedom Film Festival grant in 2009 to make their documentary For No Silver Lining: The Perak Crisis on the state’s constitutional crisis after the 2008 general election, S-Ploited have been bringing a legal insight to the local social documentary filmmaking scene with their films, from Death in Dilemma: The Final Curtain to Ombak Perubahan.

Menunggu Masa is scheduled for screening this Saturday at this year’s Freedom Film Festival, which is back from now until Oct 6 with another exciting lineup of thought-provoking social and human rights documentaries.

Mainthan’s complicated legal case is not only close to the hearts of the two as lawyers, but also as human rights advocates.

“We feel if we do not tell Mainthan’s story and what the family is going through, no one will know about it,” says Sherrie.

“Many will not understand how the justice system works and how it will affect not just the person facing the death sentence, but also those around him.”

There are various questions raised in Mainthan’s case, they highlight.

“One is who is this victim? The identity of the victim was raised at the first review application made by Mainthan and it was dismissed. Subsequently, a person who claimed that he was the only victim turned up in late 2016, but the new evidence was also dismissed by the courts. A total of 19 different judges have heard Mainthan’s case since 2004.”

The case has taken a toll on the family.

“When Mainthan was arrested, his eldest son was four years old and the youngest child was one year old. That was 14 years ago.

“Their children grew up getting to know their father through prison visits. Despite growing up without having their father physically around, they still have high respect, love and care for their father. They are still hoping for their father to be released and to come home to them,” they say.

S-Ploited hope that by watching Menunggu Masa, the audience would understand the death penalty issue.

“We have various NGOs and civil societies pushing for the abolishment of the death penalty but we still have a long way to go.”

On why they chose documentary filmmaking as another platform to fight for justice and human rights, S-Ploited say, “Even as lawyers, we feel that we should exhaust all means and methods for advocacy to fight for justice and human rights.

“The courtroom battle is not mutually exclusive but when it comes for example for legislative amendments, the public and the parliamentarians play a huge role. In this case it is also about highlighting a case which exhausted all court levels.

“Mainthan’s family has also submitted a letter to the the pardon’s board to obtain a clemency. At this stage they are doing all they can with the hope that they are able to get Mainthan home. Families of a death penalty inmate are usually informed few days before the execution. As of June this year, it was reported that 1,267 people are waiting for execution in prison.”

Menunggu Masa will be followed by a Freedom Talk titled “Reforms under the new Government: Where are we now?” featuring a panel of experts who will not only look at provisions under the Penal Code which provide for the Death Penalty but also other opressive laws such as SOSMA, the Sedition Act and the Prevention of Crime Act, which “have no place in a country which portrays itself as a rights-conscious democracy”.

Those interested in the death penalty issue can also watch Countdown on Tuesday, which is a poetic documentary that tells the story of a family with their loved one currently on death row in Singapore.

The FreedomFilmFest2018 is themed “Mend The Gap” and aims at drawing attention to how the gaps between the have and have nots, and the powerful and the powerless, are getting deeper and wider despite progress in science, technology and democracy.

Along with Menunggu Masa, various political films will also be screened, including Melawan Arus, which revisits the momentous May 9 political tsunami that swept away the 61-year rule of the Barisan Nasional government in Malaysia.

For more information on FreedomFilmFest2018 – please go to: https://freedomfilm.my

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