YANGON – Philip Blackwood of New Zealand along with the bar’s owner and another Myanmar employee have been arrested in Myanmar for allegedly insulting Buddhism over Facebook advertising for the Yangon bar.
Lt-Col. Thien Win, the head of Bahan Police Station in Yangon, told the media that police had acted after receiving complaints over the advertisement, which had gone viral on social media in recent days and attracted a wave of criticism from Burmese Facebook users who viewed it as disrespectful to their religion.
Philip Blackwood, general manager of the newly opened VGastro tapas bar and nightclub, posted a promotional image of a psychedelic Buddha wearing headphones to the bar’s Facebook page.
32-year-old Blackwood was arrested by Myanmar police on Wednesday, along with owner Tun Thurein, 40, and manager Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26, after an official from Myanmar’s Religious Department complained about the advertising.
The trio appeared in court on Thursday and were remanded in custody until the next hearing on December 18, when they will face two charges of breaching the country’s Religion Act.
According to 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.
‘It is a no-bail offense,’ Judge Ye Lwin said. ‘We will give you the right of defense on December 18.’
The image was quickly removed from the Facebook page and replaced by an apology from VGastro Management expressing ‘sincere regret’ for having offended ‘the citizens of this wonderful city.’
‘Our ignorance is embarrassing for us,’ read the statement.
But the apology attracted a slew of angry comments from Burmese social media users including one which decried the bar management as ‘utterly unprofessional and culturally insensitive.’
The arrests come as Myanmar grapples with a growing Buddhist nationalist movement, spearheaded by extremist monks who have urged boycotts of Muslim shops and proposed a raft of laws to restrict religious freedoms.