Naypyidaw: A bar manager from New Zealand on Friday told a Myanmar court he had "no intention" of insulting religion when he used a mocked-up image of the Buddha wearing headphones to promote a cheap drinks night.
Philip Blackwood, a general manager of the VGastro bar, posted the offending photo on the bar`s Facebook page on December 10, triggering widespread anger in the predominately Buddhist country, which is witnessing a surge in Buddhist nationalist sentiment.
The 32-year-old was arrested alongside two Myanmar nationals -- Tun Thurein, the bar`s 40-year-old owner, and manager Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 26.
The trio face possible jail terms if found guilty of breaching the Religion Act with the contentious poster, which was quickly withdrawn from the bar`s Facebook page as the furore erupted.
"I had no intention at all of insulting religion. I only did it for promotional purposes for my shop. I`m not guilty," Blackwood told the court in comments read out in Burmese by a judge.
When the prosecutor asked whether he knew the law before entering the country, Blackwood said he did not fully understand the legal system.
"I`m not guilty as I honestly posted it without knowing this problem could occur," he added, according to the judge.
Under the act, anyone who attempts to insult, destroy or damage any religion can be punished by a maximum of two years in jail, with another two-year penalty for those who try to insult religion through the written word.
The accused are being held in Yangon`s notorious Insein prison. Trials in Myanmar`s creaking judicial system can drag on for months.
Several monks and a few hardline Buddhists listened to the hearing, while dozens of armed riot police armed were standing by at the court compound.
Myanmar has been wrestling with religious violence between Muslims and Buddhists, mainly in Rakhine State, for the last two years.
VGastro, a tapas restaurant and nightclub in an upmarket neighbourhood of Yangon, was shut shortly after the poster came to light, despite a Facebook apology by management for their "ignorance" in using the Buddha`s image.