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Published: Wednesday April 23, 2014 MYT 5:42:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday April 23, 2014 MYT 5:45:31 PM

UK tourist recounts 'hellish' time in Sri Lanka over Buddha tattoo

British tourist Naomi Coleman poses for a photograph after she was arrested at the country's main international airport and later ordered with deportation for having a tattoo of the Buddha, in Colombo on April 22, 2014

British tourist Naomi Coleman poses for a photograph after she was arrested at the country's main international airport and later ordered with deportation for having a tattoo of the Buddha, in Colombo on April 22, 2014

Colombo (AFP) - A 37-year-old British nurse recounted Tuesday her "hellish" experience in Sri Lanka after she was arrested and sent to a deportation centre for sporting a Buddha tattoo deemed offensive by authorities.

Naomi Coleman was arrested at the country's main international airport on Monday shortly after her arrival on a flight from neighbouring India and appeared before a magistrate who ordered her deportation, police said in a statement.

"It is a terrible, hellish experience," Coleman, a mental health nurse from Coventry in England, told AFP by telephone at the Sri Lankan deportation centre.

"I am a practising Buddhist and meditate. That is why I have the tattoo -- not out of disrespect for Buddhism."

Earlier, pulling up her white t-shirt, Coleman displayed for an AFP photographer the tattoo of a meditating Buddha seated on a pink lotus flower on the upper part of her right arm.

She said the tatoo had never created problems when she visited the country twice before or even in other Buddhist countries like Thailand and Cambodia.

Coleman said that she was never told what charges were brought against her, but was held for six hours and harassed by police for bribes.

She paid 5,000 rupees ($38) for a lawyer, who did not help her, she added.

"I cried. I am very afraid," she told AFP.

Sri Lanka, a majority Buddhist nation, is highly sensitive to perceived insults to the religion.

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 the authorities considered a sign of disrespect.

Sri Lanka prevented US rap star Akon from visiting in 2010 over one of his music videos which featured scantily clad women dancing in front of a Buddha statue.

It was not immediately clear to which country the detained British woman would be deported or when she would be put on a flight.

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