I write to you about a matter of urgent concern relating to recent events in Malaysia resulting from a screening of my feature documentary, No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.
This film is the latest in a series of award-winning films made by my team and I which examine the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by both sides in the final months of the war in Sri Lanka. Our films on this distressing subject have won many awards internationally. They have been cited by the UN as having played a significant role in bringing these crimes to the attention of national missions to the UN and we were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as a result.
A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Malaysia as part of a tour which has involved public and parliamentary screenings in a number of countries, including, most recently, New Zealand, Australia and Canada. As you may know the film first premiered in front of 200 diplomats and country delegations at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March and future screenings are scheduled for a large number of counties including Argentina and India.
In Kuala Lumpur recently I attended a screening in front of a significant number of MPs in the Parliamentary building. The MPs had a very good discussion and resolved to continue to raise this very important matter both in Malaysia and in other international forums. But the events which took place that evening at a private screening in the Kuala Lumpur & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall came as a considerable shock to me and remain a matter of the highest concern to us.
Halfway through the screening I was astonished to be told that a large number – perhaps 30 or even 40 police and members of the government’s Censorship Board had arrived and were suggesting that the screening should be stopped. I have never experienced anything like it in any of the many countries, parliaments and international forums at which my films have been shown. I am aware that in countries around the world Sri Lankan Embassies and High Commissions have always attempted to persuade local organisers, including national parliaments, the UN, the European parliament and others to stop screening of the film. I am also reassured that in not one case has any of these governments or international assemblies agreed to do so. The principle of free speech would not allow then to succumb to such pressure. I have never known any government or other authority to do the apparent bidding of the Sri Lankan government in such a way as certainly appears to have happened in Malaysia.
What has always happened – as it also did in this case – is that the organisers invite the Sri Lankan embassy officials to attend the screening and put their point of view to the meeting. The fact that they did not turn up in response to the invitation in Malaysia is not the fault of the organisers I was even more shocked to hear that three of the organisers, from the NGO Pusat Komas, Ms. Anna Har, a member of KOMAS Board of Director, Mr. Arul Prakkash, KOMAS Executive Director, and Ms. Lena Hendry, KOMAS Programme Officer, had apparently been taken into custody for questioning and were then arrested. This appears to be a very clear breach of the Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
But now the news that the Komas Director Tan Jo Hann has also been asked to present himself to the Authorities – which he will be doing on the 22nd of July, is another cause for serious concern.
Can I register in the strongest terms my concern over these unwarranted measures to interfere with these honourable Human Rights defenders as the carry out their legitimate activities – activities protected under international law. Can I also ask that you urgently raise these concerns with the authorities in Malaysia as this kind of arbitrary and unwarranted interference with citizens acting entirely lawfully can only cause damage to the international reputation of Malaysia.
I trust that all proceedings against these individuals will be dropped as a matter of urgency and look forward to your response.