"By investigating war crimes in Sri Lanka I am acting no differently, than when I made films investigating allegations of war crimes by British and American forces in Iraq."

- Callum Macrea, director of ‘No Fire Zone'

COMMENT Certain news items get lost in the shuffle. We begin to expect certain reactions from the current regime when it comes to the censorship of certain "sensitive matters". However, when the security apparatus of the state is used on the behest of others or the perception of this is created, that really sticks in my craw.

NONEBy now, some readers may have become aware of the commotion at the screening of Callum Macrea's ‘No Fire Zone' at the Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH) on Wednesday.

Macrea, who with his series of Channel 4 documentaries on the alleged war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan security forces during the final phases of the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 2009, gained international acclaim not to mention caused international outrage against the Sri Lankan government.

NONEThe Sri Lankan government has attempted to portray Macrea as a paid LTTE propagandist but as Macrea (left) reminded everyone in an interview with Ceylon Today, "Can I remind you what my films have said, over and over again: The LTTE is guilty of war crimes. They are guilty of using terror tactics, of forcibly conscripting child soldiers and using suicide bombers. In the latest film ‘No Fire Zone', I ran horrifying footage of LTTE suicide attacks in areas full of innocent civilians."

So all this talk of being a paid sympathiser for the LTTE is bunkum, which surprisingly enough is the kind of tactics employed by certain governments against journalists like Robert Fisk and Eric Margolis.

Embassy calls the shot

At an arranged meeting with Macrea by a young former journalist turned DAP activist before the screening of his documentary together with a prominent social scientist of a leading national university, we discussed his work amongst other issues and the ineffectiveness of the United Nations in Sri Lanka and other parts of world.

Then I went for the screening of the documentary. Ten minutes into the screening, the state security apparatus showed up wanting entry into the venue. Now, the Sri Lankan government had already made it clear that they did not want this documentary to be screened.
NONEI asked KLSCAH representative Tang Ah Chai about the manoeuvres made by the Sri Lankan authorities with regard to the screening of this film.

He said: "On July 2, the personal assistant of Sri Lanka High Commission (SLHC) Dilrukshi Seneviratne called me and said that they wanted to meet with our (KLSCAH) president on July 3. But there was no mention of any matter to be discussed.

"My president was not available at the suggested time, so Mr Liau Kok Fah (chairperson of Civil Rights Committee of KLSCAH) followed up with SLHC. On July 3, around 8.30pm, I received a fax from SLHC."

NONEOf interest to readers is the content of the fax, which states: "I would like to inform you that it has been brought to our notice that a group of sympathisers of proscribed LTTE terrorist organisation has been making arrangements to screen a documentary film titled ‘No Fire Zone' that is based on false distorted facts of events during the fight against the LTTE terrorists in Sri Lanka.

"I have also been informed that the Censorship Board of the government of Malaysia has not granted them permission for them to screen such a film. I am of the view that screening such a documentary would affect the harmony and peaceful coexistence of different sections of the people in Sri Lanka and also Malaysia in the long run.

"Our mission has already requested the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Malaysia and Censorship Board of the government of Malaysia to ensure that no such film is screened in this country against the people and government of Sri Lanka and to ensure smooth and peaceful coexistence of the peace loving and for the enhancement of warm and cordial bilateral relations between our two peoples."

Kula defends organisers

NONEDAP's M Kulasegaran (left), who is Ipoh Barat MP, responded to the organisers' call for lawyers when it became apparent that the "security personnel wanted admittance into the hall". This is what Kulasegaran had to say. Consider this a firsthand account of a participant who was in the centre of the commotion.

"The screening started at about 7.30pm. The organisers barged in asking if any lawyers can come out of the theatre area to speak to some ‘government agencies' which wanted to stop the screening.

"I was asked and I went out to meet the ‘raiders'. I introduced myself and asked under what authority the officers have come. To my shock there were from, KDN (Home Ministry) filming department, the police, Immigration and some suspicious-looking characters.

"The presence of over 70 personnel shocked me. Why their interest and three departments for a major international movie. What great sin is being screened to warrant this raid?

"The officer immediately said he was from the KDN and had received a complaint that we were screening a movie that infringes the Film and Censorship Act. I immediately asked, could he produce the necessary documents for him to conduct the raid, but he said this was not necessary under the act.

"I asked who had filed the complaint, he said this could not be divulged. I retorted it was in the public domain that Sri Lanka and its local connections were the ones. He just smiled and refused to say any further.

sri lanka violent conflict 130509 05"Thereafter, I reminded the officer if he was aware the film was screened in Parliament House earlier and he nodded his head. I asked, ‘Why you chaps did not raid Parliament', he replied, how can they raid Parliament?
"I further retorted that the documentary was already available online. He declined to say anything. As the argument was proceeding, we invited the ‘raiders' to go to the adjoining office to discuss this further. He agreed.

"At the adjoining office, a deal was struck. The screening could proceed uninterrupted and at the end, they would enter the theatre and take the soft copy of the video, etc. They would also check the identities of those present.

"I realise they had felt many foreigners, especially Sri Lankan Tamils, could be there, and if so, arrest them and deport them, thus satisfying the Sri Lankan authorities who think Sri Lankans were behind all this."

Screening in Parliament

I asked Kulasegaran of the screening in Parliament, to which he replied, "The screening of the film ‘No Fire Zone' has been a topic of discussion among NGOs for the last two plus week. We were fortunate that the Caucus for the Displaced People of Sri Lanka of the Malaysian Parliament went ahead and screened the video in Parliament House during the lunchtime.

"Over 15 MPs of all races attended and saw for themselves the atrocities of war crimes. The organisers were initially worried if the screening would be stopped. I told them in Parliament, they wouldn't dare."

sri lanka declare victory over tamil tigers war 190509 01Kulasegaran has been consistent on his stand on the issue of Sri Lanka and has been raising the issue in Parliament.

He said: "Last year, many MPs raised the failure of the government to vote in favour of the resolution to support UN on the violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, which noted with concern that an internal inquiry report in Sri Lanka did not adequately address ‘serious allegation' of violations of international law.

"Malaysia's failure to support the motion is unacceptable. We know the real reason is its business links with the Sri Lankan interest."

NONEAfter the screening, one young woman related, "The lights were switched on and we were told by the organisers that KDN and Immigration officers wanted to see our ICs. There was some uproar and people demanded to know why.

"The organisers asked us to cooperate and show them our ICs. Several people tried to question the officers, asking, ‘Why do we have to show you our ICs?' No response. They would not tell us. Initially the officers wanted to take down details, like our full names and IC numbers, but we refused and in the end, we just flashed our ICs in front of them."

Let me be very clear. I have no problem with the Sri Lankan government wanting to "censor" this film, even if for the ridiculous reason of " good bilateral relations", however what I object to is the fact that our security or public institutions that are supposed to safeguard our interest are being used as proxies (possibly) for foreign interest.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.