The conviction of activist Lena Hendry for airing a documentary on the Sri Lankan civil war marked another injustice by the Malaysian criminal justice system, said Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram).
Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy described this as “regrettable” and “flawed in nature”.
“The absence of adequate evidence that led to her initial accquital was sound as there was a lack of evidence on part of the prosecution in their charges.
“The subsequent conviction yesterday depart from this and utilized the flawed system in Malaysia which undo the presumption of innocence that serves as the foundation of any common law-based criminal justice system,” he said.
“Convicting the defense based on their inability to prove beyond reasonable doubt of their innocence remains a blatant transgression against the right to fair trial and her conviction marks another injustice by the Malaysian criminal justice system,” he added.
“The attempt to punish an individual for screening a documentary is reprehensible on many levels,” he said.
Hendry was found guilty yesterday by the Magistrate’s Court for airing No Fire Zone without the approval of Malaysian Censorship Board. The court set March 22 to deliver the sentence.
She could be sentenced to three years’ jail or a fine not exceeding RM30,000 under Section 6(1)(b) of the Film Censorship Act 2002.
The trial started in December 2015 and the Magistrate’s Court had on March 10 last year, acquitted Hendry of the charge.
Her conviction yesterday follows the prosecution’s appeal against her acquittal.
“A documentary is often made to serve as a historical record of an event that transpired and leaves a legacy or story that can be viewed by the future generations, said Doraisamy.
“Censoring or preventing documentaries from being screened does not protect the public but only serve to protect select groups by hiding an inconvenient truth and deprive future generations of important knowledge on history,” he added.
The act of preventing the screening tantamounts to protecting those who may have committed a crime against humanity, he said.
“Suaram reiterates our strongest condemnation against the repression of freedom of expression by the Malaysian government and stand in solidarity with Lena Hendry in her fight for human rights and democracy!” he said.
Meanwhile, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the conviction was an outrageous assault on basic freedom of expression.
“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, HRW deputy Asia director.
“Bringing criminal penalties for possessing or privately showing a film without government approval violates freedom of expression by imposing a disproportionate burden on a fundamental right,” he said.
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, according to him.
“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,” said Robertson.