As someone who regularly shows human rights documentaries in cities around the world, I was shocked when my Human Rights Watch colleagues told me about the case of Lena Hendry, a Malaysian woman who could go to prison for showing a film of the type we show every year. We therefore decided to highlight the case to those who came to see our films at this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London

Former Pusat KOMAS staff member, Lena Hendry.



© 2015/Lena Hendry

Hendry was convicted on February 21 of organizing a private screening in 2013 of the film No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka without the approval of Malaysia’s censorship board. The film is an award-winning documentary about human rights abuses during Sri Lanka’s civil war. She faces up to three years in prison and a fine of 30,000 Malaysian Ringgit (US$6800 or £5500) under Malaysia’s Film Censorship Act, which criminalizes the possession, distribution, or showing of films that have not received permission from the country’s censorship board.

As we shared the basics of Hendry’s case with our audiences, I could see that many were visibly uncomfortable with the thought that, if we were in Malaysia, we, too, could be facing charges for simply screening a human rights documentary or going to the movies to discuss it. More than 400 of those who attended signed letters of protest to show their indignation and to express their support.

Hendry’s case strikes at the heart of two core values of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival: freedom of expression and the role of human rights defenders. The letters signed by our audiences will be delivered to the Malaysian High Commission in London today. I hope that the Malaysian government will take note that their decision to prosecute Lena Henry for showing a film is causing outrage among ordinary people in London and around the world.