Letters - Drop charges against Lena Hendry

13 Dec 2015 / 19:32 H.

    ON Monday, Dec 14, 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 RM30,000 under the 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 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.
    On July 3, 2013, human rights organisation Pusat Komas screened No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka – an award-winning documentary film about human rights abuses at the end of Sri Lanka's civil war – to an invited 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 Home Ministry, the police and immigration officials. Three organisers 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 Monday.
    The use of this draconian law to 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    The Sri Lankan government which ordered that shelling – and which tried to stop this screening – has now been replaced by popular vote of the Sri Lankan people.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 government of Malaysia to repeal this law.
    The letter is signed by many well-known actors, directors and artistes, including the rapper M.I.A, Grammy Award winning Angelique Kidjo and leading film directors from the US, India, Malaysia and the UK, including the director of No Fire Zone, Callum Macrae.


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