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Dutchman faces 2 years for insulting Buddhism

File Photo: A woman washes a statue of Buddha at the Uppatasanti Pagoda in Naypyidaw. (DVB)

A Dutch tourist is facing up to two years in a Burmese jail after a court in Mandalay announced it would proceed with criminal charges against him for “defiling a place of worship” after he unplugged an amplifier broadcasting a Buddhist sermon.

Speaking to DVB TV on Tuesday, Phyo Kay Khine, the information officer at Maha Aungmyay township court, confirmed: “The defendant [Klaas Haijtema] is to be prosecuted under Article 295* of the penal code for what is perceived to be an insult to Buddhism.

“He walked into a dharma hall – a religious place – during chanting, with his shoes on. He then pulled out the plug connected to the speaker, according to evidence provided by witnesses.”

The court officer said that Haijtema is also being charged under Burma’s Immigration Act for violating his tourist visa by failing to abide by the laws, religious customs and traditions of the country.

According to a report by Myanmar Times today, the judge overseeing the case confirmed that a verdict would be announced on 6 October. If found guilty, Haijtema could face up to two years’ imprisonment.

It is believed that the Dutch tourist, aged 30, had unplugged the sound system at 10pm on 23 September because the noise was disturbing him in his hotel room nearby.

The case is not the first time that a Westerner has fallen foul of Burma’s strict religious laws.

New Zealander Philip Blackwood, general manager at the then VGastro Bar in Rangoon, was imprisoned for two and a half years along with his two Burmese business partners after he posted a mock-up poster of the Buddha wearing DJ headphones as part of a bar promotion in December 2014.

Blackwood was eventually released from Rangoon’s Insein Prison — malnourished and severely underweight — as part of a presidential amnesty in January 2016. He immediately left the country and has not returned.

*Article 295 of the Burmese Penal Code:

Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any of worship, or any object held sacred by any class or person with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any of person or with the knowledge that any class of likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as insult to their religion, shall be punished with either description for a term which may extend to two years or with fine, or with both.”