Sri Lanka to deport Buddha tattoo British woman

Naomi Coleman Naomi Coleman was arrested at Bandaranaike International Airport on Monday

Related Stories

A British tourist is to be deported from Sri Lanka because of a Buddha tattoo on her arm.

Naomi Coleman was arrested as she arrived at the airport in the capital Colombo after authorities spotted the tattoo on her right arm.

A police spokesman said the 37-year-old from Coventry was arrested for "hurting others' religious feelings".

Ms Coleman is being held at an immigration detention camp after a magistrate ordered her deportation.

She is expected to be removed within days.

Sri Lanka is particularly sensitive about images of the Buddha.

Practised religion

Ms Coleman said there was initially no problem with officials but two taxi drivers and a plain clothes police officer told her she was breaking the law and brought her to a police station to make a statement.

Ms Coleman, a mental health nurse, told the BBC: "I got to the airport in Sri Lanka. It was fine. They stamped my passport. There was no problem.

Naomi Coleman's tattoo Ms Coleman's tattoo shows a Buddha sitting on a lotus flower

"I had a short-sleeved top on which showed my tattoo which has got a Buddha on and another Hindu tattoo underneath. There was no problem there.

"It was just when I was taking my suitcases out, one of the taxi men at the stand stopped me and said, 'Oh, this is a big problem in Sri Lanka, you've got a Buddha tattoo.'"

She said she told police in a statement that she practised Buddhism and had attended meditation retreats and workshops in Thailand, India, Cambodia and Nepal.

Ms Coleman said she had to spend Monday night in prison in Negombo, near the airport, after appearing in court.

"I went on the stand, they called me. But they didn't let me speak or plead my case. They were just talking among themselves," she said.

"Then they said, 'You're being deported.' I said, 'I've got another trip booked to the Maldives, can I just go there, I'll leave Sri Lanka then.' They said, 'No, you'll have to be deported back to your home country and you'll need to go to prison for the night.'

Ms Coleman said she was persuaded to hire a lawyer for 5,000 rupees (£25/$38) but claimed he did not communicate with her and she did not believe her statement was conveyed to anyone.

She has been told to return to the UK but may have to wait several days because the authorities said they were carrying out extensive security checks on her "like I'm a criminal or something".

The British High Commission in Colombo said: "We are aware of the case and are providing appropriate consular assistance."

Sensitivity of issue

Authorities regularly take strict action against perceived insults to Buddhism, which is the religion of the island's majority ethnic Sinhalese.

Map of Sri Lanka Ms Coleman arrived in Sri Lanka from India

Ms Coleman arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport on Monday, having flown from India. Her tattoo features a Buddha sitting on top of a lotus flower.

Last March, another British tourist was denied entry at Colombo's international airport because immigration officials said he had spoken "disrespectfully" when asked about a tattoo of the Buddha on his arm.

Antony Ratcliffe later spoke of his "shock" at the incident, insisting that he followed Buddhist teachings and thought a tattoo was an apt tribute.

Two years ago, three French tourists were given suspended prison sentences for kissing a Buddha statue.

The UK travel advice on Sri Lanka warns of the sensitivity of the issue and tells visitors not to pose for photos in front of statues of Buddha.

Over the past year monks belonging to certain hardline Buddhist groups have led violent attacks against Muslims and Christians, a trend which has given rise to considerable concern among religious minorities in Sri Lanka.

Naomi Michelle Coleman Ms Coleman is being held in an immigration detention camp awaiting her removal from Sri Lanka
Buddha statue The Sri Lankan authorities take tough action against perceived insults to Buddhism

More on This Story

Related Stories

From other news sites

* May require registration or subscription

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Asia stories

RSS

Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • SkeletonRobot skeleton

    BBC Future discovers how a pair of bionic legs helped get Daniel Fukuchi back on his feet

Programmes

  • Click reporter Jen Copestake looks at a smart mirrorClick Watch

    From the mirror offering beauty advice to next gen robot vacuums - the connected home of the future

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.