18 Mar 2015

Family to appeal Myanmar jail sentence

6:50 pm on 18 March 2015

The father of New Zealander Philip Blackwood says the family is appealing the 18-month prison sentence handed to him by a Myanmar court.

Philip Blackwood leaving court in Yangon.

Philip Blackwood leaving court in Yangon. Photo: AFP

Mr Blackwood and his business partners Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin were yesterday sentenced to two-and-a-half years of hard labour after they used an image of Buddha wearing headphones to promote their Yangon bar on social media.

The trio are likely to be held at the city's notorious Insein prison, where they have already spent the past four months.

Philip Blackwood's father Brian said he had been sending his son money as the conditions in the prison were poor.

"He's handled himself remarkably well, he's obviously got problems and issues with sleep deprivation as he is sleeping on a pallet, but yeah - the facilities there are pretty basic, as you might imagine."

Mr Blackwood said he communicated with his son through Philip's fiancée Naomi, who has had some help from the New Zealand Consulate, but they were wary of interfering.

Philip Blackwood spoke to reporters outside court in Myanmar yesterday.

"Pretty disappointing, really; it's more than the maximum sentence. I said I was sorry so many times."

He said he had hoped for justice.

The families of the other two men say it was all his doing - and it was unfair that he dragged the others with him.

Phillip Blackwood (left) led into court in Yangon with Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin.

Phillip Blackwood (left) led into court in Yangon with Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin. Photo: SUPPLIED

A relative of Tun Thurein, Myat Nandar, has put the blame for posting the picture firmly on Mr Blackwood.

"Mr Philip already admitted it was he who did it from day one, he didn't show it to anyone, he just posted it by his own.

"It's very clear, you know, and they just decided everybody's guilty - I'm very shocked and this is very unfair."

Call for intervention

Labour MP David Shearer, who is supporting the Blackwood family, said Mr Blackwood's actions were not intended to offend, and that New Zealand should do more to help.

"The Government now needs to ramp up its approaches to the Burmese authorities and Myanmar authorities, and say, 'Look, we want to see something happen here.'"

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said they would not intervene in the judicial proceedings faced by Mr Blackwood.

David Shearer

Labour MP David Shearer Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

Amnesty International said the sentence handed down by the Myanmar judge was outrageous and that it was likely the judge was under "pressure from hard-line monks for a sentence that will set an example for others".

The organisation's New Zealand director Grant Bayldon said all three men should be released immediately as there was a difference between being insulting and breaking the law.

Brian Blackwood said he feared Myanmar officials would not pay attention to Amnesty International - and he and his wife Angela did not know what to do next.

"We are worried about him, but he's handling it really well," he said.

"We're basically at a loss of what to do next - but we're trying our hardest, we're putting feelers out to everybody that we can think of, and we are getting advice from people that we hope have the correct kind of knowledge that we need."

Mr Blackwood said they were concerned about the hard labour sentence but hopeful for the appeal in a month's time.