Naomi Coleman filed the action in the Supreme Court in Colombo on Wednesday seeking 10 million rupees ($78,000) in compensation from Sri Lanka’s police, immigration and prison authorities.
“We have filed the papers on the basis that her rights were violated as a result of her arrest, detention and deportation,” lawyer Vishwa de Livera Tennekoon told AFP. A hearing date has not yet been set.
Coleman, a 37-year-old mental health nurse, was arrested shortly after arriving at Sri Lanka’s main international airport in April over the tattoo on her upper right arm, which authorities found offensive.
Sri Lanka, a majority Buddhist nation, is highly sensitive to perceived insults to the religion.
A local magistrate ordered Coleman’s jailing and deportation three days later over the tattoo, which shows Buddha seated on a pink lotus flower.
Coleman has told AFP that she feared being raped during her one-night stay in Negombo prison near the airport, after a male prison guard made lewd gestures indicating he wanted to have sex with her.
A female guard at Negombo also demanded a bribe to avoid undergoing a “thorough” body search, she said.
Coleman was later transferred to a detention centre in Colombo before her deportation on April 24.
Sri Lanka’s Tourism Promotion Bureau paid for her return ticket and has expressed regret for the entire incident.
Coleman has insisted that she is a devout Buddhist and that the tattoo is a mark of respect.
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 authorities considered a sign of disrespect.
Sri Lanka prevented US rap star Akon from visiting in 2010 over a music video that featured scantily clad women dancing in front of a Buddha statue. (AFP)