Mynamar jails three men for blasphemy
Philip Blackwood, the Mynamar bar manager who outraged Buddhists last year by posting a picture online of The Fat Guy wearing a pair of headphones, has been jailed for two years.
A court in Yangon said the image, used to promote New Zealander Blackwood’s VGastro bar and restaurant, denigrated Buddhism and was a violation of Myanmar’s religion act, which prohibits insulting, damaging or destroying religion. Said judge, U Ye Lwin:
It is clear the act of the bar offended the majority religion in the country.
The image was posted in December on the Facebook page of the VGastro in Yangon. After an outcry from hard-line Buddhist groups, the police arrested Blackwood, 32, along with the bar owner, U Tun Thurein, 40, and a second employee, U Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26. The three have been held in Insein prison in Yangon.
In addition to the two-year prison term imposed on each of the men, the three were also sentenced to six months for illegally operating a bar after 10 pm.
Blackwood said after the verdict that the men had expected they would be convicted.
Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, who is based in Bangkok, called the verdict “outrageous”
This is a clear instance of criminalizing free expression. This will resonate in a very significant, negative way internationally when people decide how to engage with Burma.
The three convicted men faced possible prison terms of as long as four years in connection with the image. The image was quickly removed, and the bar issued an apology, saying it had not intended to cause offense.
Our ignorance is embarrassing for us, and we will attempt to correct it by learning more about Myanmar’s religions, culture and history, characteristics that make this such a rich and unique society.
In 2010, a Buddha Bar in Jakarta, Indonesia – part of a franchise – was forced to close after protests from Buddhists there.
Myanmar will hold a general election this fall, and rights groups say the blasphemy conviction is an indicator that the government is pandering to hard-line Buddhist groups to win votes.
Not only is this a rights violation, but this is very ill advised from a political and social perspective. Burma is heading into dangerous territory.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn