Burma: 'Buddha bar' sentences ludicrous

The conviction and prison sentence handed down today against two managers and the owner of a bar in Burma for displaying an image of Buddha wearing headphones should be overturned immediately and is a chilling indication of the growing climate of religious intolerance in the country, Amnesty International said.

Tun Thurein and Htut Ko KoLwin from Burma and Philip Blackwood from New Zealand were today imprisoned for “insulting religion”. They have each been sentenced to two and a half years in jail for using the Buddha image to promote their Yangon bar.

Burma has seen a disturbing rise in religious intolerance in recent years, often fuelled by hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups, leading to increased hostility and discrimination against non-Buddhists and Muslims in particular.

Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s Research Director for South East Asia and the Pacific, said:

“It is ludicrous that these three men have been jailed simply for posting an image online to promote a bar. They should be immediately and unconditionally released.

“Today’s verdict is yet another blow to freedom of expression in Burma. While international human rights law permits restrictions to the right to freedom of expression, these restrictions are clearly defined and limited in scope. There is no way that the charges and prosecution in this case can meet the narrow human rights criteria for restricting this right under international human rights law.

“The shrinking space for religious freedom in Burma is deeply worrying, as is the growing influence of rhetoric by hard-line Buddhist nationalist groups. Authorities should do all they can to reverse this disturbing trend – not seek to inflame the situation further by pursuing cases like this.”

On 4 December writer Htin Lin Oo was also charged with “insulting religion” by the Chaung-U Township Court in Sagaing Region after he criticised the use of Buddhism as a tool for discrimination in a speech at a literary event. He is currently on trial and faces up to three years in prison.

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