Way back in March, Sri Lankan government announced that it would propose to ban the wearing of the burqa, a full-body veil that is exclusively used by the Muslims. It also planned to closed down on 1,000 Islamic schools though the Muslim population expressed its dislike at such a proposal.
Saying that the government had to resort to such means only on national security grounds, even though a U.N. expert’s said that it would violate international law.
The proposal by Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera was approved by the Cabinet at its weekly meeting, according to Weerasekera’s Facebook page.
The proposal has now been forwarded to the Attorney General’s Department, and it must be approved by Parliament before it can become law. The government has a majority in Parliament, so the proposal should be easily approved.
Separately, the government announced on Saturday that it would use a controversial anti-terror law to combat religious “extremism,” and that it would grant itself broad powers to detain suspects for up to two years for “deradicalization.”
Sarath Weerasekera, Minister of Public Security, said at a news conference on Friday that he had signed a paper for cabinet approval to ban the burqa an outer garment that covers the entire body and the face and is worn by some Muslim women on “national security” grounds.
“Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa in our early days,” he said. “It is a recent manifestation of religious extremism. We will undoubtedly prohibit it.”
The minister stated that he signed documents outlawing the burqa, but they must be approved by the cabinet of ministers and Parliament, where the government needs a two-thirds majority to pass its bills. Weerasekera also stated that the government intends to close over 1,000 Islamic schools that he claims are violating national education policy.
The government’s moves on burqas and schools come on the heels of an order last year mandating the cremation of COVID-19 victims, which goes against the wishes of Muslims, who bury their dead.
Following criticism from the United States and international human rights organizations, the ban was lifted earlier this year.
Sri Lankan peace and women’s rights activist Shreen Saroor said the moves come “at a time when the Muslim community has been constantly targeted.”
“It’s part of the Islamophobic reaction in Sri Lanka,” stated Saroor
The burqa was temporarily banned in the majority-Buddhist country in 2019 following the Easter Sunday bombings of churches and hotels by armed fighters, which killed more than 250 people.
The move elicited mixed reactions, with activists claiming that it “violated Muslim women’s right to freely practice their religion.”
Muslims account for approximately 9% of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Sinhalese Buddhists account for approximately 75% of the population.