The filmmaker behind Edward Snowden documentary Citizenfour was advised by her lawyer to avoid the country
Britain's idealised self-image as a democracy took a blow when filmmaker Laura Poitras revealed that she could not travel to the UK for "fear of arrest". Poitras is the director of Citizenfour, the gripping documentary that follows whistleblower Edward Snowden as he prepares to leak the explosive news about NSA and GCHQ surveillance.
Poitras was originally scheduled to attend a Q&A session at the Curzon cinema in Chelsea after last Friday's premiere of the film. Instead, she spoke via Skype from her home in Berlin. She explained that she had a genuine "fear of arrest" if she travelled to London, explaining: "I was advised by my lawyer: just don't go to the UK."
"It's because of the laws in the UK, such as the UK Terrorism Act and the Official Secrets Act, that make publishing this kind of work very dangerous for journalists," she added. "As you can see in the film, Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda was detained for many hours. I've been advised by my lawyer not to go to the UK, so that's why I'm not there."
Glenn Greenwald was one of the three journalists (including Poitras) who worked with Snowden in Hong Kong to release his information about the NSA and GCHQ. In February, his partner was detained for nine hours under anti-terror laws as he passed through Heathrow.
Guardian reporter Ewen MacAskill, who appears in the film, said it was disgraceful that Poitras could not attend her own premiere. "It says a lot about British democracy today," MacAskil said at the Q&A. "Laura is a fantastic filmmaker who has shown lots of courage long before Snowden."
"A disgrace that Laura Poitras can't be here. It says a lot abt British democracy today." - @ewenmacaskill#CitizenFour— alan rusbridger (@arusbridger) October 17, 2014
The UK government comes out deeply shamed by @citizenfour and continues so. Laura Poitras can't come here for fest of arrest - shameful.— Charlie Phillips (@charliechar) October 17, 2014
After the release of My Country, My Country (2006), a film about Iraqi life under US occupation, Poitras was put on a watchlist that meant she was detained and questioned every time she travelled to the United States.
Now the same (or worse) could happen to her if she came to the UK. All because she made a film that exposes the ruthless surveillance now commonplace in the supposedly democratic country we live in.
Watch the trailer for Citizenfour below: