In the four years since Sri Lanka ended its bloody civil war, the nation has transformed from a travel no-go to a must-see destination for 2013. But if you make the journey to this long-overlooked South Asian island, you’d better cover up your Buddha tattoo.
Immigration officials in Colombo denied entry to British tourist Antony Ratcliffe Friday after deeming his arm tattoo “disrespectful to Buddha.”
“When questioned about the tattoo, he spoke very disrespectfully about Buddhism,” an immigration worker told the daily Lankadeepa Sinhalese. “If he expressed such views after entering the country, it would have been a threat to his own safety.”
Airport officials confirmed the incident, but declined to offer any further details.
The U.K.’s Foreign Office warns travelers to Sri Lanka that “the mistreatment of Buddhist images and artifacts is a serious offense,” adding “tourists have been convicted for this.”
Ratcliffe told BBC News Sunday that his “inoffensive” body art actually was meant as a tribute to the religion, but immigration officials at Bandaranaike International Airport saw things differently.
"As soon as he saw [the tattoo], the chief officer went crazy,” Ratcliffe said. “They took my passport and held me there for an hour and a half. All the time they were bringing people in to look at my arm, and they were shaking their heads.”
Ratcliffe, who claimed to be a practicing Buddhist, said he thought “a quality tattoo of the Buddha was rather apt.”
Authorities in the predominantly Buddhist nation are notoriously tough on perceived insults to Buddhism, and the 42-year-old Britton is the second tattooed tourist this year to cause offense.
In February, a Dutch tourist was arrested for displaying a large Buddha tattoo on her back in Kandy, Sri Lanka’s cultural capital and home to the famous Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. She was fined and later released after she apologized for causing offense.
Three French tourists were sentenced to six months in jail last August after pretending to kiss a Buddha statue, a sign of disrespect in Sri Lanka. The sentence was later suspended for five years, but signs now abound at the nation’s popular attractions warning visitors against potential acts of insolence.