Tourist jailed for unplugging speaker

Klaas Haytema is led away after sentencing. Source: YouTube

A Dutch tourist tearfully embraced his girlfriend as he was jailed for three months with hard labour in Myanmar for unplugging a loudspeaker during a Buddhist prayer service in Mandalay.

Klaas Haytema, 30, pulled the power cable during a late-night broadcast of a sermon because it was disturbing his sleep in the hotel across the road. He did not remove his shoes.

There are now fears about what the incident could do for the booming tourist sector.

Haytema told the court that he was unaware a religious service was taking place and that he thought it was just children that were irritating him.

Community leader Chit San said he called the police when tempers flared after Haytema’s actions.

“We could not negotiate peacefully because people were angry, so we called the police to control the situation,” Chit San added. “We actually didn’t want him to get arrested.”

The man who was reciting the sermon pressed charges against the tourist.

The judge said Haytema was “clearly guilty” of insulting religion. Haytema could have been sentenced to up to two years but the judge said he opted to find him guilty of a lesser charge to “show mercy.”

It was unclear if Haytema will appeal.

But he avoided another three months in jail by opting to pay a Ks100,000 (US$80) fine for violating the terms of his tourist visa, which requires visitors to respect Myanmar’s customs.

Mandalay, former seat of Burmese kings, is culturally and religiously conservative.

Haytema, who was condemned on social media for not taking off his shoes before stepping inside the prayer hall, apologised during previous court hearings.

Several foreigners have recently fallen foul of laws protecting Buddhism, in an increasingly nationalistic religious climate.

In July, a Spanish tourist was deported after monks complained about a tattoo of Buddha on his leg. Buddha is always supposed to be depicted above other faces and is non seen in tattoos. In 2015  Phil Blackwood, a New Zealand bar manager, spent 10 months in jail for “insulting religion” for using a picture of Buddha wearing headphones to promote his nightclub on social media.

It is common for Buddhists to broadcast sermons via loudspeaker at high volumes. A municipal government reportedly proposed noise-control rules in an effort to alleviate stress to the elderly and sick.