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Three charged in Myanmar with insulting Buddhism

Three owners of the bar were detained last week.

By Ed Adamczyk
A religious Buddha statue in Myanmar (CC/ wikimedia.org/ Thethoe)
A religious Buddha statue in Myanmar (CC/ wikimedia.org/ Thethoe)

YANGON, Myanmar, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Owners of a Yangon, Myanmar, bar who allegedly offended Buddha by depicting him in an advertisement in headphones will face charges this week.

The general manager of the V Gastro bar, New Zealand national Phillip Blackwood, and two business partners, Tun Thurein and Htut Lo Ko Lwin were charged last week under a Myanmar law outlawing words or images that could deliberately offend religion. In a Facebook advertisement for the bar, an image of Buddha is seen with DJ-styled headphones, his eyes closed and surrounded by garish colors and the term "Buddha.bar." The three were detained under broad and vaguely written section of Myanmar's penal code, and could receive two-year sentences.

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Their arrest began with a complaint from the government's religious department.

The law has been commonly used to detain political prisoners, a 2009 report by the activist group Human Rights Watch said.

The bar owners replaced the advertisement with an apology saying, in part, the ad was "was never to cause offense to anyone or toward any religious group. Our ignorance is embarrassing for us and we will attempt to correct it by learning more about Myanmar's religions, culture and history."

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While Buddha statues and images are common in Western culture, as fashion accessories or as garden decorations, Asian Buddhists regard such displays as blasphemous, Buddhism scholar Dr. Paul Fuller told Voice of America.

"I think we're seeing it (outrage over perceived blasphemy) more and more because these fundamentalist Buddhist movements are fostering a sense of Buddhist identity tied in with national identity. Buddhism has always had a very privileged place within the western romantic understanding."

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