French tourists in Sri Lanka receive suspended jail terms for pretending to kiss Buddha statue

Three tourists from France (two women and a man) took photos of themselves posing with Buddha statues in Sri Lanka. At least one of the photos showed the tourists pretending to kiss one of the Buddha statues. When the tourists went to a photo lab to make prints, the owner of the photo lab called the police.

On Tuesday a magistrate sentenced the trio to six months in prison with hard labour, suspended for five years - which means they will not actually serve any time in jail. The court also levied a small fine on them.

They were convicted under a section of the Penal Code which outlaws deeds intended to wound or insult "the religious feelings of any class of persons" through acts committed in, upon or near sacred objects or places of worship.

French tourists given jail terms in Sri Lanka for "insulting religious feelings"


  1. From my understanding of his teachings, Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha himself probably wouldn’t have minded.

    1. Please, God, save me from your followers, etc.

      Given that the sort of Buddhist points of interests that tourists in Sri Lanka would be visiting are likely quite old, I’d be OK with the “lock anybody who messes with the artwork in the site conservationist’s office for 20 minutes and let justice be done’ strategy; but this ‘protection of vacuous religious butthurt by state power’ nonsense is unimpressive.

    1. I’m a Jew, but I have Roman Catholic family members (who adopted Catholicism upon immigration in 1900s), and also, I went to Catholic school from third to fifth grade ’cause we had the _mistaken_ idea that the local schools were not as good.

      Anyway, if someone, even a non-believer, came up to a statue of Jesus / Crucifix, Virgin Mary, or any saint, and kissed the statue in a respectful way, this likely would have been okay, based on my (child’s) perspective and my groking of my friends and relatives. If it was not okay, they would have been gently corrected, end of story.

      However…if the statue (or Crucifix)  was used as a prop for a campy, insensitive (albeit so unintended)  photo-op, and if a parishioner (or a 9-year-oldish Jewish student at their C-school) saw them, they probably would have been  told to Knock-it-Off. 

      If they pulled the same shit at the Vatican, depending on who was watching, they would have likely been reprimanded as well, at least verbally. If they had their film developed at a Vatican developer, maybe something would have happened too, if just the negatives and film not turning out.

      Perhaps the photo lab employee perceived that they were being the sort of disrespectful tourists that treat other people’s countries like amusement parks. The law they were stung by might refer to religions, but perhaps the film developer was an atheist, or not even Buddhist, but he or she was still offended by the disrespect shown to the culture of Sri Lanka, of which Buddhism is an important part. 

      P.S. Almost forgot to ask: Film – on vacation – not digital – having it developed? Wh…what?  Yes, I know, I know.

      P.P.S. No – I haven’t RTFA yet, but I will. I also haven’t read many of the comments yet, but I will. I was well over half-way into writing this when I realized.

      1. Almost forgot to ask: Film – on vacation – not digital – having it developed? Wh…what?  Yes, I know, I know.

        I think it was more like they wanted prints of their digital photos. Maybe they wanted to turn them into post cards. Perhaps they have elderly relatives back home who don’t grok digital images.

        1. Ack…why didn’t I think of that?  (wait, I know why, it was my haste to poke fun.)

          I’ve even done this with digital images while travelling, especially for postcards, but also for elderly friends and relatives.

          Thanks for pointing this out Mr. Smith. 

  2. Off topic – sorry.  But how long have they had that new logo?  And is it just me, or does it look like it says “BoinkBoink”?

    1. Well, in MY day, we woulda have suspended their shell account!

      Kidding – I’m only 41. We woulda suspended them by their short-n-curlies.

  3. If you come across the Buddha on the road, you’re supposed to kill him (not kiss him). [This saying is an admonition against objectifying Buddha nature.] 

    1. Mark and Danny in the Greek Hotel
      Bold as badgers on a one-take Mission
      Got their equipment from a dwarf outside
      On the trail of any suspect wisdom
      Pond-Life beneath a Southern sky
      (They make their move then they head off to the border)
      They don’t care as long as you can pay –
      Whatever – whatever they say

      We’re on the road and we’re gunning for the Buddha
      We know his name and he mustn’t get away
      We’re on the road and we’re gunning for the Buddha
      It would take one shot – to blow him away…

  4. Do they also have a law against hurting someone’s non-religious feelings?

    What is it with these thin-skinned religious folk?

    1. That’s only when you meet him in the road. If you meet him in a candle-lit temple then anything goes.

        1. “Hey baby… you like Noble Truths? Because if you have a thing for pillars of buddhism then I’ve got a pillar that’s gonna rock your world. What say you and I assume the Lotus position?”

          1. *tips over ceramic pot with foot and forward-rolls out the door
            edit: also, one man’s road is another man’s candle lit temple.

  5. So basically they just got a fine for being awful tourists and doing something classless, disrespectful, and insulting to their hosts.  Not going to lose sleep over this.

