Arrest of Britisher over Buddha tattoo

After procedural delays, the Supreme Court has reserved its judgment on a Fundamental Rights Petition filed by a British tourist who challenged the infringement of her fundamental rights.

She was arrested and detained for allegedly displaying a Buddha tattoo on her upper limb at Katunayake in 2014.

In her petition, the British tourist Naomi Coleman had sought a compensation of Rs.10 million from the respondents and further sought a declaration that her detention was null and void and contrary to Articles 13(2) and 12 of the Constitution.

The petitioner Naomi Coleman, (37) a nurse by profession at the Hawkesbury Lodge, Rehabilitation Mental Health Services, had filed the petition through President’s Counsel J.C. Weliamuna and Pulasthi Hewamanne on the instructions of counsel Vishwa De Livera Tennakoon on “Pro Bono”. In her petition, she had cited the Attorney General, Police Sergeant and OIC of Katunayake police station, Controller General of Immigration and Emigration, Inspector General of Police and OIC of Negombo Prison as respondents.

The petitioner stated that she is a devout practising Buddhist, who has attended meditation retreats in Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia and India.

She stated that as a personal expression of her devotion to the Buddhist teachings, displaying a tattoo of the likeness of Lord Buddha seated on a lotus flower on her upper right arm; accordingly she is aware that there are many followers of the Buddhist path who display such tattoos as a mark of respect and reverence to their religious leader.

She stated that she visited Sri Lanka on two occasions and possessed the same tattoo and had no hindrance in displaying it on those occasions.

The petitioner stated that she arrived at the Katunayake International Airport on April 21, 2014 at or around 5.00am. She stated that an individual purporting to be a Civil Defence Officer initially informed her that her tattoo was unacceptable and asked her to the nearest police station.

She said she was deprived of her liberty to continue with her travel in Sri Lanka. The petitioner stated that on April 21 at around 10.30 am she was taken to the Negombo Magistrate’s Court and detained behind bars with several other female suspects. She stated that she was detained at the prison and transformed to the detention centre.

She said she was detained for two nights at the Mirihana immigration detention camp. She stated that she was escorted to the Airport by officers of the Immigration Department and her thumbprint was obtained. The petitioner stated that she met her friend at the airport and she was checked into the business class whereas her friend checked into the economy class of Sri Lanka Airlines flight to London.

She said her passport was kept in the custody of a member of the cabin crew of the flight during the entirety of the flight and returned to the petition upon landing in the United Kingdom.

She stated that the unlawful detention has been based on order made by the Magistrate who had made the order without any jurisdiction whatsoever and without fair inquiry.

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