Colombo: Sri Lankan Cabinet on Tuesday approved a proposal to ban all forms of face coverings in public places, citing a threat to national security. However, wearing face masks to combat COVID-19 is allowed.
The move came weeks after the Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara signed a paper in March, seeking the approval of the Cabinet to ban burqas – outer garments that cover the body and face worn by some Muslim women.
The Cabinet has decided to ban all forms of face coverings in public places, Cabinet spokesperson and information minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters here, without specifying burqas.
“All forms of face covers are a threat to national security,” he said.
The covering of the full face will automatically include the burqa and niqab.
The proposal now must be approved by Parliament to become a law.
Last month, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Ambassador Saad Khattak had criticized the proposal to ban the wearing of burqas in the country, saying such ”divisive steps” in the name of security will not only hurt the sentiments of Muslims but also strengthen wider apprehensions about the fundamental human rights of minorities in the island country.
Meanwhile, Weerasekera in a Facebook post wrote that the Cabinet has approved the proposal to ban all face coverings, including the burqa.
The Buddhist-majority country in 2019 had temporarily banned the wearing of burqas under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks in which nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels, killing 270 people, including 11 Indians, and injuring over 500.
Muslims make up about 9 percent of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists account for more than 70 percent of the population. Ethnic minority Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, comprise about 12 percent, while Christians account for over 7 percent of the population.