Dutch tourist sentenced to 3 months of hard labor for pulling plug on Buddhist chants

MANDALAY, Myanmar, Oct. 6 (UPI) — A Dutch tourist in Mandalay, Myanmar, who unplugged an amplifier broadcasting Buddhist chants was sentenced to three months of hard labor.

Klaas Hiajtema, 30, said in court that he could not sleep in his Mandalay hostel because of chants broadcast by a nearby Buddhist center, known as a dharma community hall, at about 10 p.m. on Sept. 23. He was arrested on charges of insulting religious beliefs under a law that also prohibits destruction of objects of worship.

At a preliminary hearing in Maha Aund Myay township, Heijtema said in his own defense: “I did not do it with intention. I didn’t know it was a religious building. So, I am not guilty.”

“I was really tired that night and woke up to the noise,” Haijtema said last week in court in Mandalay. “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.”

U Hla Ko of the Myanmar Legal Aid Network appeared in court on Haijtema’s behalf.

“Number one, he had no intention [to insult religion] so he should not be convicted under section 295,” he said. “Number two, he did not destroy anything so, again, he should not be convicted.”

The prosecutor, U Sithu Swe Tun, responded.

“I’d like to put forward an argument, the saying ‘Ignorance of the law is no excuse,'” he told the court.

Two lawyers not involved in the case said that the Buddhist center was using amplifiers past 9 p.m., in an apparent violation of the law.

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

Heijtema was also found guilty for violating the terms of his entry visa, specifically the stipulation that a visitor respect Myanmar’s laws and customs. For this he was fined $80.

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