Myanmar Gives Tourist Who Pulled Plug on Buddhist Chants 3 Months in Prison


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Klaas Haijtema, a 30-year-old from the Netherlands, said that an amplifier broadcasting the chants had disrupted his sleep.

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Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MANDALAY, Myanmar — A Dutch tourist who unplugged an amplifier that was broadcasting Buddhist chants, which he said disrupted his sleep, was sentenced to three months of hard labor in prison by a court here on Thursday.

The tourist, Klaas Haijtema, 30, was found guilty of causing a disturbance to an assembly engaged in religious worship. He had been staying at a hostel in Mandalay on Sept. 23 when a nearby Buddhist center began broadcasting the recitations of religious devotees.

“I was really tired that night and woke up to the noise,” Mr. Haijtema told the court during a hearing last week. “I was very angry and assumed that children were playing music. I told them to lower the volume of the loudspeakers before I unplugged the amplifier, and they didn’t understand me. That’s why I unplugged it.”

Mr. Haijtema wept after the prison sentence was announced. He was also fined the equivalent of $80 for violating the terms of his entry visa, which require visitors to obey Myanmar’s laws and customs. Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, and Mandalay is a relatively conservative city.

Mr. Haijtema’s lawyer, U Hla Ko, said that he would file an appeal and that the Dutch Embassy should ask for Mr. Haijtema’s release. Attempts to contact an embassy representative on Thursday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Buddhist organizations in Myanmar often use loudspeakers at high volume to broadcast sermons, perform rituals or solicit donations, and many social media users took Mr. Haijtema’s side after his arrest was reported.

Two lawyers not involved with the case said the Buddhist center, or dharma community hall, that woke Mr. Haijtema appeared to have violated the law by using loudspeakers after 9 p.m. The law also bans their use before 6 a.m. and requires a permit.

“The one that broke the law is the dharma community hall, not the Dutch man,” said one lawyer, U Zaw Win.

The leader of the Buddhist center, U Kyaw San, said in court last week that Mr. Haijtema had worn his shoes into the center, which Buddhists consider an offense in a sacred place. Mr. Haijtema said that he was unaware that the building had a religious purpose and that he had seen no signs telling people to remove their shoes.

A resident who lives near the center, Ko Hla Myo Aung, said that there were six others in his ward and that all of them broadcast chants at high volume late at night and early in the morning.

“If the Buddha were still alive, he would go deaf from the noise from the loudspeakers,” Mr. Hla Myo Aung said.

Other Westerners have recently run afoul of laws against insulting religion in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Last year, a bar manager from New Zealand was sentenced to two years in prison for posting an image of the Buddha wearing headphones on Facebook. He was granted amnesty and released this year.

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