New Zealander convicted in Myanmar’s ‘Buddha bar’ case to walk free

Phil Blackwood, a New Zealand national incarcerated in Yangon’s Insein Prison since December 2014, will be released today.

A spokesperson for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed the pending release.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is pleased to confirm Mr Blackwood is on the Myanmar Presidential Amnesty list which will allow him to be released from detention. This is understandably of significant relief to his family. MFAT, through the New Zealand Embassy and consular staff, has been providing consular assistance to Mr Blackwood and his family since his first arrest and detention. The New Zealand Embassy in Myanmar is liaising with the relevant authorities over the amnesty release arrangements and will advise the family,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to DVB on Friday.

The Assistance Association for of Political Prisoners-Burma (AAPP-B) confirmed that 101 prisoners were released on Friday. Around 50 political prisoners were among the group, according to AAPP-B.

Phil Blackwood remains in custody awaiting deportation, according to DVB reporters.

Blackwood, who holds a UK dual citizenship, was arrested in December 2014 and sentenced to two and half years imprisonment for posting an image of Buddha on online promotional material for his bar and restaurant in Yangon.

He was charged under Burmese penal code articles 295(a) and 188, along with Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin, the two other managers from the VGastro Bar, which has subsequently been closed down following protests by hardline Buddhist monks who called for harsh sentences to be imposed on the three.

Article 295(a) reads as: “Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.” Article 188 is a public harm edict, but which notes that “It is not necessary that the offender should intend to produce harm … It is sufficient that he knows of the order.”

AAPP-B cannot confirm whether Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin were to be released alongside Phil Blackwood on Friday.

Speaking to DVB in October 2015, Blackwood’s parents said he suffered from malnourishment and mental distress during his incarceration.

This article was originally published in the Democratic Voice of Burma

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