By Annabelle Lee

Activist Lena Hendry’s conviction over a film screening has far-reaching implications, including to prevent the use of film as an educational tool in institutes of higher learning, the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) was told today.

(To read this article in Malaysiakini click here.)

Lena was on Feb 21 convicted of breaching the Film Censorship Act by screening “No Fire Zone, the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” in July 2013 without approval from the Film Censorship Board of Malaysia.

“This sets a very negative precedent because it instills a culture of fear and self censorship, even academicians will become fearful in screening films for education purposes,” Lena said.

She said this after submitting a memorandum over the matter at the Suhakam office in Kuala Lumpur today.

The memorandum urged Suhakam to:

  • Condemn Lena’s conviction as it curtails freedom of expression as enshrined in the Federal Constitution;
  • Seek Attorney-General’s Chambers’ consent to give Lena a binding-over sentence instead of a jail sentence;
  • Ensure all human rights defenders in Malaysia can carry out legitimate activities without any hindrance or fear of reprisal; and
  • Ensure government agencies respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The memorandum was received by Suhakam commissioner Mah Weng Kwai, who promised to study the case.

He, however, cautioned against sub judice as the case has been adjudicated.

“This case comes close to pushing the boundaries of sub judice… We (Suhakam) are not making a statement today to influence the court one way or another in its sentencing.”

Lena could be sentenced to up to three years’ jail or a fine of up to RM30,000. The sentencing is scheduled for next Wednesday.

She had screened the film at the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall as part of an event hosted by the NGO Pusat Komas, her former employer.

Pusat Komas coordinator Ryan Chua said the conviction criminalises alternate views.

“The sentencing of Lena Hendry… is an effort to limit access to information and alternative views particularly those highlighting human rights violations,” Chua said.

Members of civil society organisations were present at the memorandum handover today to support Lena.

“No Fire Zone, The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” is a 96-minute long documentary about human rights abuses committed in the final 138 days of the Sri Lankan civil war.

Directed by British filmmaker Callum Macrae, it was nominated for an International Emmy Award in 2014 and has received recognition from many world leaders.

Pusat Komas claimed that Lena has been unfairly targeted as the film had been screened at two other events, including the 2015 International Anti-Corruption Conference in Kuala Lumpur, but no action was taken against the organisers.

Lena Hendry infographic