Canadian deported from Myanmar because of offensive Buddhist tattoo

(Photo: REUTERS / Soe Zeya Tun)Devotees gather near Shwedagon Pagoda during the Warso full moon festival in Yangon July 11, 2014. This festival marks the start of the Buddhist Lent.

A Canadian academic and his girlfriend have been deported from Myanmar because of a Mahayana Buddhist tattoo on his leg.

Jason Polley, an English teacher at Hong Kong Baptist University, and girlfriend Margaret Lam were expelled from the country last week after a picture on Polley's left leg went viral on Facebook.

The picture drew criticism in mainly Buddhist Myanmar, a country with an existing Buddhist-Muslim conflict, and where lower body parts are considered unclean.

Polley is a Mahayana Buddhist and his tattoos apparently map the religion's development.

In an interview with The Star, a Toronto newspaper, Polley said that about 15 officials arrived at his hotel in Rangoon to question him.

The officials informed him that his tattoo has made him a "Facebook star" in Myanmar.

Officials said they were concerned of his security as radicals might hurt him because of the tattoos.,11960,0,0,1,0#.U-t2WOPuLjU

Polley said some of the officials took pictures of his leg while demanding the couple's passports. They told them not to leave the hotel until the police heard from the country's tourism minister.

But an hour later, Polley and his girlfriend were given two hours to pack their belongings and had a 15-hour car ride to the airport.

A Facebook post from a practicing Buddhist commented, "many do not understand that depictions of the Buddha are sacred to many Buddhists."

Early this year, a British woman was arrested in Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka after authorities spotted a Buddha tattoo on her right hand.

Another British tourist was also denied entry at Colombo's international airport because immigration officials complained of his "disrespectful" reply when asked about the tattoo.

Canadian Foreign Affairs spokesman John Babcock said in a statement that countries have the "prerogative" to decide whether to accept a tourist or not.

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