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Dutch man due in Myanmar court on insulting religion charge

September 30, 2016 - 5:55 AM

YANGON, Myanmar - A Dutch citizen charged with insulting religion in Myanmar for allegedly unplugging an amplifier blasting a late-night Buddhist sermon near his hotel is to appear in court, local officials said Friday.

Klaas Haytema, 30, was arrested last week in the city of Mandalay and has been detained while awaiting trial, a township police officer said. A hearing was scheduled for Friday, after an earlier session on Wednesday.

"We are trying hard to make sure the trial doesn't take too long," police officer Kyi Soe said.

Haytema was staying at a hotel near a community religious hall, and a crowd gathered to protest when the loudspeakers were turned off.

The man who was reciting the sermon pressed charges against Haytema for insulting the Buddhist religion, and immigration officials have charged him with violating the terms of his visa.

Dutch diplomats declined to comment on the case.

Local media reported that Haytema apologized to authorities. He faces up to two years in prison and a fine if convicted of the charge of insulting religion in the predominantly Buddhist country.

Mandalay, a major tourist attraction in central Myanmar, is the country's cultural capital and the former seat of Burmese kings. It is culturally and religiously conservative.

In early 2015, a Myanmar court sentenced a New Zealand bar manager, Phil Blackwood, to two years in prison after he posted an image of Buddha wearing headphones on the bar's official Facebook page in late 2014. Blackwood was released in an amnesty earlier this year.

It is common for Buddhist groups to broadcast sermons by loudspeaker at very high volumes. Most people just endure the noise. But one local government reportedly has proposed rules to control noise levels. Supporters quoted by local media said the proposal was meant to alleviate stress caused to the elderly and the ill.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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