According to Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa, anyone can have any number of Buddha, Jesus, Rama, Seetha or Vishnu tattoos on their body, because the Penal Code Section 291B does not refer to tattoos and was misinterpreted in the recent case involving a British tourist. Referring to the ‘unholy’ arrest and deportation of Buddha tattooed UK tourist, Naomi Coleman, who had a passion for Buddhism, the minister said it was ‘really a sad state of affairs’.
“First of all, Buddhism preaches to embrace all religions,” he said.
The minister said the Penal Code 291B states, “Whoever, with the deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of persons, by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representations, insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both,” and that is not about tattoos but refers to something else and it was misinterpreted.
“It was just that a person had some kind of hatred towards her and he had reported her to the police, who handled the issue irresponsibly,” he added.
“Who said we cannot have tattoos? I have seen so many tattoos that reads… ‘Buddhu Wewa, Budu Saranai and so forth, and even an ardent fan of our President have his name tattooed. Can we sue them calling it an insult?” he asked.
“The law is not to be dealt with as and when we wanted. The law does not refer to the tattoo at all. It was only misinterpreted and Coleman was placed along with other criminals. It would have been a serious issue if she was remanded for two years or fined heavily, which is the punishment under the Penal Code.”
He went on to say that deportation is not mentioned as punishment for breaking that law, however, the judge was wise enough to order her to be deported.
“We have informed the IGP to announce it to all the police stations to act with responsibility when tattoos are spotted on tourists,” he stressed.
He said that as soon as he heard about Coleman, he had called the Immigration and Emigration Controller, Chulananda Perera, who was on leave at the time.
The minister said, “Perera told me in his entire public service, the detention of this UK tourist was the ‘worst’ experience he had to deal with and wanted her to be deported soon without further upsetting the image of Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile, Coleman told Ceylon Today that her phone has been tampered with even while she was at the detention centre.
In an email from the UK, Coleman stated, “It turns out my phones have been tampered with, after I was taken to the detention centre.”
She said at the deportation centre, an official turned up and wanted to check her bag and he had asked her what phones she was using. “Because I always carry my English phone and another handset which I can alternate the sim I showed it.” On returning to England my phone was operating for a few hours, as reporters were contacting me, then it went off halfway through the conversation.
“My friend who tried to contact me had a text from my number saying ‘we can discuss details later’. She thought it was strange as we had arranged to meet. My friend sent me another text asking is this Naomi Coleman and she had received a ‘piss off’.” ( Ceylon Today)