We have yet another crackdown on free speech in the name of religion. A New Zealand bar manager in Myanmar was arrested with two Myanmar employees for “insulting Buddha” by posting an advertisement showing a psychedelic image of Buddha wearing headphones. Philip Blackwood was arrested with the bar’s owner, Tun Thurein, and an employee. The men could be sent to prison for two years because the image insulted Buddhists.
The image, which shows a neon pink Buddha wearing DJ-style headphones, was posted on the bar’s Facebook page. It quickly came to the attention of the Religious Department, which filed a criminal complaint.
The bar removed the picture and posted an apology that “Our intention was never to cause offense to anyone. Our ignorance is embarrassing.” There are very good reasons not to post the image of a religious figure in such an advertisement. However, such images are also part of free speech and can be posted for political, religious, commercial, or a mix of such forms of speech. It should be protected. Indeed, the very existence of a “Religious Department” in government in problematic for many who believe that the separation of religion and state is a key component of a free nation.
Under the governing law, it is a crime to attempt to insult, destroy or damage any religion.
Much of this writing has focused on the effort of the Obama Administration to reach an accommodation with allies like Egypt and Pakistan to develop a standard for criminalizing anti-religious speech. We have been following the rise of anti-blasphemy laws around the world, including the increase in prosecutions in the West and the support of the Obama Administration for the prosecution of some anti-religious speech under the controversial Brandenburg standard.
While most of this effort has been taken by Muslim countries, this case shows that the effort to curtail speech in the name of religion is not confined to those countries. Indeed, countries like Ireland have blasphemy laws.
V Gastro bar is a tapas restaurant and nightclub in a Yangon embassy area. Phillips said that the ad was merely an effort to attract attention and “Buddha grabs people’s interest.” Well, he was certainly right there.
Source: NZ Herald