by Ryan Pickrell
Facing jail time, a foreign tourist in Myanmar is regretting a rash decision when he tried to get a little shuteye.
Dutch national Klaas Haijtema unplugged an amplifier during a late-night Buddhist prayer service at the Thusarita Dhammaryone religious hall in Mandalay, Myanmar Sept. 23. He disconnected the amp because the noise from the service was keeping him up, reports the Myanmar Times.
Unplugging the amp turned out to be a very bad idea.
A mob of angry Burmese people gathered outside the man’s hotel. Soldiers were dispatched to protect Haijtema.
He was arrested on charges of disturbing a religious ceremony and insulting religion, reports The New York Times.
Prosecutors formally applied to have the case taken to trial Oct. 3. The court heard the testimonies of three witnesses; an usher at the hotel testified that it was Haijtema’s first trip to Asia and argued that the man was unfamiliar with certain aspects of the culture and local customs. The prosecutors argued that the evidence against Haijtema demanded a trial.
The Maha Aung Myay township court judge indicted Haijtema the next day. Haijtema pleaded not guilty to the charges. “I did not do it with intention. I didn’t know it was a religious building,” he said.
“I was really tired that night and woke up to the noise,” Haijtema told the court, “I was very angry and assumed that children were playing the music. I told them to lower the volume of the loudspeakers before I unplugged the amplifier, and they didn’t understand me, so I unplugged it.”
“I’m really sorry and I really apologize,” he said.
Buddhists in Myanmar often play broadcast sermons and chants on loudspeakers. A resident who lives near the site of the religious service Haijtema ruined said that the sound is very loud. “If the Buddha were still alive, he would go deaf from the noise of the loudspeakers,” he reportedly said.
The crimes of which Haijtema was accused carry a two-year jail sentence. His lawyer, U Hla Ko, who took Haijtema’s case pro bono, told the court that Haijtema did not break the law. “Number one, he had no intention [to insult religion], so he should not be convicted…Number two, he did not destroy anything, so, again, he should not be convicted.” The law says that only those who “destroy, damage, or defile any object of worship” can be sentenced two years in prison.
Haijtema was given a lighter sentence of three months. He reportedly wept when the sentence was handed down.
His lawyer is preparing to make an appeal. U Hla Ko will also petition the Dutch Embassy to fight for Haijtema’s release.
Send tips to [email protected]