YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A New Zealand bar manager and two Myanmar men pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges they insulted religion by posting an advertisement with an image of a pink Buddha wearing headphones.
Philip Blackwood, general manager of the V Gastro Bar, was arrested last week after posting the online advertisement for the bar in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon. The charges carry a penalty of up to two years in prison.
The advertisement was removed and an apology posted, but Blackwood and the two men — who also work with the bar — were arrested. Four prosecution witnesses testified at their first trial session Thursday, and defense witnesses are to take the stand on Dec. 26.
About 90 percent of Myanmar's people are Buddhist. Perceived insults to the religion are taken seriously, especially in the context of religious-based violence in the past few years pitting Buddhists against Muslims.
About 15 Buddhist monks, mostly from a nationalist organization, and more than 20 lay disciples were at the court as police brought in the three handcuffed defendants. Nearly 30 policemen were in attendance, apparently because of the sensitive nature of the case.