KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 ― The Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Malaysia today to end the prosecution of activist Lena Hendry for illegally screening a documentary on war crimes in Sri Lanka.
The global human rights group said criminalising the screening of films without government approval imposed a “disproportionate” burden on the right to freedom of expression.
“Prosecuting Lena Hendry for the private showing of an award-winning film is all part of the Malaysia government’s intensified intimidation, harassment, and criminalisation of human rights defenders,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, said in a statement.
“The government should end Hendry’s three-year ordeal by dropping the charges and then promptly amending the Film Censorship Act so no other activists face prison just for showing a movie,” he added.
Local daily The Star reported that the High Court here reversed yesterday the acquittal of Hendry, who was charged under the Film Censorship Act 2002 for screening “No Fire Zone” without approval from the Censorship Board, and ordered her to enter her defence.
Magistrate Mohd Rehab Mohd Aris, in his decision to acquit Lena last March, said then that the prosecution had failed to establish a “prima facie” case against Hendry.
According to Robertson, “No Fire Zone” is a documentary about the war crimes committed in 2009 during Sri Lanka’s civil war, including extrajudicial executions of fighters and supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the shelling by the Sri Lankan army that indiscriminately led to the deaths of thousands of civilians.
“The Film Censorship Act is a law from the pre-internet age that government officials can easily abuse and should immediately be scrapped.
“The real rationale behind its sweeping powers is to permit the government to arbitrarily suppress films it doesn’t want Malaysians to see, and to prosecute anyone who dares show them,” he said.