11 Dec New Zealand bar manager struggles for effective representation, says friend

Written by Matt Roebuck Published in Myanmar Read 4443 times
Mr Blackwood leaves Bahan Township Police Station in handcuffs on November 11. Photo: Thet Ko/Mizzima Mr Blackwood leaves Bahan Township Police Station in handcuffs on November 11. Photo: Thet Ko/Mizzima

Mr Philip Blackwood, accused of contravening Myanmar’s religious insult laws, was left in the dark during preliminary hearings on December 11, as no translator was provided and he was unable to access a lawyer who spoke English, said a friend of the New Zealand bar manager.

Bail was denied to the managers and owners of VGastro.bar and the trio will be held in Insein prison awaiting the December 18 commencement of a hearing into the accusations they insulted Buddhism by displaying an image of Buddha with headphones in a promotion for the bar.

“Three lawyers declined to take the case as they were worried it would be too controversial,” said a friend of Mr Blackwood, who requested anonymity.

“The lawyer that represented them can’t speak English and therefore cannot communicate with Phil,” he added, “none of us [the friends of Mr Blackwood in court] could understand what was happening.”

The friend said that his group, in attendance to lend moral support to Mr Blackwood, were unaware of the exact nature of the charges until reading about them on the internet after the hearing.

General manager Mr Philip Blackwood, 32, is facing charges alongside owner U Tun Thurein, 40, and manager Ko Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26.

“They speak English and I guess they would have explained things to Phil after the hearing, but certainly during proceedings he was in the dark,” said the friend, who further explained that he and the others were considering what might be done to ensure Mr Blackwood can receive appropriate representation to defend himself of the charges come December 18.

Police Captain Thein Win, of Bahan Township Police, told Mizzima that the three have been charged both under a section of the penal code that states “whoever destroys, damages or defiles any of worship, or any object held sacred by any class or person… with the knowledge that any class of likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as insult to their religion,” and another that deals with the “deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons by … visible representations.”

Both charges carry a maximum two year imprisonment and a fine.

The promotional poster, which appeared on the newly opened bar's Facebook page, sparked a number of complaints on social media.     

"VGastro management would like to express our sincere regret if we have offended the citizens of this wonderful city, who have welcomed us so warmly and generously," an apology from the bar said as they removed the image.

"Our intention was never to cause offence to anyone or toward any religious group. Our ignorance is embarrassing."

But many refused to accept the apology, with replies such as “Shame on you!” and "utterly unprofessional and culturally insensitive," on social media.

Mr Blackwood had recently returned to Myanmar to work as general manager at VGastro.bar having previously managed another popular Yangon nightspot for about 3 years.

Last modified on Thursday, 11 December 2014 17:55