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Man who insulted Buddha among those freed from Myanmar jail

By Daniel Uria   |   Jan. 23, 2016 at 12:26 PM

YANGON, Myanmar, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- New Zealand resident Philip Blackwood is set to be one of more than 100 prisoners released from a Myanmar prison after he was arrested for using images of Buddha in his bar.

Blackwood was arrested alongside two Burmese business partners in December of 2014 for posting an "offensive" image of Buddha wearing headphones. He received a 2 1/2 year sentence of hard labor in March 2015.

He and 120 other prisoners are to be released as part of an amnesty program, although it is unclear if his business partners will be freed as well.

"It's come as a shock - we weren't expecting it," Blackwood's mother Angela told the New Zealand Herald. "We're still a bit shell-shocked at the moment and we're just waiting to hear when he will actually be released."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed Blackwood's presence on the amnesty list.

"[The Ministry of Foreign Affairs] 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 ministry said.

The window for Blackwood's release can range anywhere from 24 hours to a full week and his mother stated that the Myanmar government still has his passport.

Blackwood's family last visited him in June, but his fiance Noemi Almo remained in Myanmar on a business visa and visited him every two weeks.

Almo gave birth to Blackwood's daughter three months before he was imprisoned.

Laura Haigh of Amnesty International New Zealand expressed happiness that Blackwood would be set free but noted that "scores remain behind bars, while hundreds of other peaceful activists are on bail facing jail time".

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