A Myanmar court has sentenced a Dutch tourist to three months in prison for pulling the plug on a late-night sermon he said was disturbing his sleep. He's the latest foreigner legally sanctioned for slighting Buddhism.
Dutch national Klaas Haytema wept and embraced his girlfriend Thursday following the Myanmar court's guilty verdict handing him a three-month jail sentence and fine of 100,000 kyats (about 70 euros, $79).
Haytema was arrested last month in the country's cultural capital Mandalay after a crowd gathered around his hotel in protest when the loudspeakers at a nearby religious hall were unplugged.
The 30-year-old Dutchman apologized at a court hearing Tuesday, saying he was unaware a religious ceremony was in progress and had disconnected the hall's loudspeakers because they were disturbing his sleep. That's according to defense attorney Hla Ko, a Myanmar lawyer who volunteered to represent him.
Myanmar is experiencing a rising tide of radical Buddhist nationalism in recent years, with Mandalay a stronghold of the monk-led movement.
A judge convicted Haytema of "causing disturbance to an assembly lawfully engaged in the performance of religious worship," his attorney said, adding that an appeal was planned. Under the law, he could have faced up to two years in prison for insulting religion in the predominantly Buddhist country.
It's not unheard of for foreigners to run afoul of Myanmar's strict laws protecting religion. A New Zealand bar manager spent 10 months in jail for "insulting religion" last year after he used a Buddha image to promote discounted drinks at his bar. A Spanish tourist was deported this summer after monks complained of a Buddha tattoo on the man's leg.
Religion is an important part of daily life for many in the majority Buddhist country, where crimson-robed monks walk the streets every morning and prayer halls regularly blast hypnotic chants on loudspeakers late into the evening. The monks are also part of a vanguard of rising religious nationalism that's seen clashes with minorities.
jar/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP)