Malaysia fines rights activist for Sri Lanka documentary screening

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) – Human rights activist Lena Hendry was fined $2,260 (RM10,000) on Thursday after a Malaysian court found her guilty of an illegal film screening.

The court said that she had broken the 1992 Film Censorship Act by screening "No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka," a documentary about genocide in Sri Lanka, at a hall in Kuala Lumpur in July 2013. The 49 minute film was directed by Callum Macrae, and produced by Outsider Films for distributor Channel 4.

Hendry could have been jailed for up to three years for either possessing or screening a film that did not have Censorship Board (LPF) approval. The magistrate sentenced her to one year in prison or a fine, the maximum possible without elevating sentencing to a higher court. Hendry paid the fine before the 4pm deadline.

The sentencing and fine brings to an end a lengthy legal process. Prosecution began in September 2013 after the Sri Lankan Embassy protested to the Malaysian government about the screening. In March 2016, Hendry was acquitted, but in September last year, a High Court allowed the prosecution to refile the case.

Hendry works for Pusat Komas, a human rights organization established in 1993 in Malaysia. It works to empower indigenous peoples, urban poor, workers and civil society by use of the mainstream media.

The role of Malaysia’s film censors has been under the spotlight since last week, when the LPF said that Disney’s "Beauty and the Beast" could only be screened with a P13 certificate and after 4 minutes 38 seconds of cuts. When Disney refused to cut the film, the scheduled release was cancelled. The country’s Films Appeal Committee on Tuesday voted by 9 to 8 to allow "Beauty" to be screened uncut. The release is now scheduled for March 30.

"This outcome has very serious implications on Freedom of Expression in Malaysia, a basic right guaranteed in the Malaysian constitutional under Article 10, which guarantees Malaysian citizens the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. Pusat Komas is seriously concerned with the court’s decision to slap Lena Hendry with a RM10,000 fine, and what’s more devastating, a conviction of a human rights defender for highlighting human rights abuses," said Pusat Komas in a statement about the Hendry case posted on its website.

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"We also strongly urge the government to seriously commit to and align its laws to international standards of human rights. The Film Censorship Act 2002 needs to be seriously reviewed or totally removed."