Charges against New Zealander and two Myanmar men accused of insulting Buddhism are an attack have no basis in international law, Amnesty International says.
Philip Blackwood, 32, yesterday appeared before a Myanmar court accused of insulting religion by using an image of the Buddha to promote a cheap drinks night at the bar he managed.
He was denied bail last week along with Myanmar nationals Tun Thurein, 40, who owned the bar, and manager Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26.
The offending poster, which featured a psychedelic mock-up of the Buddha wearing DJ headphones, has prompted outcry in the predominantly Buddhist country, which is grappling with surging religious nationalism.
About a dozen monks and hardline Buddhists gathered outside the Yangon court shortly after Mr Blackwood was led into the building in handcuffs. Some two dozen riot police armed with batons were standing by.
The trio face possible jail terms if found guilty of breaching the Religion Act with the contentious poster - which was quickly withdrawn from the VGastro bar's Facebook page.
Under the act, anyone who attempts to insult, destroy or damage any religion can be punished by a maximum of two years in jail, with another two-year penalty for those who try to insult religion through the written word.
Amnesty International's New Zealand director Grant Bayldon has described the charges as out of proportion to the offence, and said Mr Blackwood's continued imprisonment was outrageous and unacceptable.
He said the religious offence law was one of a number of unjust laws in Myanmar.
"There's absolutely no basis under international law for prosecuting people for something as trivial and as simple as this," Mr Bayldon told Morning Report.
"In fact freedom of expression is a right that's enshrined in international law and should be respected."
Speaking to reporters after the closed hearing, Blackwood's lawyer Mya Thwe said if the men will have no right to appeal any guilty verdict.
But "none of them have confessed," he said, adding the next court date will be December 26.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the New Zealand Embassy in Yangon has been in contact with Mr Blackwood and was attempting to provide consular support, including securing legal representation for him.
Mr Blackwood's wife is also in Myanmar but has been denied permission to see him in Yangon's notorious Insein Prison, which also houses many of the country's political prisoners.
Members of the public were joined by monks from Buddhist nationalist Ma Ba Tha group in a protest in front of the bar last week, prompting police and local authorities to intervene.
The DJ-like Buddha image is regarded as offensive to many Buddhists in Myanmar as it is regarded as warping the perception of protective power offered by a Buddhist image in general.