French Tourists Given Jail Terms in Sri Lanka for “Kissing Buddha” Photos

It’s standard procedure for photo labs around the world to contact authorities if illegal activity is discovered in pictures, but what constitutes “illegal activity” can different widely from place to place. Case in point: three French tourists were recently given jail terms in Sri Lanka for photographs they took containing Buddha statues.

The photographs showed the tourists posing with the statues, and in at least one of them (shown above), one of tourist was pretending to kiss a statue.

After dropping the pictures off at a photo lab to have prints made, the owner of the lab noticed the images and alerted authorities. The two women and one man were then detained and charged with “wounding the religious feelings of Buddhists by taking pictures deemed insulting.”

A magistrate later sentenced the trio to six months of prison with hard labor, and also a small fine. The punishment was “suspended for five years”, though, meaning the tourists won’t actually be serving any of the jail time or doing any of the hard labor. Their punishment is therefore a wrist slap and a fine.

The next time you’re traveling abroad, you should think twice about snapping photographs that are potentially offensive — those pictures might actually be illegal.

(via eTurboNews via Boing Boing)

  • Jesse Hildebrand

    Wow… I think they should have gotten jail time. I’m not a religious person, but I could only imagine what would happen in a heavily Christian country if a tourist decided to take a picture of his friends climbing up an alter and getting Jesus to give him a piggy back. Just because it’s not your religion, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be respectful… and ignorance is no excuse, when I travel I make a point of at least getting a cursory idea of the culture I’m traveling to so I don’t make those kinds of mistakes.

  • Euro Shame

    With the history of how abysmally Europeans treated the peoples of Asia during colonial times, it’s no surprise that there might be sensitivity to buffoon tourists clowning at sacred sites. The shame here is that the sentences were suspended

  • John Dunne

    Please don’t tar all “Europeans” with the one brush please.

  • Sean McCann

    I am offended at your comment Jesse Hildebrand. Therefore I think you should get jail time.

  • Tango

    Fair point, but you have to consider that not everyone is going to do that.

  • Tanja Schulte

    more of this and they can kiss their tourism good bye.
    and from what will they live then? tea??

    i agree that this is not ok.. but come on jail time?
    a fine sure would do it….

  • Massive Audience

    Jail time?! Ridiculous. Humanity needs to grow up and stop taking offence over silly superstitions and so-called beliefs. Let’s get real: they kissed a statue! God forbid (pardon the expression) they had drawn a picture of Mohammed, or they might have stirred up even more religious wrath. This just shows how religion poisons minds and leads to irrational behaviour.

  • wow tanja

    Good lord, Tanja – if you think all Asian cultures have to live on is tea, you really are just as bad as these tourists. From your previous posts, I imagine that you just love to have yourself heard, wether you have a point or not….

  • 11

    An outsider dont get to say what the punishment should be. their place, their rules.. dont like it.. dont do it.

    Dont worry about how they’d live. Soon, Chinese get to say how the west would live.. it coming.

  • hickorystick

    John, suggesting European colonialism was filled with evil doesn’t mean all Europeans were directly involved in it. Perhaps you should read the sentence again?

  • Jonathan Maniago

    WWBD (What would Buddha do?) I figure that he’d be the last person to be offended.

  • offence begins at home

    Massive – you picked the wrong noun for your moniker. Just because it isn’t important to you , doesn’t mean the other 6 billion non-Americans don’t get to think the way they want to. No wonder they were offended.

  • Jesse Hildebrand

    No, we need to grow up and realize that what we believe is right for ourselves, our town or our country isn’t the same for everyone and respect that. It’s arrogant “I’m right and everyone else is wrong” attitudes that cause most of the worlds problems.

    Again, just because you don’t put value in a certain religion or belief does not mean that it’s silly for others to. It’s behavior like this that’s at the heart of so much religious turmoil, not respecting each other. What we have to do is learn to be tolerant and respectful of each others beliefs. You can think a religion is crazy, stupid, superstitious or insane, that’s totally within your rights, but you have to respect that other people don’t feel the same way. Like I said, I’m not religious, but I know my grandmother gets great solace, happiness and strength from her religion… so how is that stupid or irrational?

    And even if you take the religious part out if it, they broke the laws of another country, it doesn’t matter what those laws are based on, you have to respect them. And if you don’t like those laws, don’t travel there. Again, ignorance is no excuse… you can’t expect to travel to a different country and behave like you’re only responsible for what you can and can’t do at home.

  • John Dunne

    “With the history of how abysmally Europeans treated the peoples of Asia during colonial times”

    What did I miss in this sentence?

  • Patrick Ahles

    The image credit in the article seems to be all wrong…

  • Jason

    While I’m pleased to see they didn’t get jail time, they showed a tremendous lack of respect for other people and cultures. Why would you go to a place like that and not try to find out how to behave properly? It’s not like there aren’t plenty of guide books out there. Too many people seem to think that the world is just one big Disneyland, that they can do whatever they want and screw the locals.

  • Jesse Hildebrand

    Fair enough… I think saying the should have gotten jail time was just a gut reaction at how poorly I think they behaved. In retrospect, what they should have had to do was make a public apology. A fine is too easily forgotten and a public apology would have brought more attention to the issue.

