Sri Lanka will ban the wearing of the burqa and shut more than 1,000 Islamic schools in the latest actions affecting the country’s minority Muslim population.
A burqa is a garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire body, including the face, with mesh over the eyes.
Sarath Weerasekera, the country’s minister for public security, signed a paper on Friday for cabinet approval to ban burqas on “national security” grounds.
“In our early days Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said in a news conference on Saturday. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”
The wearing of the burqa in the majority-Buddhist nation was temporarily banned in 2019, after a series of bombings on Easter Sunday that killed more than 270 people and injured 500 in churches and hotels.
In the days following the attacks, Sri Lankan intelligence services said they believed the suicide bombers had clear links to ISIS. The alleged mentor and ringleader, Zahran Hashim was a radical Islamist preacher, known to the authorities and local Muslim community.
Later that year, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, best known for crushing a decades-long insurgency in the north of the country as defense secretary, was elected President after promising a crackdown on extremism.
Rajapaksa is accused of widespread rights abuses during the war, charges he denies.
Weerasekera said the government plans to ban more than 1,000 madrassa Islamic schools that he said were flouting national education policy.
“Nobody can open a school and teach whatever you want to the children,” he said.
The government’s moves on burqas and schools follow an order last year mandating the cremation of Covid-19 victims – against the wishes of Muslims, who bury their dead. This ban was lifted earlier this year after criticism from the United States and international rights groups.