The controversial documentary No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka has been refused a censor certificate for release in theaters by the Indian Central Board of Film Certification. In response, Callum Macrae, the documentary’s director has decided to make it available free online in India. The film will also be available free in Malaysia, Nepal and Sri Lanka, other countries where the screening of No Fire Zone has been banned.
The producers of the controversial documentary, have accused the Indian authorities of “political censorship of unpalatable truths” for refusing a censor certificate on the grounds it “may strain friendly relations with Sri Lanka.”
Claiming that “most of the visuals are of a disturbing nature,” the Board turned down the censor certificate for the documentary.
This means that the film – which documents war crimes and crimes against humanity committed at the end of the Sri Lanka civil war – is banned from theatrical release in India.
The ban on the film will add to the controversy over the Indian government’s refusal to grant a visa to the film’s director, Callum Macrae to attend a premiere of the documentary in New Delhi and Mumbai in November last year.
Mr Macrae – a respected film-maker who has won many industry awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on exposing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sri Lanka – said today:
“I find it very disturbing that a country whose independent history is rooted in the struggle for democratic rights and free speech should have taken what is, in effect, an act of overt political censorship.”
In protest against the ban – and supported by a group of journalists in India – the production team have decided to make the film available for free streaming online in India. It will be available from Sunday 23 February on http://nofirezone.org/watch – both in English and in English with Hindi subtitles. The film will also be available for free in Malaysia, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
The revelation of the Indian ban follows what appears to be a concerted campaign by the Sri Lankan government to pressurize foreign governments to stop the film being seen. In Malaysia a screening of the film was raided by between 30 and 40 members of the Malaysian Censorship Board and police officers and an organizer, Lena Hendry of Malaysian Human Rights organisation Pusat Komas, was charged under censorship laws. She faces a maximum of three years in jail if convicted.
That was followed by an order by the Nepalese authorities to give the organisers of the Film Southasia Festival in Katmandu just 24 hours notice that they must not show No Fire Zone and two other Sri Lankan films in their festival as planned.
Film Southasia issued an immediate statement: “We announce with great regret that the Sri Lankan Government has pressurised the Nepali authorities to stop the screening of all three documentaries” They described the attempted ban as: “an action that goes against the freedom of expression and the right of documentary filmmakers to exhibit their work.”
Director Macrae said: “While telling the world that it is investigating the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity – the Sri Lankan government is in practice mounting an international campaign to deny the truth and silence the witnesses.”
“As national delegations prepare to meet in Geneva for the UN Human Rights Council – which will hear calls for the setting up of an international Commission of Inquiry into all the crimes committed in the last stages of the war in Sri Lanka – we hope making the film available in India, Malaysia, Nepal and Sri Lanka will stimulate debate on these vital issues.”