Facebook post lands Sri Lanka motorist in hot water

Colombo city traffic

A Sri Lankan motorist risks jail for complaining on Facebook that he had been given a traffic ticket because he is Buddhist.

Amid a fierce debate on religious freedoms in the Indian Ocean nation, the motorist now faces court action for the traffic offence and the Facebook post in which he said he had been persecuted for placing a Buddha statue on his dashboard.

The post has been widely shared on social media, with many lambasting authorities over the case.

“They say Sri Lanka gives foremost place to Buddhism, but if you display a Buddha statue you are fined,” one Facebook user said, using expletives against the authorities.

“Sri Lanka bans Buddha statues,” said Facebook page “Bulto” which shared the driver’s ticket and a picture of a Buddha statue. “The newest traffic offence, displaying idols.”

“The ticket was for not the Buddha statue, but for violating the Motor Traffic Act by having many floral garlands attached to his rear view,” a senior police officer told AFP.

“Having anything that obstructs the driver’s view of the road is an offence.”

The officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the motorist misled social media users by claiming the police action was against Buddhism.

He said the post had provoked hatred against the authorities and caused religious tensions.

“We are prosecuting the driver under the ICCPR Act (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights),” the official said.

A conviction under this law carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

Sri Lankan roads are notoriously dangerous with at least eight people killed daily in the country of 21 million.

It is common for drivers to display religious idols just above the windscreen hoping for divine protection.

Safety features such as airbags and seat belts are mandatory only for newer vehicles, while there is scant respect for safety on overcrowded public transport vehicles.

The religious debate came as the country emerged from Easter Sunday suicide attacks blamed on Islamic extremists. The country has been on edge since the April 21 attacks killed at least 258 people at three churches and three hotels.