  • J impinge

    The fact that it was referring to European colonials, not all Europeans – that’s what you missed

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for pointing that out Patrick. We were originally going to use a generic CC photo, but found the actual photo and forgot to remove the original credit.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    I don’t think they have to worry about their tourism, thankfully the majority of people have actual respect for culture and religion in countries other than their own. Nice ignorant comment about tea by the way, that pretty much puts you in the same boat as these ignorant fools thinking it’s funny to disrespect a sacred place.

  • Jaruth


  • Jonathon Chambers

    As an agnostic, I do feel that this is slightly extreme, but at the same time I do believe in the importance of respecting others’ beliefs. I feel they should of had the photos destroyed and had to issue a public apology to the Sri Lanka people. This would have brought world wide attention like this and taught a lesson without sticking people in a third-world jail cell for just kissing a statue.

  • Mansgame

    who still gets prints? Better yet, who still gets prints while on vacation?

  • Christopher Shelton

    I couldn’t disagree more. Just because it is your religion does not mean
    you get to demand respect, and nobody has a right to never be offended.
    There are serious issues that need to be discussed in this world and
    we’ll never get there if our ideas themselves are criminalized. It’s an
    impossible precedent to uphold.

    Do you believe telling a racist joke should be punishable by law? Should
    every high school student be expelled who calls his physics test ‘gay’?
    Should the gay students be expelled for offending him? How about the
    actors in a touring production of “Jesus Christ Superstar”; Should they
    be arrested on site the moment the bus and truck pull into Missouri?

    On the other end, how extreme does a viewpoint, religious or otherwise,
    have to be before it loses its protection from disrespect? Am I required
    to be respectful of my boss’s misogyny if it’s codified in his holy
    book? Do believers in Xenu the Dictator of the Galactic Confederacy
    deserve the same respect as believers in Buddha or Jesus? Do world
    leaders who call for genocide or nuclear annihilation of other countries
    deserve respect, simply because their ideas come from religion?

    And how can you balance competing viewpoints? If I am offended by my
    neighbor’s nativity scene and he is offended by the bust of Darwin in my
    garden, do we both go to jail? Should we both be required by law to
    take down the statues?

    If someone commits or incites a violent act against others, or actively
    tries to prevent others from worshiping as they choose, then I believe
    that should be a crime. I don’t see that kissing a statue threatens
    anyone. It may offend, but it doesn’t oppress. And even when a crime is
    committed, the punishment must be reasonable. Five years in jail for
    hurting someone’s feelings is absurd.

  • Absalom

    There is really no excuse for what they did. The purpose of tourism is to go and enjoy other cultures. Sri Lanka is a fascinating place, with a very distinct way of life. They take their religion very seriously, and all the tourist literature makes it very clear what is and is not acceptable. So for example taking a picture of a Buddha is fine, but a picture of a Buddha with some else in it is not acceptable. It doesn’t really matter what we think, accepting it is part of the experience (don’t go if you simply want to impose your own standards!).
    Like most cultures they are tolerant of tourists mistakes, but honestly what these tourists did was beyond acceptable! I’m glad there was no jail sentence though.

  • Christopher Shelton

    “my grandmother gets great solace, happiness and strength from her religion… so how is that stupid or irrational”

    I’ve known people who got those things from heroin. They weren’t stupid people, but it was a stupid thing to do. It was completely irrational to think that chemically induced comfort could be sustained, and to fail to see the things they were losing in the process. Was it criminal of me to try and get them help?

    I am not comparing religious belief to heroin addiction, just saying that because one gets happiness and solace from an activity does not mean it’s a smart or rational thing to do.

  • 11

    @Massive Audience, It is neither silly nor superstitious, your point fails right in the beginning — it is about respecting other’s culture, and you do NOT have a right to judge others culture. Yes, humanity needs to grow up, which includes such people mainly, and also yourself.

  • eddie

    because what the europeans who stayed at home were so much more enlightened than the people involved in the colonizations? Maybe you should read some history
    It was a different time and mores and world views were different but the way colonials treated natives was directly related to the way europeans viewed the world at the time.

  • 11

    I think you are bringing in irreverent points and bad analogies. It is simply a vandalizing and hurtful act and that is it. How much to punish and in what way — this is dictated by that countrys law. When you legally enter a country you agree to abide by their rules (whatever applies to visitor/ noncitizens). Therefore, you do not have a say in this, unfortunately. If you want to test it, sure go ahead…

  • 11

    and, the wealth amassed from various colonies were directly used for the prosperity of European (18-19th century Europe) homes…

  • 11

    It does not matter if Buddha is offended or not.. what matters is if people are offended or not.

  • Chris Helton

    So your saying all the black folks in America should stop hating on the white people, holding them responsible, because of crap that went down forever ago?? couldn’t agree more… its insane!!

