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Mental health nurse receives apology over Sri Lanka arrest

A British nurse has been offered a holiday in Sri Lanka by way of an apology, after she was arrested in the country because of a Buddha tattoo on her arm.

Naomi Coleman, 37, landed at Bandaranaike International Airport in the capital city of Colombo on April 21 but was quickly detained by police, who claimed her tattoo hurt the religious feelings of others.

The mental health nurse from Coventry practises Buddhism and had attended a number of meditation retreats and workshops in Thailand, India, Cambodia and Nepal before touching down in Sri Lanka.

She was deported back to London after a court refused her permission to continue travelling to The Maldives.

Buddhism is the religion of Sri Lanka’s largest ethnic group, the Sinhalese, and authorities in the country take strict action against any perceived insults towards it.

Another British tourist with a Buddha tattoo was arrested in 2013, while three French visitors were each given suspended prison sentences for kissing a Buddha statue in 2012.

Buddha

Buddha

R&B star Akon was refused a Sri Lankan visa in 2010 after his video for Sexy Chick, which featured a pool party in front of a Buddha statue, caused offence and widespread protests. He was later forced to apologise to Sri Lankan Buddhists.

Ms Coleman spent a night in prison in Negombo and a further two nights in a detention centre, while security checks were carried out following her deportation order.

She was visited at the centre by an embassy official and a representative from Sri Lanka’s Tourism Development Authority, who paid for her flight home and also offered to fly her back for a free holiday in future.

Readers' comments (15)

  • I just don't get why people have tattoos, but I have sympathy for Naomi's treatment.

    I personally wouldn't accept the offer as the risk of re-arrest must be extremely high, however if the Maldives is not a Sri Lankan territory I think she should hold out for a holiday there as intended - at the expense of the Sri Lankan Government.

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  • should always appreciate " acceptance of guilty" may be from a person or a government or whoever. Also "forgiveness" is something we all should practice rather being hatred as buddhism or christianity or any other religion preaches.

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  • Being a Buddhist, I strongly feel that there is no harm in tattooing Buddha image on any one's body. It reflects how attached that person is to Buddha. Always someone tends to Tattoo a picture or phrase he or she likes the most.

    It's stupid that Sri Lankan officials are now blind folded. Buddhism is not a religion like many others. There shouldn't be any fear of any god. It's philosophy.. a way of life. Even now Buddhism in Sri Lanka is being politicised.

    Naomi, sorry for what happened to you while trying to enter in to Sri Lanka. Please accept the free trip with an assurance that you will be passed through immigration without any hassle or being arrested!!! Think strongly that court should have ruled this otherwise.

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  • I fully agree with Chanaka. Being a Buddhist she will forgive SL government I hope.
    Buddhism never impose its doctrine to anyone and it is totally voluntary. Followers can freely embrace or denude teaching as they wish.There is no place for racism and every one in this world is same .

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  • I fully agree with Chanaka. Being a Buddhist she will forgive SL government I hope.
    Buddhism never impose its doctrine to anyone and it is totally voluntary. Followers can freely embrace or denude teaching as they wish.There is no place for racism and every one in this world is same .

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  • Fully agree with Chanaka. What a shame !!
    Lankans are hospitable people. Buddhism is a philosophy and does not impose rules on others. very sorry this has happen to Ms Coleman. SL government should take immediate action against cabbies who makes a living by cheating visitors.

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  • Just have to take care when going abroad, especially to countries that are a hotbed of social and religious divisions and poverty. I would never go to Sri Lanka. Not because of this incident, but due to hostilities and warring factions that are ongoing; and high levels of social disadvantages that can cause this type of ignorant and dangerous behaviour.

    It seems that many are happy to exploit our tolerance, liberalism, and generous social benefits including free health care; but not happy to repay when we visit their countries.

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  • I will never forget the terrible insult to the couple who were getting married in the Maldives by the people conducting the ceremony a couple of years ago.

    During the seemingly serene proceedings the couple were poked fun at and insulted, she was called a "whore" and a "slag" all in whatever language is it that they speak, the unfortunate couple and their very few guests totally unaware of the proceedings, whilst the staff sniggered in the background.

    This was not discovered until the dvd was shown to people at home some time later, and someone in the audience just happened to pick up or understand what was going on.

    People save up for years for a holiday or experience of a lifetime only to have it ruined by petty and ignorant local people who have painted false smiles but contempt in their hearts.

    Maybe Naomi had a lucky escape.

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  • I think it is important to understand the cultural differences, it may be OK to have a tattoo of Buddha in UK but not in other countries.

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  • The question is , why did it happen?

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  • commenting on the above...vacationing in these places...must do your research before you go...
    ...feel for these people...no one should be treated badly especially when they pay for a vacation....

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  • Anonymous | 26-Apr-2014 10:01 am

    what an incredibly sad story when one considers the emotional and financial investment which goes into such a very special day.

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  • It's great that you Buddhist are standing up for what you believe in. I hope you will all denounce intentions to pass laws for euthanasia!!! We, nurses, must speak out-the Dr's wont do it, largely speaking, so it will be the nurses. I am a Bible Believing Christian but believe in freedom of speech but if signs, tattoos, etc. offend or are against the law in any country I visit, I respect that too and would have covered up the tattoo, (wouldn't have one any way as God says not to mark the flesh)

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  • sally carson | 29-Apr-2014 9:09 am

    stupid comment, one of many!

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  • Whilst sorry for Naomi, and not agreeing with all of Sally's post (despite also being Christian) I too don't understand (without more info re: site) why tattoo couldn't just be covered (& it would make sense for Sri Lankan authorities to suggest that, leaving the tattoo not to offend people there but avoid arresting/deporting people). I remember when travelling around Italy having to cover shoulders in several churches so as not to offend, but you weren't turned away - you were offered a scarf/shawl to wear = respect on both sides for each others cultures

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