Sri Lanka says it ‘requires time’ to consider proposed burqa ban

Amid the outrage, a government spokesman says the ban is a serious decision that requires consultation and consensus.

Women in burqas line up to take a blood sample for a COVID test in Colombo [File: Lakruwan Wanniarachchi/AFP]

Sri Lanka’s government says it would take time to consider a proposed ban on the wearing of burqas, which a top security official called a sign of “religious extremism”.

Sri Lanka’s minister of public security, Sarath Weerasekara, last week said he was seeking cabinet approval to ban burqas – a garment worn by some Muslim women covering the body and face – a move he said would have a direct impact on national security.

However, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella on Tuesday said a ban was a serious decision requiring consultation and consensus.

“It will be done in consultation. So, it requires time,” he said without elaborating at the weekly media briefing held to announce the cabinet decisions.

Earlier, a Pakistani diplomat and a United Nations expert expressed concern about the possible ban, with Pakistani Ambassador Saad Khattak saying a ban would only injure the feelings of Muslims.

Khattak tweeted on Monday that the ban would “only serve as injury to the feelings of ordinary Sri Lankan Muslims and Muslims across the globe”.

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, tweeted that a ban was “incompatible with international law” and the rights of free religious expression.

The wearing of burqas in Sri Lanka was temporarily banned in 2019 soon after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks on churches and hotels that killed more than 260 people in the Indian Ocean island nation.

Two local Muslim groups that allegedly pledged allegiance to the ISIL (ISIS) group have been blamed for the attacks at six locations – two Roman Catholic churches, one Protestant church and three top hotels.

Sri Lanka also plans to close more than 1,000 Islamic schools, known as madrassas, because they were unregistered and didn’t allegedly follow the national education policy.

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 15 percent of the population.

Source: News Agencies