  • Chris Helton

    it is overboard! How are outsiders suppose to know every rule? obviously, dont spray paint buhda, but dont pose in a picture with him? It’s like saying dont stand in a picture in English pretending to be a guard… the Queen might think its offensive to her military. wtf. Tourists want to show love and support, its not like it was a guy slapping the budha statue around w/ his dick. All these people getting angry saying oh thats completely out of line.. .get over yourselves. High five Tanja

  • Christopher Shelton

    Is my irreverence offensive to you? My analogies are apt. If you disagree then address them directly.

  • Chris Helton

    I LOVE your thoughts. Thank you for posting this. I said above to another post, I thought this was insane. There are gen guides to follow. Obviously, don’t spray paint buhda. But don’t hurt people’s feelings? Someone commented the comparison of climbing a crucifix to have Jesus give a piggyback ride… really? this isn’t like a guy took a picture smacking buhda around with his manhood. It is tourists showing love. Like the people who stand pretending to be a guard at the palace in England, should the Queen be upset and offended and say we are mocking her military?? NO.

  • branden rio

    You shouldn’t use the term “Third World” as a pejorative, as if they were somehow punished especially hard and sent to a special third-world jail cell. They were in a third-world country and committed a crime, of course it’s going to be a third-world jail cell.

  • branden rio

    People have different values in different places, and if you can’t be respectful of their values then you probably shouldn’t go to their country where they make the laws, whether or not you think the law is fair.

  • Doctor Octothorpe

    It’s the difference between being a traveler and a tourist. Do you go somewhere to learn and respect the local culture? Or hit the beaches, go shopping, and see the sights?

    It doesn’t matter what you believe, when you travel, you’re a guest and should behave respectfully. Though the local reaction does seem a bit heavy-handed.

  • Christopher Shelton

    I guess she can be upset and say what she pleases, but yeah, if it were a crime to offend the monarch that would seem pretty medieval.

  • Observing monkey

    Perhaps the fine could go towards repairing the statue’s ear!

  • F Ox

    eddie – why is it people like you always say “Maybe you should read some history”? – the vast majority of people back at home during the early years of colonization were dirt poor and working for slave wages or worse to fill the pockets of the wealthy, the ones who were driving colonization. Please have a bit more respect to other posters. Or perhaps have a whirl in the Fox News forum. They say “Maybe you should read some history” a lot there.

  • Guest

    Firstly, tolerance and respect are two different things. Tolerance is a noble value, but I do not respect certain facets of religion that promote intolerance. These girls made an unwise decision, certainly, but it is the hallmark of religious intolerance that overreacts and persecutes people for trivial offences that harm nobody. So, while I can tolerate benign beliefs — silly as they may be– I do not respect them. I am intolerant of intolerance.

    Secondly, until such time as religious believers, who present dubious and unproven concepts as truth, provide extraordinary evidence to back up their claims, I reserve the right — as a free thinker — to label them silly and superstitious.

  • Otto Shaddup

    Tanja – you have made many posts about Americans and British people and how stupid they are, and how their armies fight wars they shouldn’t. As a German, I imagine you might have some first-hand experience with grotesquely unjustified warfare, but that doesn’t give you the right to judge other countries while defending the actions of your fellow Europeans. It just makes you look like a Nationalist bigot.

  • Massive Audience

    By believing that every culture has their own beliefs which are right/moral for themselves is called Ethical Relativism, which is a fallacy. Foreign cultures and beliefs are NOT above criticism. By simple appeal to reason, people can make judgements about cultural practices and decide whether or not they lead to human wellbeing and flourishing, or whether they cause undue harm and distress.

    Those practices that cause harm, can certainly be attacked. For example, there are cultures in Africa that believe a girl’s clitoris should be cut out at an early age. This practice is rooted in cultural and religious belief. It causes much pain and suffering, and it should be condemned, but by your reasoning, we must simply accept it.

  • Audience or Tool

    You have the right to call someone’s beliefs “silly” exactly at that point you can prove there is no god. It’s the height of arrogance to think you, who like me and everyone else is a barely-evolved monkey, has enough brain power to understand how a universe that we have never travelled through works.

  • Samuel

    Not very in tune with the Buddhist way.

  • Massive Audience

    Those that make the claim bear the responsibility of proof. Religion makes claims about gods. Let them show the proof. Science makes claims about the natural world, and scientists have mountains of evidence to support their claims.

    Also, it is impossible to prove a negative. Therefore it is impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist. It is only possible to prove that something DOES exist. If you don’t believe that, try to prove that the Flying Spaghetti Monster does not exist.

  • Chris Belt On

    Chris – It is clear this was a sacred place. They are not simply posing with the statue, but making inappropriate physical contact with it. You should probably get over it yourself, and think how you’d feel if Russians came to the US and danced on your flag. Oh, perhaps you should read the litany of nationalistic slurs Tanja has posted in the past before high-fiving her.

  • Christopher Shelton

    Why shouldn’t we judge other cultures? There have been cultures in the past that we now recognize as extremely misguided. It’s naive to think every culture of today is on a perfect path. How could they be when they are so disparate and there is so much suffering in the world? Even if they are, how can we be confident of that if we are unwilling or unable to even examine their tenets?

  • reformist789

    Srilankan government ….Bhuddist extremists???