Rights groups rail against activist’s conviction for screening film

lena-hendryPETALING JAYA: Human rights groups are crying foul over the conviction of activist Lena Hendry for her role in showing a documentary film on war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s civil war.

The programme coordinator at rights group Pusat Komas was found guilty by the Magistrates’ Court yesterday of screening an uncensored documentary, “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, on July 3, 2013.

“No Fire Zone” tells the story of war crimes committed in the last months of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called the conviction a violation of Lena’s freedom of expression, adding that it was not in line with international rights standards.

In a statement today, HRW said the move appeared to be motivated by Putrajaya’s desire to appease the Sri Lankan embassy officials whom the NGO said had publicly demanded that the film not be shown. They had also visited the venue on the day of the film’s screening to urge venue managers to cancel the event, HRW said.

“This prosecution is part of the Malaysian government’s disturbing pattern of harassment and intimidation of those seeking to raise public awareness of human rights issues,” said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.

“The Film Censorship Act violates rights by giving the government the power to arbitrarily suppress films it doesn’t want Malaysians to see, and to prosecute those who dare to show them.

“Malaysia should scrap this draconian law’s criminal penalties, revise it to comply with international rights standards, and allow Malaysian citizens to view films of their choosing.”

Meanwhile, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) said Lena’s conviction marked another injustice by the Malaysian criminal justice system.

In a statement today, Suaram’s executive director Sevan Doraisamy condemned the attempt to punish any individual for simply screening a documentary.

“Censoring or preventing documentaries from being screened does not protect the public but only serves to protect select groups by hiding an inconvenient truth and depriving future generations of important knowledge on history,” he said.

He added that the conviction was tantamount to protecting those who might have committed crimes against humanity.

“If the Malaysian government seeks to protect others against genocide and crimes against humanity, why is it now complicit in protecting those who may have committed crimes against humanity?”

Following yesterday’s conviction, Lena faces a possible three-year prison sentence, a maximum fine of RM50,000 or both.

She was acquitted by the same magistrate in March last year at the end of the prosecution’s case.

However, the High Court overturned the acquittal and ordered Lena to enter her defence on the charge under Section 6(1)(b) of the Film Censorship Act.

Speaking to reporters outside the court yesterday, Lena said she would appeal against the conviction.