Coventry & Warwickshire

Buddha tattoo woman Naomi Coleman in legal action

Naomi Coleman Image copyright AFP/Getty
Image caption Naomi Coleman was deported from Sri Lanka on Friday

A woman who was deported from Sri Lanka for featuring a tattoo of the Buddha on her arm has said she is taking legal action against the authorities.

Naomi Coleman, from Coventry, landed back in the UK on Friday after being detained for four days.

She said she had been failed by the justice system and was taking action "so it doesn't happen to anyone else".

The Sri Lanka High Commission and the Sri Lanka Ministry of Justice have been unavailable for comment.

Police previously said Ms Coleman had been prosecuted under a law that forbids people from "deliberately and maliciously outraging the religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs".

Despite twice travelling to the country before, without issue, Ms Coleman said it was her treatment after being escorted to a police station that had prompted her to instruct a lawyer in Sri Lanka.

"I was told I had to go to court and then I started to get really worried," she said.

"I was put behind bars there. I was asked if I wanted a lawyer, but a lawyer never actually approached me, spoke to me or listened to my case.

"In the meantime, while I was in the cell, I was having sexual comments from a guard. He was saying things and making gestures."

'Really frightened'

After a brief court appearance, a lawyer explained to Ms Coleman that she would be deported, but would first have to spend a night in jail and then time at a deportation centre.

"Prison officers were trying to take money off me and there was all sorts going on. I was really frightened.

"Police didn't even inform my embassy. It's lucky my friend was there or I might still be in jail."

She said she was visited at a deportation centre by an embassy official and a representative from Sri Lanka's Tourism Development Authority.

The authority paid for her flight home in business class and also offered her a free holiday because "she couldn't enjoy her stay".

Ms Coleman said: "The Sri Lankan tourist board later apologised and said it should have gone through the tourist police."

Buddhism is Sri Lanka's biggest religion and UK travel advice for the country warns of sensitivity about "mistreatment" of Buddhist imagery and against visible tattoos of Buddha.

A practising Buddhist, Ms Coleman said she had visited several countries where Buddhism was a prominent religion, including Nepal, India, Cambodia and Thailand.

She said she had only ever received positive views in those countries about her tattoo and "never meant to disrespect any culture".

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