Buddhist fundamentalists have succeeded in banning American R&B star Akon from entering Sri Lanka after attacking a TV station sponsoring the singer's upcoming concert. What started out as a Facebook campaign against the juxtaposition of bikini-clad women and a Buddha statue, entered mainstream politics on Wednesday when the Colombo authorities announced that Akon had been denied a visa to the country.

The private Maharaja TV station (MTV), located in Colombo, had planned to sponsor Super Fest 2010, which Akon was set to headline on 24 April. But on Monday afternoon, two bus loads of protestors turned up outside the channel's office in Union Place and began throwing stones at the building, injuring four people. The demonstrators carried home-made posters reading "Don't bring Akon to Sri Lanka" and "Chase away Sirasa FM [MTV's radio station] who are trying to disrupt the Sangha Saasana" (Buddhist message).

The outrage had been brewing since January, when a Facebooker launched the group "We Hate AKON (Abuse Music Video Against Lord Buddha)". Today it has almost 15,000 fans.

On Wednesday the government announced that Akon had been denied a visa to visit the country because his music was "insensitive to Sri Lanka's cultural heritage". Akon immediately made a statement apologising to Buddhists, saying he didn't realise the statue was in the video. On Thursday the Sri Lankan tourism minister, Achala Jagoda, said that the country had lost a "priceless" promotional opportunity in denying the star entry.

While Sri Lanka is a secular country, some 70% of its 20 million citizens are Buddhist.

“Someone must have been watching the video very carefully”

Dinidu de Alwis is a photographer and writer from the west coast of Sri Lanka. He went to the protest spot in Colombo to photograph the aftermath (images below) for a local media initiative, Perambara.org.

The music video wouldn't have been spotted on TV because English music gets very little air time on Sri Lankan TV. Besides, Akon is not hugely popular; Western music only reaches certain areas here (wealthy areas which have access to English-speaking TV stations). So the clip seems to have been picked up on YouTube. Seeing as the Buddha only appears in the background for seconds however, someone must have been watching it very carefully.

Who are the protestors?

There is a movement which spurred following the death of [Buddhist monk], Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera, who died in 2003. The movement is highly disorganized [however], and the attacks which have happened at different places have not been linked to each other. [They attacked one mosque in Dehiwala, a suburb of Colombo city, and in 2004 they were blamed for throwing a hand grenade at a concert led by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan, killing two people]."

The damage and posters left after the protest. Photos by Dinidu de Alwis, posted on Perambara.org's Flickr stream

 

The offensive video

The music video to “Sexy Chick”, released by French producer David Guetta and featuring Akon, was filmed in a mansion in Ibiza. The Buddha statue can be seen at 02’09.

The protestors

Images of the attack provided by Sirasa/MTV.