Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sri Lanka: Update--British Tourist, RN, 37, Gets a Free Ride Home to the UK Compliments of the Government

According to http://www.telegraph.co.uk, British tourist and Registered Nurse Naomi Coleman, 37, after being mistreated and scheduled for deportation from Colombo minutes after arriving in the capital for having a large tattoo on her arm revealing a a Buddha, the nurse strangely is en-route back to the UK compliments of the the Sri Lankan government.

Sri Lankan authorities have apologized to a British nurse who was detained over her Buddha tattoo and paid for her flight back to the UK. 

Naomi Coleman was initially arrested for “hurting others’ religious feelings” after the tattoo of a Buddha sitting on a lotus flower was spotted on her right arm upon entry in the country.

In a very strange about-face, Ms. Coleman was arrested after a dispute with a taxi driver over an inflated fare, at which point the driver pointed out her tattoo to police.

Coleman spent a scary night in prison, where she feared she would be raped, before being transferred to a detention center on the outskirts of the capital.

It is understood that the British High Commission is to lodge a complaint with Sri Lanka's External Affairs Ministry over her treatment.  

COMMENT: Interestingly, effective April 23, 2014, the British Foreign Office amended its warnings to include advice against the display of tattoos and/or photography with Buddha sculpture:

https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/sri-lanka/local-laws-and-customs

Unfortunately, the supplemental information on Sri Lanka's  preoccupation re: Buddha images, was not in time for the Foreign Office to spare Ms. Coleman her fear of being traumatized and potentially raped while in detention.

Even though the Sri Lankan government has been deporting foreign travelers for years, it is remiss of the Foreign Office to not have issued travel warnings before.

Even in the US Department of State's website, http://www.travel.state.gov, effective December 12, 2013, there is no warning for US citizens urging them to cover up Buddha-related tattoos or banning traveler photography depicting tourists with Buddha sculpture:

http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/sri-lanka

Miss Coleman, who is expected to land in Heathrow on Thursday night (April 24), had been planning to travel on to the Maldives, but was forced to cut her dream holiday short because no airline would transport her without security approval. 

Sri Lanka's government-run Tourism Promotion Bureau paid for her ticket to the UK and an official apologized to her personally for the “unfortunate incident."

Coleman, a psychiatric nurse from Coventry, revealed that when she landed in Colombo on Monday (April 21), she tried to get a taxi from the airport to her hotel in the nearby town of Negombo. 

The driver demanded an “extortionate” Rs 15,000, around £68 (US$114), when the fare should not have exceeded a couple of thousand rupees (US$15), at which point Coleman and the driver got into a heated dispute argument. 

As a result, the driver took her to nearby police and pointed to the Buddha tattoo on her upper right arm. 

The Briton was dragged before a magistrate and imprisoned on the grounds that she tried to outrage public sensitivities. Buddhism is the religion of the country’s majority ethnic Sinhalese and Buddha tattoos are seen as culturally insensitive. 

Since then she has been through “hell”, Miss Coleman said, fearing she would be raped by a male prison guard who made a lewd gestures and was forced to bribe a female guard to avoid a “thorough” body search. 

Authorities insist they will investigate her claim once a formal complaint was made. 

Sri Lanka is highly sensitive to perceived insults to Buddhism, but Coleman stated that she is a devout Buddhist and the tattoo was out of respect and conviction.

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. 

Coleman's experience has prompted the British Foreign Office to update their advice for those wishing to visit Sri Lanka.

The Foreign Office now warns: 

"The mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts is a serious offense and tourists have been convicted for this. British nationals have been refused entry to Sri Lanka or faced deportation for having visible tattoos of Buddha. Don’t pose for photographs by standing in front of a statue of Buddha.”