The Irrawaddy

Court Accepts Charges Against New Zealander, 2 Burmese for Insulting Buddhism

A New Zealand man and two Burmese managers of V Gastro bar are brought to Rangoon’s Bahan Township Court, which accepted the charges of insulting religion on Thursday. (Photo: Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Rangoon’s Bahan Township Court on Thursday afternoon accepted criminal charged brought against a New Zealand national and two Burmese men, who are accused of insulting religion because the bar they were working distributed a promotional flyer showing a Buddha wearing headphones.

Tun Thurein, the owner of V Gastro Bar in Bahan Township, as well as the bar’s general manager Philip Blackwood, a New Zealand national said to be 32 years old, and bar manager Htut Ko Ko Lwin were brought to the court in a police van in the early afternoon and were later whisked away to be brought back to Bahan Police Station, where they are spending a second night in jail.

Many journalists gathered at the court entrance. More than 20 monks belonging to the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion—a Buddhist nationalist movement called Ma Ba Tha in Burmese—were present to express their displeasure over the case.

The men were arrested on Wednesday after the Ma Ba Tha complained about a promotional flyer by V Gastro Bar that depicted a seated Buddha wearing headphones to a colorful, psychedelic backdrop along with advertising for cocktails. The bar, located in an upscale Rangoon neighborhood, was shut down on Wednesday.

The three are facing charges of insulting religion under the Penal Code’s articles 295 and 295 (a), a clause that carries punishment of a fine and a maximum of two years in prison.

They were denied bail on Thursday and are scheduled to appear in court again on Dec. 18.