New Zealander faces Myanmar court verdict over Buddha ad

New Zealander faces Myanmar court verdict over Buddha ad

YANGON - A New Zealand bar manager accused of insulting religion in Myanmar by using an image of the Buddha to promote a cheap drinks night was set to face the court's verdict on Tuesday.

Philip Blackwood, who worked at the VGastro bar in Yangon, faces up to four years in jail if found guilty of breaching the Religion Act with the offending mocked-up photo that depicted the Buddha wearing DJ headphones on a Facebook page.

The 32-year-old has been held in the city's notorious Insein prison since December when he was arrested alongside two Myanmar nationals - Tun Thurein, the bar owner, and manager Htut Ko Ko Lwin, who are also facing the same charge.

The trio arrived at the Yangon court on Tuesday for the verdict due at around 12:00 pm (0530 GMT) as some 50 journalists and a handful of monks gathered outside.

The defendants have all denied insulting religion during the trial, in a case that has triggered outrage in Myanmar, where surging Buddhist nationalism and religious violence has sparked international concern.

The Buddhist-majority country, which began emerging from the grip of the military in 2011, has been rocked by several deadly outbreaks of religious violence in recent years, mainly targeting the Muslim minority.

The bloodshed has coincided with a rise in popularity of hardline monks who have advocated controversial new laws, which rights groups say would severely curb the freedom of religious minorities and women.

Earlier this month bar owner Tun Thurein, 40, told the court Blackwood alone was responsible for the posting, asking for the release of himself and his 26-year-old Myanmar colleague.

VGastro, a tapas restaurant and nightclub in an upmarket neighbourhood, was shut shortly after the contentious poster came to light, despite management quickly withdrawing the ad and apologising for their "ignorance" in using the Buddha's image.

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