Tears flow as pardoned Kiwi Phil Blackwood arrives home

New Zealander Phil Blackwood had an emotional reunion with his family when he returned home on January 29, a week after being pardoned in a presidential amnesty for 102 prisoners.

Mr Blackwood, 34, who had spent 13 months in Yangon’s Insein prison, was embraced by family members after arriving in the New Zealand capital, Wellington.

Jail had been very difficult, he said, holding his daughter, Sasha, 16 months.

“I slept on a wooden pallet for 13 months and every night when I went to sleep, I never wished for a softer bed. I just wished for my family,” online news site stuff.co.nz quoted him as saying.

Mr Blackwood, the former general manager of the V Gastro Bar, its owner U Tun Thurein, 42, and manager Ko Htut Ko Ko Lwin, 28, were detained on charges of insulting religion and disobeying a public servant in December 2014. They were sentenced the following March to two-and-a-half years in prison, including two years with hard labour for insulting religion.

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The charges followed the posting on social media of a psychedelic image of the Buddha wearing headphones to promote a cheap drinks night at the newly-opened Bahan Township bar, which has closed.

The promotion drew an angry reaction on social media. It was quickly removed from the bar’s Facebook page and replaced by an apology that expressed sincere regret on behalf of the management.

Mr Blackwood arrived in Wellington after landing in Auckland, where he was reunited with his father after a direct flight from Bangkok.

Mr Blackwood left Insein for Yangon International Airport on January 28 amid confusion over the reason for his delayed release from prison, including reports that his passport had been lost.

It was unclear why Mr Blackwood did not travel home via Australia. Had he stopped over there he would have been required, as a foreigner who has spent time in jail because of a criminal conviction, to apply for a visa.

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