Malaysian govt urged to release activist

No-fire-zone 2Film makers, lawyers, writers and artists worldwide have called on the Malaysian government to drop the case against Lena Hendry, a human rights activist who was detained after screening the film, ‘No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka’. The letter goes on to state;

On Monday 14th December, Lena Hendry, a human rights defender in Malaysia, will go on trial in a landmark case for media freedom. Lena faces a maximum sentence of three years in jail and/or a maximum fine of 30,000 Malaysian Ringgit (£4700/$7000) under Malaysia’s Film Censorship law of 2002 which states that it is illegal for anyone to possess, distribute or show a film which has not been approved by the country’s censorship board.

It effectively makes any film – or even publicity about any film – illegal if it does not have prior approval from the censorship authorities. It is so all-encompassing that technically Malaysian citizens could go to jail if they don’t submit their wedding video or family holiday video to the board. But the reality is that the law is being used for political censorship. And that is what appears to lie behind the arrest of Lena.

On the 3rd of July 2013 the Malaysian human rights organization Pusat KOMAS screened No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri audience of 150 people in Kuala Lumpur. The group went ahead with the screening despite pressure from the Sri Lankan government whose forces were accused in the film of responsibility for war crimes.

As the screening got under way it was raided by 30 officials from the Malaysian Home Ministry, the Police and Immigration Officials. Three organizers were arrested and Lena was subsequently charged. An attempt by Lena’s legal team to have the case struck out on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and a denial of freedom of speech was rejected. The court ruled that “Freedom of Expression is not absolute and mechanisms are needed to regulate it”. After exhausting all avenues up to Federal Court level, the trial is now set for next week.

The use of this draconian law to attack and prevent freedom of speech is disturbing and unacceptable and is in danger of bringing Malaysia into international disrepute. The film which Lena is charged with showing, No Fire Zone, is now widely and internationally acknowledged to have played a key role in telling the world about the terrible war crimes committed at the end of the war in Sri Lanka. It also helped convince delegates to the UN Human Rights Council to launch a major inquiry into the events which saw tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians slaughtered in the space of a few weeks – most killed by government shelling.

The Sri Lankan government which ordered that shelling – and which tried to stop this screening – has now been replaced by popular vote of the Sri Lankan people. Many of its leading members are now facing investigation for war crimes and corruption. History has vindicated the film, yet still Lena faces jail for showing it.

That is why we, the undersigned – film-makers, journalists and media workers from around the world – are today calling for all the charges against Lena Hendry to be dropped immediately and for the go

That is why we, the undersigned – film-makers, journalists and media workers from around the world – are today calling for all the charges against Lena Hendry to be dropped immediately and for the government of Malaysia to repeal this unacceptable law before it is used again to stifle free speech.

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