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Sri Lanka bans American rapper Akon for ‘defaming Buddhism’

[Times Online UK, Wednesday, 24 March 2010 10:56 No Comment]

Sri Lanka has refused to issue a visa to Akon, the Senegalese-American R&B singer and rapper who is due to perform there in April, after Buddhist activists took offense at one of his videos.

On Monday, hundreds of protesters stormed the head offices of the Maharaja Broadcasting and Television Network, the concert’s media sponsor, injuring four employees, smashing windows and damaging parked cars.

The protesters said the video for Akon’s song Sexy Bitch, which features scantily clad women dancing in front of a statue of the Buddha, had offended members of Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese ethnic majority, which is mainly Buddhist.

Anusha Palpita, director-general of the government’s Information Department, said last night: "Taking into consideration the allegations levelled against the singer Akon, the government has decided not to issue him a visa to conduct the concert in Sri Lanka."

He said the main allegation against Akon was that he was "defaming Buddhism in his music videos".

A statement on Sri Lanka’s official government news portal added: "Apart from this particular controversial video clip, some of Akon’s lyrics are not suitable for public articulation."

It did not specify which lyrics and Akon’s representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

The incident illustrates the influence on the government of hardline Sinhalese nationalists, who have often used violence against those they consider to be offending Buddhism.

In 2004, a hand grenade attack killed two people and wounded 19 at a concert by Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood star, in Sri Lanka. The attack was blamed on Sinhalese nationalists who were offended that the concert was being staged on the first anniversary of the death of a renowned Buddhist monk.

However, the decision to bar Akon also raises concerns about the independence of the media in Sri Lanka as Maharaja is one of the few large media organizations backing the opposition ahead of parliamentary elections on April 8.

Last year, a group of armed men attacked its studio and transmission compound, tossing hand grenades and spraying the building with gunfire.

[Full Coverage]

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