Verdict in Buddha Bar Case Expected in Mid-March

By Bone Myat 4 March 2015

RANGOON — The Bahan Township Court will rule on the case of three men—two Burmese and one New Zealand national—charged with religious defamation in two weeks’ time, according to a defense lawyer.

Following the eighth trial hearing on Tuesday, Mya Thwe, the lawyer for New Zealander Philip Blackwood, said the court would issue its final verdict on March 17.

V Gastro Bar owner Tun Thurein, general manager Philip Blackwood and bar manager Htut Ko Ko Lwin were apprehended on Dec. 10, 2014, after their business distributed a promotional flyer on social media depicting an image of Buddha wearing headphones.

Under sections of the Penal Code relating to religious offence, as well as a separate charge for operating the V Gastro Bar after authorized hours, the trio face up to four years in prison if convicted.

The three defendants, who have been denied bail and held in Rangoon’s Insein Prison since their arrest, have all pleaded not guilty to the charges.

In early February, Aye Than Than Htoo, the mother of the youngest of the three defendants Htut Ko Ko Lwin, told The Irrawaddy she was concerned about her son’s health while in detention and called the trial “difficult to understand.”

The offending image went viral online soon after it was posted and caused outrage among hardline Buddhists in Burma, who gathered in protest outside the bar on Dec. 10.