CIJ slams conviction of activist for screening documentary

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KUALA LUMPUR: The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is the latest to criticise the conviction of activist Lena Hendry for screening a documentary on the carnage that took place in the last months of the Sri Lankan civil war.

CIJ said in a statement that Hendry’s conviction was a serious violation of the fundamental human right to access information and of freedom of expression.

“This demonstrates the targeting of civil society by the Malaysian government for promoting discussions on human rights and expression of political viewpoints.

“Censorship laws – whether impacting journalism or creative content – are drawn up and implemented arbitrarily, and historically abused to silence critical content.”

The statement also criticised “the politically motivated pressure” that led to the crackdown on the screening and eventual persecution of Hendry.

‘Human Rights Watch stated in its statement in 2013 that prior to the screening by Pusat Komas, where Hendry was working as a programme coordinator, an official from the Sri Lankan embassy in Kuala Lumpur met with the venue management and tried to persuade them to stop the screening.

“The Sri Lanka embassy was said to have communicated with the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Censorship Board to urge the film not be shown.”

On Feb 21, the Magistrates’ Court convicted Hendry for screening the documentary, “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka”, without the permission of the official film censors in July 2013.

She was charged under Section 6(1)(b) of the Film Censorship Act 2002, which carries a jail term of up to three years or a fine of up to RM30,000 or both. The court will decide on sentencing on March 22.

CIJ said the award-winning film, produced by Outsider Films in collaboration with Britain’s Channel 4 and ITN productions, had been screened globally and had influenced decisions made at the UN Human Rights Council.

CIJ noted that it had a limited screening for parliamentarians and members of civil society in Malaysia with no incident.

“Freedom of expression is a critical right and freedom in a functioning and healthy democracy, as guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. CIJ calls for the end of intimidation to the work of civil society in advancing and promoting fundamental human rights in this country through the use of disproportionate and punitive legislative apparatus,” the statement added.

Yesterday, Suaram and Human Rights Watch condemned what they said was an attempt to punish Hendry for simply screening a documentary, saying this was a violation of freedom of information and expression.