For the last two weeks I have been on a tour of four Commonwealth countries to screen the film: The first of a series on international screening tours designed to take the film to Commonwealth and other countries around the world.
This first tour included parliamentary screenings in Malaysia and Australia - although equally important have been screenings for the people who elect – and hold these governments to account. Thus we have had very successful screenings in Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand, as well as Canberra, Melbourne and Perth in Australia. At all of these meetings we had very committed and concerned Q and A’s and discussions afterwards. Many people spoke of their horror on discovering the true scale of the crimes and massacres which marked the end of this awful war. These screenings generated a lot of publicity and press coverage – including several TV and radio features – and I am confident will lead to renewed calls for action for justice.
We had two screenings in Sydney. One in the suburb of Silverwater was particularly memorable. That area is home to a large number of Tamils – and was attended by between 400 and 500 people, many of them Tamils who had lost relatives in the war. Some were survivors who had lived through it.
Watching this film is difficult in any situation. That screening was a powerful and painful experience and a reminder of the scale of the crimes during the war.
I next travelled to Malaysia where, yesterday we had one of our most successful parliamentary screenings yet. MPs were visibly shocked and pledged themselves to raise urgent questions in parliament about whether Malaysia should be attending CHOGM in November – and to renew their calls for an independent international inquiry into all the crimes committed in the final months of the civil war.
That evening the respected Malaysian human rights NGO Pusat Kumas hosted a screening of the film in the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall. We heard that during the day members of the Sri Lankan Embassy had tried to persuade both the owners of the hall and Pusat Kumas that they should cancel the screening. They refused. The Malaysian government’s Censorship Board also contacted Pusat Kumas and told them to cancel the screening. They declined that too.
And so last night the screening went ahead. The hall was packed, I did a brief introduction and the film started.
I moved to a small side-room to do some work while the film was showing – intending to come back afterwards for the Q and A.
About five minutes later I heard a commotion outside and someone came in to tell me that around 40 police officers and members of the Malaysian Censorship Board had raided the screening. However they backed down from actually stopping the screening – perhaps fearing the outrage it would cause. My hosts advised me to escape by a side door, which I reluctantly did. At the end of the screening the police checked the ID of everyone there – and arrested three organisers from Pusat Kumas for questioning. Lena Hendry, Arul Prakash and Anna Har. They were held for several hours and then released on bail.
I have now left Malaysia as planned - I am en route to Canada to address the annual Tamil cultural festival tomorrow attended by 3000 North American Tamils. We also have a screening of the film.
However today the brave Human Rights defenders of Pusat Komas are holding a press conference about yesterday’s events. They asked me for a statement to be distributed at the press conference (see below).
We will obviously keep in close contact with Pusat Komas and let you know of any developments.
In the meantime it is only to be hoped that the Sri Lankan government will cease its endless attempts to stop the truth getting out.
STATEMENT BY CALLUM MACRAE, ISSUED IN MALAYSIA AFTER ARREST OF ORGANISERS OF SCREENING
I am the director of the feature Documentary No Fire Zone: The Killing fields of Sri Lanka.
The film tells the story of the last 138 days of the Sri Lankan civil war in 2009 and uses video evidence to show what happened when the Sri Lankan government declared a series of what they called “No Fire Zones” and encouraged several hundred thousand Tamil civilians to gather there where they believed they would be safe.
We show how the government then systematically shelled these areas – and also denied them adequate food and medicine. As a result somewhere between 40,000 and 70,000 civilians are believed to have died.
Our film also contains brutal and distressing images shot by Sri Lankan armed forces in the last few days of the war. This trophy footage depicts a series of war crimes, including the cold-blooded execution of bound, naked, blindfolded prisoners. It also shows the aftermath of brutal sexual assaults on captured Tamil Tiger fighters who have been stripped naked and then shot.
The films I have made 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
I came to Malaysia as part of a tour which has involved public and parliamentary screenings in a number of countries, including, most recently, New Zealand and Australia. Today I am travelling on to Canada for further screenings. The film first premiered in front of 200 diplomats and country delegations at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.
Yesterday I took part in a screening inside the Malaysian parliament, where MPs expressed very serious concern about the evidence the film contains.
Last night I was present at a screening in Kuala Lumpur. Halfway through the screening I was astonished to be told that some 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 was advised to leave by a side door – and did so, although I have to say I was taken aback at this extraordinary attempt to silence a film which is seen around the world as such an important piece of evidence of war crimes.
I was even more shocked to hear that some of the organisers of the screening, from Pusat Komas, had apparently been taken into custody for questioning.
I know from the international reaction to this news already that human rights defenders around the world are also very shocked.
My intention in coming to Malaysia was to bring to the attention of the government here, the awful crimes of which the Sri Lankan government stands accused. The reaction from MPs to the film when they saw it in parliament demonstrated how powerful and important this evidence is.
It is frankly very disturbing that government authorities in Malaysia – instead of studying this evidence and then asking very serious questions of the Sri Lankan government about their responsibility for these crimes – instead seemed to be collaborating with the Sri Lankan Embassy (albeit unsuccessfully) in trying to keep this evidence from public view.
I hope that the government will investigate how this can have happened and will apologise the representatives of Pusat Komas. These kind of events can obviously be very embarrassing internationally, and I hope that whatever led to these extraordinary events will be investigated to ensure that nothing like this happens again.
Kuala Lumpur Thursday 4th July 2013
Initial reports of the raid are here: