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NGOs screen controversial Sri Lankan civil war documentary

 | March 19, 2017

Time for government to emulate developed countries and put an end to censorship, says activist.


PETALING JAYA: Several NGOs co-organised a screening of a controversial documentary on the Sri Lankan civil war last night, ahead of the sentencing of Lena Hendry who was found guilty of screening the same four years ago.

However, the difference was that last night’s screening was done via online streaming, and not with any other form of media, such as film reel, videotape or DVD.

A spokesman for one of the NGOs said the screening last night did not break any censorship laws in the country because it was streamed online.

The Film Censorship Act 2002 states that all films are illegal for distribution and possession unless approved by the Censorship Board.

But the law does not cover any content streamed online as there is no distribution or possession involved on the part of the viewer(s).

The screening of the 90-minute documentary was co-organised by Suaram, Lawyers for Liberty, Amnesty International-Malaysia, Aliran, and the Joint Action Group for Gender (JAG) equality.

Last month, Hendry was found guilty by the magistrate’s court here for screening No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, a documentary highlighting the massacre of mostly ethnic Tamils by the Sri Lankan army, on July 3, 2013.

Hendry, who is a programme coordinator with rights group Pusat Komas, was arrested when the home ministry conducted a raid at the venue where the film screening took place.

She faces sentencing on March 22 and could face up to three years in prison or a maximum fine of RM50,000, or both.

Hendry was acquitted by the same Magistrates Court in March last year. However, the High Court overturned the acquittal and ordered her to enter her defence on her charge under Section 6(1)(b) of the Film Censorship Act.

Hendry said that the government should emulate developed countries by putting an end to censorship.

“We have to move on from censorship to ratings. A lot of countries have moved on. Malaysia actually has one of the most repressive censorship laws.

“Give people a choice to choose whether the movie is too violent for them and rate movies according to age. Only then can we move forward,” she said.

She also expressed her gratitude towards the outpouring of support from other NGOs and the general public.

“I really appreciate all the support I got so far. Usually, when an activist gets arrested, it’s the civil societies that organise candlelight vigils.

“But I also received a lot of support from the public and different people like academics and filmmakers.”

The documentary, directed by Callum Macrae, shows footage from the carnage that took place in the last months of the Sri Lankan civil war that was drawn out over 26 years.

It depicts terrifying moments of heavy shelling which targeted densely populated areas, gory scenes of mutilated bodies, and accounts of rape and killing.

The civil war broke out in 1983 until the Sri Lankan military defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) in 2009. It saw over 100,000 civilians killed.

Both factions were accused of human rights violations, with instances of starvation, torture, recruitment of child soldiers and civilian-targeted attacks, including suicide bombing, being rampant.

The UN Human Rights Commission had last year urged the Sri Lankan government to investigate disappearances, including those of people who were alleged to have been secretly abducted by state-backed groups.

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