Three men given hard labour in Burma for 'insulting' Buddha poster

New Zealander Philip Blackwood was sentenced to hard labour for insulting religion. Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

A New Zealand bar manager and his two associates have been sentenced to two and a half years hard labour in Burma for distributing a poster of Buddha wearing headphones.

Philip Blackwood, Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin were found guilty of insulting religion and disobeying an order from a public servant.

After the sentencing, Mr Blackwood said he had apologised for the poster several times and would appeal the sentence.

The poster, which was put up on Facebook and used to promote a cheap drinks event at a bar in Yangon, showed Buddha surrounded by psychedelic colours while listening to music on headphones.

It is an offence to insult or damage any religion in Burma. About 90 percent of Burma's people are Buddhist.

About 90 percent of Burma's people are Buddhist and it is illegal to insult religions. Credit: Reuters/Stringers

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director, Phil Robertson, said that the three men acted insensitively but should go to prison.

He said: "By using the Religion Act to criminalise these three individuals, rather than accepting an apology and dealing with it in another way, the government is, sort of, setting up more witch hunts against persons that these Buddhist groups view as being insulting their religion," he said.

Mr Blackwood's father Brian, who lives in Wellington, New Zealand, told Fairfax Media that he was devastated by the sentence.

He said: "We hoped common sense would prevail and he would be found not guilty because it was not a malicious or intentional act, which it was supposed to be. We were hoping he would be found not guilty or at the very least deported."