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Tourism body urges respect for religion

Says signs should warn visitors to behave in wake of conviction of three French tourists

Three French nationals received suspended sentences for taking photographs in which they pretended to kiss a Buddha statue Three French nationals received suspended sentences for taking photographs in which they pretended to kiss a Buddha statue
  • ucanews.com reporter, Galle
  • Sri Lanka
  • August 27, 2012
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A leading tourism industry body has urged foreign visitors to respect religious practices in this predominantly Buddhist country after three French nationals were convicted last week of sacrilege for taking photographs that showed them pretending to kiss a Buddha statue.

Anura Lokuhetty, president of the Hotel Association of Sri Lanka, said temples should put up warning signs to avoid a repeat of the six-month suspended jail terms handed down on Tuesday to two French women and a man.

“You find such restrictions in other countries even in the West in places like Greece where tourists are attracted to history, culture and archeology,” he said, adding that tourists need not be discouraged from taking photos, just from taking those which cause offense.

Cristina Bras, Jorge Bras and Emilie Fontaine were arrested in the southern town of Galle after a photo lab making prints of their photos alerted police upon discovering the images.

After admitting the offense due to a lack of knowledge about Sri Lankan culture, they were given more lenient suspended sentences that would activate in the event of further offences in the next five years.

“A kiss is an act of affection and not a humiliation when we look at it from our cultural perspective,” said Cristina Bras. “We are Christians and we didn’t think that it was a humiliation.”

Their lawyer, Prasantha Silva, said they had been “excited to take a photograph with the Buddha statue.”

Following the end of a long-running civil war, Sri Lanka has seen a surge in tourism in recent years.

Last month, overseas arrivals rose 16.7 percent compared to the same month in 2011 as Sri Lanka looks set to surpass one million foreign visitors this year for the first time.

Although many temples call for visitors to cover up, other possible violations of religious protocols are less clear to those unfamiliar with the country.

American rap star Akon fell foul of Sri Lanka’s religious sensitivities when he was barred from visiting the country in 2010 following a music video featuring bikini-wearing female dancers gyrating around a Buddhist statue.
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