Buddha tattoo woman flies from Sri Lanka 'with apology'

Naomi Coleman: "I've been treated like a criminal"

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A British tourist arrested in Sri Lanka because she had a Buddha tattoo on her arm said she has been offered a holiday in the country "as an apology".

Naomi Coleman will arrive in London later, following a deportation order, as a court refused her permission to continue travelling to The Maldives.

Police said she was arrested for "hurting others' religious feelings" when she arrived at the airport in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on Monday.

The holiday offer was made as she left.

Ms Coleman, a mental health nurse from Coventry, flew in to Bandaranaike International Airport from India.

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

The 37-year-old said she told police she practised Buddhism and had attended meditation retreats and workshops in Thailand, India, Cambodia and Nepal.

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

In 2013, another British tourist with a tattoo of the Buddha, Antony Ratcliffe, was also denied entry at Colombo's airport.

A year earlier, three French tourists were given suspended prison sentences for kissing a Buddha statue.

Following Ms Coleman's deportation order, she spent a night in prison in Negombo and two nights in a detention centre while security checks were carried out.

She said she was visited at the centre by an embassy official and a representative from Sri Lanka's Tourism Development Authority.

The authority paid for her flight home in business class and also offered to fly her back for a free holiday in future.

A spokesman said: "Since she couldn't enjoy her stay... we are ready to welcome her back".

However, because of the court order on her deportation, he added: "Technically we will have to obtain clearance from the judiciary whether she can travel covering the tattoo in Sri Lanka".

Police spokesman, Ajith Rohana, said she was convicted under a law which forbids "Deliberately and maliciously outraging the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs". He added: "We know tourists don't do this intentionally".

Sri Lankan tourism

  • Tourism in Sri Lanka has grown 47% between April 2013 and April 2014
  • British tourists are the second-highest number of foreign visitors
  • The UK travel advice is to avoid displaying tattoos of Buddha or posing for photos in front of Buddha statues

"They've admitted it was wrong, all that happened," Ms Coleman said. "But I'm still having to be deported."

'Never offend'

Her mother, Julie Mockford, said: "She's been treated like a criminal. To be honest, if she'd have known about that there's no way she would have gone there, or displayed the tattoo anyway.

"She'd never mean to offend anyone, she's a good person."

Her best friend in Coventry, Alicia Berry, said: "They said sorry and offered her an all-inclusive trip as compensation but when I spoke to her she said there's no way she'd ever go back.

"It's a shame as she's visited there twice before with no problems and had happy memories of the place."

UK travel advice for Sri Lanka describes the country's sensitivity about "mistreatment" of Buddhist imagery and warns against visible tattoos of Buddha.

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