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Malaysian film censorship law criminalizes rights defenders

Authorities 'should end relentless prosecution' of woman for her role in showing a documentary

September 22, 2016

The Malaysian authorities should end their relentless prosecution of rights activist Lena Hendry for her role in showing a documentary film about war crimes committed during Sri Lanka's civil war without censorship board approval, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 21.

Hendry, a staff member of the human rights group Pusat KOMAS, was charged under Malaysia's Film Censorship Act for organizing a private screening of the award-winning human rights documentary, No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, on July 3, 2013, in Kuala Lumpur.

A magistrate acquitted her of the charge in March, finding that the government had failed to make a basic case showing her guilt. However, on Sept. 21, the country's High Court reversed Hendry's acquittal and ordered a resumption of the case after the government appealed.

"Prosecuting Lena Hendry for the private showing of an award-winning film is all part of the Malaysia government's intensified intimidation, harassment, and criminalization of human rights defenders," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"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," Robertson said.

If convicted, Hendry faces up to three years in prison and a fine of up to the equivalent of US$7,000.

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