Arnestad’s ‘Silenced Voices’ documentary gains momentum
[TamilNet, Saturday, 08 September 2012, 14:27 GMT]
Even as the GoSL tightens its vice through different means to gag democratic voices in the island from expressing the truth about the genocide of the Eezham Tamils, award-winning Norwegian documentary filmmaker Beate Arnestad’s ‘Silenced Voices - Tales of Sri Lankan Journalists in Exile’ has been steadily gaining momentum at acclaimed film festivals and screenings across the world, exposing the truth about media repression by the Sri Lankan state. After a grand pre-première in Oslo in February 2012, a world premiere in Hague at the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam in March, screenings at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York in June, Arnestad’s documentary received a salubrious welcome at public screenings in Australia this week.
Michelle Rowland MP, among the audience, at Sydney screening
Ms. Arnestad, who has over twenty years of experience producing and directing content for departments at Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, was most known for her first independent and award- winning documentary ‘My Daughter the Terrorist’ (2007) that was focussed on the Black Tigers.
The pre-première screening of her latest documentary ‘Silenced Voices’ to a jam-packed hall in Oslo on February 2012 gave viewers a powerful account of the situation of media freedom in a militarized state and the numerous personal and political hurdles that committed journalists from the island had to surpass to bring out the truth to the world. The commitment to ethical journalism shown by Bashana Abeywardane, former editor of Hiru weekly, his wife Sharmila Logeswaram, Sonali Samarasinghe, the wife of slain journalist Lasantha Wikrematunge, and A. Lokeesan, TamilNet’s Vanni wartime correspondent, were poignantly shown in the documentary which also featured the escape of Lokeesan.
[L-R] Chair of the event Prof. Jake Lynch, director of CPACS, Arnestad, Bashana Abeywardane and Lokeesan at Sydney screening
The world première show of ‘Silenced Voices’ was at the critically renowned International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the world’s largest documentary festival, at Hague on March 2012. Ms. Arnestad’s documentary was one of ten ‘most impressive human rights documentaries’ from 65 that were selected by the Movies that Matter Foundation, an initiative of Amnesty International, to be screened. Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, presented the introduction to ‘Silenced Voices’.
‘Silenced Voices’ was then screened at the annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival on June 2012, at New York, under the theme of ‘Reporting in Crisis’. The festival showed 17 films under 5 themes.
The film was also publicly broadcasted at least thrice in Norwegian television NRK, the Norwegian Broadcasting Cooperation.
Arnestad’s work is to be screened at a conference on freedom of expression, scheduled to take place in October at Norway
Likewise, the documentary has also been shown at a number of closed door meetings, such as those from the one involving Erik Solheim in Oslo to the Sivaram Memorial Seminar in London.
The Australian screening of the documentary was held in Sydney on Wednesday, followed by another screening in Melbourne on Thursday. Both screenings took place in packed halls, with the majority of the audience comprising of academics, trade union leaders, journalists, activists, federal and state politicians, government officials and students of law, politics and journalism.
The screenings were followed by question and answer sessions with panellists Ms. Arnestad, Bashana Abeywardane, and A. Lokeesan. The three were delighted to see an interested crowd that largely comprised of non-Tamils and non-Sinhalese, organizers of the conference said.
At the Sydney event chaired by Prof. Jake Lynch, director of CPACS, Michelle Rowland MP, Federal Member for Greenway whilst expressing her wish for this documentary to be shown more widely, asked the panel for their opinion on the chances of reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka given recent events and the United Nations Panel of Experts’ report.
Melbourne screening at Melbourne Law School
In the responses provided, Mr. Lokeesan felt that when such a well-planned war was executed in a calculated manner with the intention to kill tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, and years after the ‘end’ of the war, permission for the international organizations to access the former war-zone was still not granted and as Tamil people continue to live in fear and are provided neither justice nor a normal life, there was little chance for ‘reconciliation’.
Mr. Abeywardane argued the Sri Lankan regime did not care about reconciliation, with the entire concept being maintained outside the country on a propaganda level having nothing to do with the reality on the ground. He attributed this to the very reason people were fleeing the country. He referred to the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GoSL) decision to appoint the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) where he quoted Sri Lankan Ministers having openly stated that the reason for the LLRC was to stop external forces interfering into Sri Lankan issues instead of a genuine effort to reconcile with the victims. He further outlined that when the LLRC was appointed reputed human rights organisations refused to participate in the commission saying it was flawed. Despite this, the UNHRC passed a resolution in March 2012 asking the GoSL to implement recommendations of the LLRC.
The Sinhala journalist further criticised the IC in their approach to the war. Referring to the co-chairs’ statements calling on the Tamil diaspora to pressure the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to lay down their arms and surrender he said, “When you get to know Sri Lanka, being a legitimate member of the IC, shelling civilians whom they forced into safe-zones, you decide to put pressure on those who have been forced out of the country, living outside the country asking them to put pressure on the rebel organisation to lay down their arms three months before the final massacres took place,” highlighting that the genocide was “not only well calculated but well known” by the IC.
In one of her responses, Arnestad stated that the GoSL has been very successful in labelling not only the LTTE but the entire Tamil population as terrorists, adding that after 9/11, with the US heading the war on terror, they really did not want any successful freedom movement or rebellion in that region. She reiterated that it was with the consent of the entire western world that the GoSL set out on its course to wipe out the LTTE and the civilian population in that region.
Audience got a chance to mingle with protagonists pre-screening at Sydney event
Speaking about the condition of media freedom in the island, Mr. Abeywardane opined that those independent journalists from abroad who may travel to Sri Lanka will have to be aware that people outside the former conflict zone may comment on how life was now better ‘post-war’ citing examples such as decrease in road-blocks and fewer check-points. However, journalists wishing to travel to the Tamil regions would need clearance from the Ministry of Defence. Once this clearance is sought, he warned, not only would the journalists be identified and monitored but all those who are sought for interviews would also be monitored. In this scenario those being interviewed may not speak freely as they their comments would be a matter of life or death for them, he outlined.
Other issues discussed at the Sydney event included that of the former Navy Commander Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe being appointed as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Australia and the lack of political will by Australia to investigate allegations of his involvement in the war crimes and genocide perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamil people.
The arrival of the protagonists coincided with the Australian Opposition Party’s call for all asylum seekers from Sri Lanka to be sent back without their claims being processed, a call that has been condemned by many human rights activists. Since their arrival, Arnestad, Bashana and Lokeesan have been interviewed by mainstream Australian television, radio and print media on their opinion on this issue.
The screening in Sydney, held at Dendy Cinemas Circular Quay on 05 September, was co-organised by the University of Sydney Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPACS), the Law Society of NSW-Young Lawyers and the Australian Tamil Congress (ATC).
The screening in Melbourne, held at Melbourne Law School on 06 September, was co-organised by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), Medical Associations for the Prevention of War (MAPW) and Institute for International Law in partnership with the ATC and chaired by Prof. Chris Nash, Professor of Journalism at the Monash University.
Due to popular demand, a third event is being organised in Sydney by the ATC for Sunday 9 September at 5.45pm at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta. This too will include a screening followed by a question and answer session with the above mentioned overseas guests.