News

March 21, 2017

Malaysia’s censorship of Sri Lankan civil war documentary

Human RIghts defender Lena Hendry screened the documentary "No Fire Zone" in 2013
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) condemn human rights defender Lena Hendry’s conviction on appeal of violating Malaysia’s censorship legislation by organizing a public screening in Kuala Lumpur in 2013 of a film about the Sri Lankan civil war.

She is due to be sentenced tomorrow following a hearing last month at which she was convicted under article 6 (1) (b) of the 2002 Film Censorship Act of screening British journalist Callum Macrae’s documentary “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” without the Malaysian Censorship Board’s approval.


The law provides for a possible three-year jail sentence and a fine of 30,000 ringgits (4,000 euros).


The public screening that Hendry organized on 3 July 2013 was interrupted by police, who arrested her and two other activists. Unlike Hendry, the other two activists were released without being charged.


Hendry was acquitted at the original trial before a Kuala Lumpur magistrate’s court on 10 March 2016 but the prosecution appealed. During the hearing, the defence submitted several documents indicating that the Sri Lankan government put political pressure on the Malaysian authorities to prosecute Hendry.


As the lawyers for the defence showed, Lena Hendry’s conviction was a political reprisal,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.


Instead of encouraging the screening of a key documentary about the civil war in Sri Lanka, in which thousands of civilians lost their lives, the Malaysian authorities let themselves be pressured by the Sri Lankan government into censoring a subject of public interest and punishing those who made it available to the public.


Ismaïl added: “We urge the judicial authorities to quash Hendry’s conviction, which constitutes a grave violating of her fundamental rights – the right to inform and the right to free speech.


Since its release in 2013, “No Fire Zone” has been screened in Europe, the Americas and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region without any form of censorship. It was even screened subsequently in Kuala Lumpur during an International Anti-Corruption Conference in 2015 and a special screening was organized for Malaysian parliamentarians and civil society members.


Citizens throughout the world who seek the truth must support Lena Hendry and call on the Malaysian authorities to put an end to this political witch-hunt,JDS coordinator Bashana Abeywardane said.


By convicting Hendry, the Malaysian authorities are dealing a severe blow to freedom of expression and the right of access to information, as well as covering up the truth about the major atrocities by the Sri Lankan security forces against Tamils during the civil war.


RSF and JDS also call for the repeal of Malaysia’s Film Censorship Act, which ­criminalizes the right to inform and thereby promotes self-censorship and grants inordinate powers to the Censorship Board, a regulatory body created by the act that is under the government’s full control.


Malaysia is ranked 147th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.