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Film ban a blow to ‘dignity’, says festival organiser

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks at the first Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival in 2013. (Photo: www.hrhdiff.org)

The founder of a film festival that aims to foster respect for human rights in Burma expressed disappointment on Wednesday with a decision by the country’s censorship board to ban the event’s opening feature.

“Our mission is a society of dignity, but I feel that our mission has failed,” said Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who established the Human Rights Human Dignity International Film Festival in 2013.

Festival organisers planned to open this year’s event with “Twilight Over Burma,” a film adaptation of the autobiography of Inge Sargent, an Austrian woman who married a Shan prince, but were forced to drop it after the censorship board objected on the grounds that it dealt with sensitive issues related to Burma’s history.

The 2015 film, an Austrian/German made-for-TV production, covers the early years of Burma’s independence until the military seized power in 1962. Sargent’s husband, Sao Kya Seng, was arrested soon after the coup and later died under mysterious circumstances while in custody.

Mon Mon Myat, the deputy director of the festival, said the move showed that there are still distinct limits to freedom of expression in Burma, despite the country’s moves towards greater openness in recent years.

“This kind of censorship is highlighting the sensitive areas of this country — the military and religion,” she said, speaking to DVB by phone on Wednesday. “[The film] is sensitive in terms of how it may affect or damage their [the military’s] image.”

Charm Tong, a prominent Shan activist, said the decision to ban the film was unfortunate, because failing to face the past would only make it more difficult to deal with ethnic tensions in the country.

“I think it should have been allowed. We must accept the fact that this is a true event in our history. In promoting national reconciliation and ethnic unity, we must accept the things that happened in the past,” she said.

The film festival is dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, who has taken a key role in efforts to negotiate an end to Burma’s decades-old civil war. It opened on Tuesday and will close on Suu Kyi’s birthday, 19 June.