[JURIST] A Myanmar court on Tuesday sentenced a New Zealand bar manager and his associates to two-and-a-half years in prison for insulting Buddhism in an online advertisement that showed a psychedelic depiction of Buddha wearing headphones. Philip Blackwood, Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin were sentenced to two years of hard labor for insulting religion and six months for disobeying an order from a public servant. Human rights groups have criticized the sentences. “It is ludicrous that these three men have been jailed simply for posting an image online to promote a bar,” said [press release] Amnesty International’s research director for South East Asia and the Pacific Rupert Abbott. “They should be immediately and unconditionally released.” Blackwood told reporters [AP report] after the sentencing that he would appeal.
Myanmar has long been critiqued for its human rights situation. Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] last April about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country’s Rakhine State [JURIST news archive]. In January of last year Quintana, along with the UN humanitarian chief, called for an immediate investigation [JURIST report] by authorities following reports of alarming levels of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. In October 2013 Quintana warned [JURIST report] that sectarian violence between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State was contributing to wider anti-Muslim sentiments in Myanmar, threatening the positive changes undertaken by the country in the past two years. While Quintana acknowledged that Myanmar’s government has demonstrated willingness to address the situation, he expressed concern that discriminatory acts against Muslims remain unattended. Earlier that month Quintana welcomed [JURIST report] the release of 56 prisoners of conscience in Myanmar, although he stressed the need for legislative reforms that would address the injustice against prisoners of conscience.