A Dutch tourist was sentenced to three months recently for interfering with a religious observance by unplugging an amplifier that was blaring out a late-night Buddhist sermon near his hotel in the city of Mandalay, a rare incident taking place in a country whose culture is heavily influenced by Buddhism.
Klaas Haytema, 30, was arrested after an angry crowd gathered around his hotel in protest when loudspeakers at a nearby religious hall were turned off. Local media reported Haytema said he was unaware that the loudspeakers were broadcasting religious content. His lawyer told a court that Haytema disconnected the loudspeakers because they were disturbing his sleep. Whatever the reason, the incident has drawn both sarcasm and praise from individuals and remains a contested issue, which has provoked widespread concerns and raised questions about the government’s commitment to democracy.
Haytema’s actions at a public gathering were likely to cause offence. Regardless of whether it was a religious ceremony, his actions could spark a wave of intolerance among local Buddhists. However, equal punishment should be given to foreigners who commit the same offence, regardless of their country of origin such as China or Netherlands to make sure that there is no bias in the administration of the justice.
Contrary to what is accepted in contemporary society, the Buddhist community shows loving-kindness (metta) and compassion (karuna) to their utmost, but some of legal proceedings in the country remain a conundrum.
Now that the Rain Retreat for Buddhist monks is over, there will be a number of public events and ceremonies to mark the days of religious significance, which often require the use of loudspeakers at night. As the misuse of high-powered sound systems in public areas is a problem, the organisers should consider the affect of their actions on others around them and respect the right of those in the vicinity to live in peace. Otherwise, they would be first in the firing line and become a focal point of international sarcasm, which leads to damaging the country’s reputation.