    1. But would they have gotten arrested for loudly farting in the presence of the locals? That would also have been classless, disrespectful, and insulting to their hosts, but it’s not religious.

      1. Under international fart law, “silent but violent” farts are the only arrestable fart offenses, also see previous cases regarding the use of  “whoever smelt it, dealt it” or “Whoever denied it, supplied it” as evidence.

    2. Blasphemy is not a crime.

      As someone upthread pointed out, Siddhartha Gautama himself probably wouldn’t have been too upset about the “disrespect” displayed by the tourists.

      1. Blasphemy is not a crime.

        You seem to be under the misapprehension that there’s an objective definition for crime.

  6. Tourists need to apply some old fashioned capitalistic response to this type of nonsense, just avoid those countries with those types of laws. You know most of the Islamic nations and India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka etc.

        1. Or, you know, there’s the rest of the world…

          Its amazing how many places you can go if you show the tiniest bit of respect to local landmarks and traditions.

          1.  I see it as an unintentionally good idea.  Keep the entitled, obnoxious tourists out, while simultaneously improving (by their absence) the reputations of the countries they come from.

          2. Navin-

            Completely agreed. And another benefit is that we can be slightly less embarrassed by the behavior of our fellow travelers. Everyone wins!

          3. Because make silly kissy faces at statues, male-male kissing, using a bill worth 20 cents to wrap used bubble gum and carrying a bible a terribly  disrespectful things and absolutely deserver 6 to 60 months in jail.

          4. There’s something really perverse about wanting to travel to another country but also wanting to change their value system to your own. Honestly, if this sort of thing is a deal breaker for someone, just go somewhere else. No biggie. For my part, I love me some cultural diversity, both for better and worse. Keeps things interesting.

          5. Ah, but people suggested *not* to travel to these countries and that caused the righteous indignation in this thread. 

        2. Australia

          Last time I checked we still had blasphemy laws though the Christian churches were opposing them, probably because the laws were more likely to be used by other religions.

          1. Germany has blasphemy laws, too. Many countries have them. However, most do not have the same harsh laws attached to them as certain other countries. Also, I’m betting EUR to AUD that the blasphemy laws in Australia are invoked when there was *intent*. 

  7. Also from the article:  “Last month there were reports that five Arabs visiting the island were
    arrested for distributing “literature insulting to Buddhism.”

    “In 2010 two Sri Lankan Muslim traders were given suspended jail sentences for selling keyrings containing an image of Buddha.” 

    That law is really broadly written and applied.  Even key rings are considered sacred objects.

    Also, we don’t really know if the tourists were intending to be offensive, since pretending to kiss a Buddha statue might not seem that offensive to them (as it doesn’t to me) and we don’t even know if there was anyone around to see it.  It wasn’t until they had the pictures developed that they were reported to the police.  I doubt they were going out of their way to offend anyone merely by having pictures developed.

    You could inadvertently offend a lot of people as a foreign visitor.  Yes, you should learn about the local culture but if you make a misstep and hurt someone’s feelings you shouldn’t be reported to the police for it.

    Really, this law is about religious butthurt considering it is applied to non-Buddhists who either say or do things that don’t match up with their interpretation of the religion.  Sounds very familiar.

  8. Given religion’s involvement in Sri Lanka’s civil war, the law probably has more to do with not giving religious nuts a reason to freak out and start killing people than anything else. But the tourists should’ve been sentenced to digital camera training.

  9. I don’t think pretending to kiss (on the lips other articles say) religious statuary in St. Peter’s Basilica would be tolerated or appreciated much either.  Goofing off at the Wailing Wall in such a manner?  Probably not.  Just show a tiny bit of decorum and respect for the different country and culture you’re visiting as guests (by choice) and I doubt tourists will have problems, like having to pay an $11 fine.

    There’s no mention in the linked article, but in a BBC article on this story they mention that relics (supposed bones of Buddha) from India are touring holy sites there and that religious fervor/excitement is particularly high.

    The BBC and RT articles tell more.

    The magistrate fined the group 1,500 rupees ($11) each, ordered the destruction of the photos, but handed back the tourists their camera and passports.

  10. The weird thing is, Buddhism is technically a philosophy, not a religion.  But humans being what they are, they have a tendency to create gods.  Worshipping Buddha as a god (or idol), setting up altars and offerings and prayers, etc… doing it wrong.

    1. Maybe you’re talking about Zen Buddhism?  I’d say most forms of Buddhism do qualify as a religion.  Reincarnation is a metaphysical belief, not simply a position on a philosophical problem.  There’s also a lot of ritual and imagery that suggests Buddhism might not merely be a “philosophy.”

  11. showing a bit of decorum did not and does not harm anyone whether a philospher or a god
    I think the fine reflects the seriousness of the offence this alleged behaviour caused to those who respect buddah

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