***Update***: I stand corrected! Philip Blackwood was released by Myanmar officials earlier this year. Thanks to everyone for the correction. The fate of his two colleagues is still unclear.
It was a year ago today that New Zealander Philip Blackwood and his colleagues Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin were sentenced to jail in Myanmar because they posted on Facebook an image of Buddha wearing headphones in order to promote their new bar:
Seriously. For that image, they’re still in jail. And performing manual labor as an added punishment.
The case comes amid a surge in Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar — which emerged in 2011 from half a century of military rule — with monks forming groups aimed at promoting the country’s Buddhist character… They were sentenced to jail with labor, the court said.
At a hearing in December, Blackwood said he had not intended to offend Buddhism when he posted the image on the bar’s Facebook page to advertise a cheap drinks night.
He said he had removed the image and posted an apology when he realized it was being shared online and provoking outrage.
“These men expressed contrition for what they said was a mistake, but meanwhile extremists like Wirathu have incited violence in the name of Buddhism and publicly attacked a senior U.N. official with truly offensive remarks,” [executive director of Bangkok-based group Fortify Rights Matt] Smith said.
It was (and still is) faith-based lunacy. The men are serving a two-and-a-half year sentence for that harmless image because these hard-line Buddhists are just like extremist Muslims in the sense that they can’t handle anyone else not taking their holy figure seriously.
Common sense? Who needs it. Intentions? They don’t matter.
Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of people refer to Buddhism as a harmless faith. But this incident just shows you what happens when religious dogma of any sort goes unchecked. Whenever you hold beliefs that cannot be questioned (or mocked or even alluded to in a non-religious way), you’re setting yourself up for trouble. When a nation is run on that idea, people who did nothing wrong can be punished for mere slights against the majority.
These guys will still be in jail for another 1.5 years. For a silly picture they posted on Facebook. Because extremist Buddhists couldn’t handle it.
(Thanks to Joe for the link)