Correspondent (Asia – South)
COLOMBO – On Friday 15th March Antony Ratcliffe from Nottingham was stopped in Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka for apparently showing disrespect towards Buddhism.
The 42-year-old was en route from London to Malaysia on a 12-hour flight which arrived in Colombo’s main airport for a stop. Ratcliffe had a two-day tourist visa and as he was leaving the airport, immigration officials saw the head of the Buddha tattoo peeking out from under the sleeve of his T-shirt.
“As soon as he saw it the chief officer went crazy. You could see it on his face, he looked really angry and said I would have to go back to London,” states Ratcliffe. “They took my passport and held me there for an hour and a half. All the time they were bringing people in to look at my arm, and they were shaking their heads.”
An unknown immigration officer claims that Ratcliffe spoke “very disrespectfully” about Buddhism. However, the Briton claims that he remained calm during the whole thing. Ratcliffe also said that he was trying to explain himself to the chief officer but the officer told him to “shut up, shut up” and refused to talk to him.
Ratcliffe explains how due to his belief in Buddhist philosophy, which he has followed for many years, he thought he should get a “quality tattoo of the Buddha,” he says. According to Ratcliffe, he thought long and hard about getting the tattoo and it was not a spur of the moment decision. According to him, the “inoffensive” tattoo on his upper left arm was done as a tribute.
The British tourist was allowed to continue with his journey to Malaysia but had to endure further questioning when he landed.
Similar incidences have occurred in Sri Lanka. Last year, three French tourists seen to be posing with a Buddha statue, and pretending to be kissing it were given suspended prison sentences. Also more famously, well-known American R ‘n’ B singer Akon was not granted a visa into the country in 2010 when protests were made against his Sexy Chick video, which features a raunchy pool party with a Buddha statue in the far background.
The UK foreign office has given a warning to people travelling to Sri Lanka saying – “The mistreatment of Buddhist images and artefacts is a serious offence and tourists have been convicted for this.” They also advise that tourists “don’t pose for photographs by standing in front of a statue of Buddha.”
Image Courtesy: CGehlen (http://www.flickr.com/photos/rumble1973/3051253255/sizes/o/in/photostream/)span>