Phil Blackwood is finally on his way home.
“Mr Blackwood departed Myanmar today, on flights arranged by his family,” a spokesperson for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Coconuts Yangon in an email today. “The New Zealand Embassy in Yangon accompanied Mr Blackwood to the airport from the prison, to help facilitate departure logistics. The New Zealand Embassy is unable to provide specific travel details due to privacy considerations.”
Brian, Blackwood’s father, confirmed on Wednesday that the family had booked him a new set of flights, ending a week of confusion and delay.
When Phil Blackwood’s parents learned that he was included in a presidential amnesty this month, they did what most parents would do: bought him a ticket home.
The ticket to New Zealand went through Australia, and that’s where the problems started. Blackwood’s father, Brian, said in an email that an official at the Australian embassy in Myanmar cautioned that Blackwood’s criminal record might pose a problem when transiting.
Worried that their son might get held up, they cancelled the flight, but by the time the story made it into the media, it seemed as if Australia’s immigration department had actively blocked his transit. That wasn’t the case, Brian said.
“I will contact the Australian Immigration Department so that we can clear up the misunderstanding resulting from the series of events that led to the criticism of the Australian Authorities,” he said.
In March last year, Blackwood was found guilty, along with two Burmese colleagues, of insulting religion after he posted a photo of a psychedelic Buddha wearing headphones on the Facebook page of the bar he managed in Yangon.
They were sentenced to two and a half years in prison but Blackwood was freed in the January 22 amnesty that included dozens of political prisoners. The fate of his former colleagues remains unclear.
After the mix-up surrounding his transit through Australia, his parents booked him on a separate flight from Yangon via Bangkok and Auckland to his home in Wellington. Rumors that the authorities misplaced his passport, further adding to the delay, could not be confirmed.
His parents are “very excited and relieved that we will be seeing Philip soon,” Brian said.
Blackwood’s fiancé told Brian that Phil “seems to have taken the delay in his stride and is looking forward to coming home to see his family and friends in New Zealand.”
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to include New Zealand’s full statement.