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Conviction over documentary is ‘outrageous assault on free expression’ – HRW

The conviction of a Malaysian human rights activists for screening the ‘No Fire Zone’ documentary amounts to an “outrageous assault on basic free expression” said Human Rights Watch, in a statement released on Wednesday.

“This prosecution is part of the Malaysian government’s disturbing pattern of harassment and intimidation of those seeking to raise public awareness of human rights issues,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director.

Rights activist Lena Hendry will be sentenced next month and faces fines as well as up to three years in prison for hosting a screening of the award-winning documentary, which examines the final few months of the Sri Lankan government’s 2009 military assault in the North-East that killed tens of thousands of Tamils.

“The prosecution in this case appears to have been motivated by the Malaysian government’s desire to appease Sri Lankan embassy officials, who had publicly demanded that the film not be shown and visited the venue on the day of the film’s showing to urge the venue’s managers to cancel the event,” said Human Rights Watch.

“It’s an outrageous assault on basic free expression that Lena Hendry could go to prison for helping to show a documentary film,” added Mr Robertson.

“The Film Censorship Act violates rights by giving the government the power to arbitrarily suppress films it doesn’t want Malaysians to see, and to prosecute those who dare to show them. Malaysia should scrap this draconian law’s criminal penalties, revise it to comply with international rights standards, and allow Malaysian citizens to view films of their choosing.”