Updated: April 28, 2021 09:04 AM GMT
Burqa-clad women show their identity cards as they queue to vote at a polling booth during the 2014 Indian general election in Varanasi. Sri Lanka has moved a stepped closer to banning the burqa in public. (Photo: IANS)
Sri Lanka's cabinet has approved a proposed ban on wearing full-face coverings including Muslim burqas in public over national security concerns.
The proposal will now be sent to the Attorney General’s Department and must be approved by parliament to become law.
"Cabinet approval has been given to draft a complete ban on full-face coverings in public places in the country," Minister of Mass Media Keheliya Rambukwella said on April 27.
"Many countries in particular have taken such measures for national security. There have been various discussions in this regard in the past. At a time when national security is important, it has been decided to focus on this issue.”
The move to ban full-face coverings was announced in March, a few days before the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka. Then the government said it was only a proposal and it was not rushing to implement the ban.
The cabinet decision has caused a stir among Muslims, particularly women who see the announcement as yet another attack on their community.
Muslim-owned shops and houses were attacked just a few days after the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019
Muslim rights activist M. Saheel said several Muslim activists and politicians have been targeted and some have been detained.
"The government forcibly cremated all those who died of Covid-19 even though the Muslim community was against it," said Saheel.
"Muslim-owned shops and houses were attacked just a few days after the Easter Sunday attacks in 2019.
"In 2019, extremist Buddhists attacked Muslim-owned places of worship, businesses and homes in a host of cities across the nation just 22 days after the Easter carnage, but no culprits have punished.
"There have been a number of such incidents in the last few years and this could be just another."
The wearing of burqas was temporarily banned in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka after the Easter attacks.
Some politicians violate the rights of minorities to please the majority and keep their power
A Catholic nun said that every minority group should have equal rights to live freely in Sri Lanka.
"Some politicians violate the rights of minorities to please the majority and keep their power," said the nun, who asked to remain anonymous.
"If there is a real threat to the security of the country due to this, it should be banned, but the Muslim community should be given an opportunity to express their views."
Ahmed Shaheed, the UN's special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said on Twitter in March that a burqa ban would not be in line with international law, which guarantees the right to express one's religion or belief.
Muslims comprise about 9 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million, while Buddhists account for more than 70 percent.