Tourist faces jail over pulling plug on prayer sermon

By Lauren McMah

Police accuse the Dutch tourist of insulting religion by pulling the plug on a speaker relaying a late-night Buddhist sermon in Mandalay. Photo / 123rf
Police accuse the Dutch tourist of insulting religion by pulling the plug on a speaker relaying a late-night Buddhist sermon in Mandalay. Photo / 123rf

A tourist is facing two years in a Burmese prison after he pulled a loudspeaker plug during a religious sermon near his hotel so he could get some sleep.

Dutch citizen Klaas Haytema, 30, has apologised for the September 23 incident, in which he allegedly disconnected the amplifier during late-night Buddhist prayers at a religious hall in the tourist city of Mandalay in northern Myanmar.

Soldiers were deployed to protect Haytema from an angry mob of people who gathered outside his hotel after he silenced the sermon.

He was arrested and charged with insulting religion and has been detained while awaiting trial.

"I wanted to sleep desperately. I couldn't stand the noise and checked outside the hotel," Haytema said at an initial court hearing, according to the Coconuts Asia news website.

"I saw that children were playing. I thought that they were playing it [the sermon] and disconnected the amplifier.

"I did not notice that it was a religious building. I am really sorry and I really apologise."

The man who was reciting the sermon pressed charges against Haytema for insulting the Buddhist religion.

A local legal officer recommended the alleged offence was serious enough to warrant a criminal trial, The Telegraph reported. The offence carries a two-year jail sentence.

In a further blow to Haytema, immigration officials have also charged him with violating the terms of his visa.

Local immigration department head Thaung Dan told the Myanmar Times Haytema had breached two provisions in the visa: that visitors should follow the existing laws of Myanmar, as well as the customs of Myanmar.

"If someone applies for a visa to enter Myanmar, they have to follow the rules and regulations laid out in the visa," he said.

Insulting religion is taken seriously among Myanmar's majority Buddhist population.

Mandalay, where Haytema allegedly committed the offence, is an especially culturally and religiously conservative region.

But the Dutch man is far from the first tourist to run afoul of Myanmar's strict rules protecting Buddhism.

New Zealand man Philip Blackwood served two and a half years after he posted a picture of Buddha on Facebook in 2014.

The online flyer included a "psychedelic" depiction of Buddha wearing headphones and was used to promote cheap drinks at a bar event. Blackwood was released on amnesty 10 months into his sentence.

In July, a Spanish tourist was reportedly kicked out of Myanmar after monks in the ancient town of Bagan took offence an exposed tattoo of Buddha on his leg.

The influence of religious hardliners appears to be intensifying in Myanmar in response to the country's new civilian-led government's enthusiasm for tourism and foreign investment.

- news.com.au

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