Sri Lanka ban on film Flying Fish sparks anger

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Flying Fish poster

The director of a banned Sri Lankan film has rejected government claims it seeks to insult the armed forces.

Sanjeewa Pushpakumara said the film, Flying Fish, sought to depict reality and was based on his own experiences growing up in Sri Lanka's war zone.

The film was banned on Friday after being shown at a festival promoted by the French embassy in Colombo.

A government spokesman said the film was "illegal" and used images of the army uniform without permission.

In a statement issued from South Korea, where he is based, Sanjeewa Pushpakumara denied discrediting the military and said he sought to depict reality "in a humane and artistic way".

He denied any links with the Tamil Tigers or non-governmental organisations, and dismissed state television broadcasts which had alleged such ties.

Police are now holding what they call a "fact-finding investigation" into the film and some of its production staff have been questioned.

The distribution and screening of the film had been stopped in Sri Lanka, government security spokesman Lakshman Hulugalle, confirmed on Monday.

The Sinhala-language film was made in 2011 and is set against the backdrop of the country's brutal civil war. The film is said to portray bad behaviour by both soldiers and Tamil Tiger rebels, the BBC's Charles Haviland in Colombo reports.

The Sri Lankan state venerates its armed forces and any message that contradicts this is liable to fall foul of the authorities, our correspondent adds.

'Militarise arts'

Sri Lanka's official censoring body had allowed the private screening of Flying Fish. But an official from the government-owned venue walked out of the showing and denounced the film, saying it portrayed soldiers as over-sexed and also degraded women.

The festival was closed down as well.

The venue's board apologised to what it called the "heroic armed forces" and the general public. The French embassy regretted the "unfortunate incident".

However a prominent Sri Lankan film-maker, Dharmasiri Bandaranayake told the Ceylon Today newspaper that the censorship board had approved the screening. He said "regimented jackboots" were "crush[ing] artistic expression".

Sri Lanka's Free Media Movement released a statement saying the ban demonstrated the government's desire to "even militarise arts and culture".

And activists have also signed a petition deploring state media criticism of a Sri Lankan writer, Gamini Viyangoda, who was accused of being a "conspirator" in screening the film.

Sri Lankan forces defeated Tamil separatist rebels in 2009 after a bloody 26-year war which left at least 100,000 people dead and both sides accused of war crimes. There are still no confirmed figures for tens of thousands of civilian deaths in the last months of battle.

One UN investigation said up to 40,000 people had been killed in the final few months alone. Others suggest the number of deaths could be even higher.

The government does not accept these figures and has denied allegations of war crimes.