A British tourist displays a tattoo of the Buddha on her upper arm, after she was arrested at Sri Lanka’s main international airport.
A 37-year-old British nurse has recounted her “hellish” experience in Sri Lanka after she was arrested and sent to a deportation centre for sporting a Buddha tattoo deemed offensive by authorities.
Naomi Coleman was arrested at the country’s main international airport on Monday shortly after her arrival on a flight from neighbouring India and appeared before a magistrate who ordered her deportation, police said in a statement.
“It is a terrible, hellish experience,” Ms Coleman, a mental health nurse from Coventry in England, said from the Sri Lankan deportation centre.
“I am a practising Buddhist and meditate. That is why I have the tattoo – not out of disrespect for Buddhism.”
Earlier, pulling up her white T-shirt, Ms Coleman displayed the tattoo of a meditating Buddha seated on a pink lotus flower on the upper part of her right arm.
She said the tattoo had never created problems when she visited the country twice before or even in other Buddhist countries like Thailand and Cambodia.
Ms Coleman said that she was never told what charges were brought against her, but was held for six hours and harassed by police for bribes.
She paid 5000 rupees ($38) for a lawyer, who did not help her, she added.
“I cried. I am very afraid,” she said.
Sri Lanka, a majority Buddhist nation, is highly sensitive to perceived insults to the religion.
Sri Lanka barred another British tourist from entering the island in March last year for showing “disrespect” to Buddhism by having a Buddha tattooed on his arm.
In August 2012, three French tourists were sentenced to six months in jail, which was suspended for five years, for kissing a Buddha statue in what the authorities considered a sign of disrespect.
Sri Lanka prevented US rap star Akon from visiting in 2010 over one of his music videos that featured scantily clad women dancing in front of a Buddha statue.
It was not immediately clear to which country the detained British woman would be deported or when she would be put on a flight.
Sri Lanka to deport Buddha tattoo British woman – BBC
Naomi Coleman Naomi Coleman was arrested at Bandaranaike International Airport on Monday
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.
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.
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
Sri Lanka to British tourist: Deported for your looks
Sri Lanka wants tourists, but not with a Buddha tattoo. A tourist from the United Kingdom is currently in a Sri Lanka detention jail for her looks. The British consulate is assisting her, but deportation is imminent.
Sri Lankan police said Naomi Michelle Coleman, 37, was arrested at Bandaranaike International Airport in the capital, Colombo, after she arrived to Sri Lanka from India.
A police spokesman said she was arrested for “hurting others’ religious feelings” after the tattoo of a Buddha seated on a lotus flower was spotted on her right arm.
Buddhism is the religion of the country’s majority ethnic Sinhalese and Buddhist tattoos are seen as culturally insensitive.
After her arrest Coleman appeared before a magistrate who ordered her deportation.
The spokesman said she is currently being held at an immigration detention centre until deportation and said she would be removed “very soon – it could be tomorrow or the day after tomorrow”.
Antony Ratcliffe was reportedly deported for showing a Buddha tattoo on his arm in March last year.