18 Dec 2014

NZer goes on trial in Myanmar

9:07 pm on 18 December 2014

A New Zealander and two Myanmar men have gone on trial in Myanmar on charges of insulting Buddhism.

The promotional poster which has landed Philip Blackwood in jail.

The promotional poster by VGastro bar. Photo: SUPPLIED

The trio, who run a bar in Yangon, are accused over a flyer promoting a drinks event depicting Buddha with headphones.

The image triggered an angry response online shortly after it appeared on the bar's Facebook page, the BBC reported.

Myanmar law, which has experienced growing Buddhist nationalism, makes it illegal to insult or damage any religion.

The flyer from VGastro Bar showed Buddha with his eyes shut, wearing large headphones, and surrounded by lurid colours. The words alongside advertised a drinks afternoon with limitless alcohol and shisha pipes.

Last week, police shut down the bar and detained New Zealand general manager Philip Blackwood, 32, owner Tun Thurein, 40, and manager Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26.

The arrest was triggered by a complaint by an official from the country's religious department.

The trial could take up to six months and the three could face up to two years in jail.

The picture has been removed and replaced with an apology, stating that the management's intention "was never to cause offence to anyone or toward any religious group", the BBC reported.

Buddhist nationalism has been on the rise in recent years, with extremist monks such as Wirathu growing in popularity and increasing clashes with Muslim minorities, particularly in Rakhine state.

On Wednesday a writer was detained on charges of offending religious feeling, local media said.

Htin Lin Oo, a columnist now sacked from his position as an information officer with the opposition National League for Democracy, had given a speech that "criticised the use of Buddhism as a tool for discrimination and extreme nationalism", the Irrawaddy reported.