YANGON: The New Zealand-born general manager of a bar in Myanmar and two local colleagues will hear in two weeks from a Myanmar court whether they are guilty of insulting Buddhism in an online promotion.
They were charged with insulting the religion because they used an image of Buddha in an online ad for a bar in Yangon. The men have been in jail for about two months.
The promotion for V Gastro Bar went viral on social media in Myanmar, where the majority of citizens have strong ties to the Buddhist faith.
Bar manager Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin – both Myanmar nationals – and New Zealander Philip Blackwood managed a short chat with family members before the hearing began.
Cameras were not allowed inside the courtroom where Blackwood’s defence argued he did not intend to insult Buddhism. His counsel said the ad was misguided and once informed it could be seen as sacrilegious, he removed it and apologised.
Blackwood remained positive as he emerged after the hearing.
“We’ve done what we can. It’s now up to the court to decide,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
For the Myanmar nationals, the defence said they did not know that Blackwood had posted the ad online. All three accused asked for all charges to be dropped.
“He had no intention, no malicious assaulting of religious feelings, just for the promotion of the shop, put it up on the 9th and scrubbed it out on the 11th with good intention,” said Mya Thway, Blackwood’s lawyer. “It was a good final argument, but what will happen, I don’t know.”
Each of the accused faces two charges related to causing religious offence and a third charge of operating the bar after hours, which together carry a maximum term of imprisonment of two years.
Family members of the accused said they hope the judge will consider the statements carefully as they place their entire faith in the judicial system.