YANGON — Phil Blackwood, the New Zealand bar manager sent to Insein Prison in a 2015 religious offence case, left Myanmar on Thursday and is en route to Wellington, according to New Zealand officials.
Mr Blackwood, along with his co-defendants Tun Thurein and Htut Ko Ko Lwin, were officially pardoned by a presidential amnesty on January 22. Until Thursday morning, Mr Blackwood was held in Insein Prison until arrangements could be made for his deportation from the country.
“Mr Blackwood departed Myanmar today, on flights arranged by his family,” a spokesman for the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Frontier. “The New Zealand Embassy in Yangon accompanied Mr Blackwood to the airport from the prison, to help facilitate departure logistics.”
The three men, all senior managers at the V Gastro Bar in Yangon’s Bahan Township, were arrested at the end of 2014 and charged under the religious offence provisions of the Penal Code for the publication of a promotional flyer depicting the Buddha wearing headphones.
Media reports from Australia and New Zealand earlier this week claimed that officials from Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection had blocked the transit of Mr Blackwood through Sydney.
Speaking to Coconuts Yangon on Wednesday, Mr. Blackwood’s father said the reports were based on a misunderstanding, adding that he would seek to clear up any misunderstanding from Australian officials.
Another 99 people were released on January 22 from prisons across the country as part of the presidential amnesty. State-run media reported the pardon was to commemorate the conclusion of the first Union Peace Conference.