A Burmese court has jailed the owner and staff of a bar for insulting Buddhism, after they used a psychedelic depiction of Buddha wearing headphones on an online advertisement.
New Zealander Philip Blackwood, the manager of V Gastro in Yangon, owner Tun Thurein and employee Htut Ko Ko Lwin, were sentenced to two years of hard labour for insulting the religion and six months for disobeying an order from a public servant.
As Blackwood, 32, got into a police van following his sentencing, he told reporters he would appeal against the ruling.
The trial come as the predominantly Buddhist nation grapples with a surge in religious nationalism, which has caused a spike in violence against the nation’s minority Muslim population.
A group of around half a dozen Buddhist monks who had gathered outside the Yangon court to hear the verdict welcomed it.
Paw Shwe, a member of a Buddhist organisationm, told reporters: “The verdict is fair. This punishment will deter others from insulting Buddhism or other religion.”
The three men were arrested in December after a multi-coloured image featuring the religious figure was used to promote their tapas bar and lounge, and detained in Myanmar's notorious Insein prison.
The online advert was removed, and a post on the V Gastro bar Facebook page dated December 2014 apologised for offending “the citizens of this wonderful city, who have welcomed us so warmly and generously.”
“Our ignorance is embarrassing for us and we will attempt to correct it by learning more about Myanmar's religions, culture and history, characteristics that make this such a rich and unique society," it said.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch said the three men acted in a culturally insensitive way but they should not be sent to prison.
"What this shows is freedom of expression is under greater threat than ever in Burma (Myanmar) just as the country heads into a pivotal election year," Robertson added.
Additional reporting by AP