Bar manager pleads not guilty to insulting Buddhism in Burma

Charges over psychedelic promotional poster of Buddha wearing headphones

Phil Blackwood (centre): charged over the publication of a poster promoting cheap drinks at his bar in Rangoon in Burma. Photograph: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

Phil Blackwood (centre): charged over the publication of a poster promoting cheap drinks at his bar in Rangoon in Burma. Photograph: Lynn Bo Bo/EPA

 

A New Zealand bar manager has pleaded not guilty in a Burmese court to charges of insulting religion after publishing a psychedelic image of Buddha wearing headphones to promote his bar in Rangoon

The case comes amid a surge in Buddhist nationalism in Burma – which emerged in 2011 from half a century of military rule – with monks forming groups aimed at promoting the country’s Buddhist character.

New Zealander Phil Blackwood was charged earlier this month, along with two local men, over the publication of a poster promoting cheap drinks at his bar. If found guilty, they face up to four years in jail.

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“I believe the law says the act must be deliberate, require malice with intent to offend,” Blackwood said. “I have said a number of times, there was no intent.”

Blackwood’s lawyer said he had received anonymous messages on Facebook threatening to cut him to pieces and burn him because he’d taken on the case.

In a similar case, a prominent former official with the main opposition party was detained earlier this month after he made a speech he said was intended to discourage extremist interpretations of Buddhism.

Burma’s semi-civilian government has lifted restrictions on freedoms of speech, association and media.

The main target of the Buddhist nationalist movement has been the country’s Muslims, who make up about 5 per cent of its 53 million people. Sectarian violence since June 2012 has killed at least 240 people, mostly Muslims. – (Reuters)