Buddha Poster Sentenced

The owner and two employees of a Myanmar bar have been found guilty of insulting religion with their poster depicting Buddha wearing headphones.

Myanmar bar managers Phil Blackwood and Htut Ko Ko Lwin as well as owner Tun Thurein were found guilty of insulting religion by promoting their bar with a poster of Buddha wearing headphones. They face sentencing of two and a half years in jail.

In Myanmar (Burma), it is illegal to insult any religion. During recent years, Myanmar has seen growth in Buddhist nationalism. The three individuals facing charges all pleaded not-guilty during the trial, denying insulting religion. Tun Thurein, the bar owner who was found guilty, told the courts that Blackwood was solely responsible for the poster ad showing Buddha for promotion.

Blackwood, a New Zealander, was interviewed after the sentencing saying he was disappointed with his punishment. He is quoted saying “I have said that I was sorry so many times. It was nothing to do with me.” The judge Ye Lwin said that even though he apologized, he “intentionally plotted to insult religious belief.” Mya Tway, Blackwood’s lawyer, carefully assessed the ruling which has been accepted by various Buddhist groups. Tway remarks “It will be difficult to say whether this verdict is fair or not because this is Myanmar, not like other democratic countries. That’s all I can say.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director, agrees the men acted in a culturally insensitive way, but should not have been sent to prison. “By using the Religion Act to criminalise these three individuals, rather than accepting an apology and dealing with it in another way, the government is, sort of, setting up more witch hunts against persons that these Buddhist groups view as being insulting to their religion,” said Robertson on the matter. Phil Blackwood said after the trial that he would be appealing the sentence.

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