Sri Lanka will ban the wearing of the burqa and shut down over 1,000 Islamic schools in the country, Reuters reported on Saturday, quoting a government minister. A “burqa” is an outer garment that covers the entire body and the face, and is worn by some Muslim women.
Minister for Public Security Sarath Weerasekera told a news conference that he signed a paper to ban burqa on “national security” grounds on Friday, adding that it needs the approval of the Cabinet. The document also needs to be approved by the Parliament where the government has a two-third majority, reported AFP.
“In our early days Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” Weerasekera said. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”
On shutting down Islamic schools, the minister said they were flouting the national education policy. “Nobody can open a school and teach whatever you want to the children,” he said.
The Sri Lankan government also gave itself sweeping power to detain suspects for up to two years for their “deradicalisation”, according to AFP. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the country’s president, promulgated the regulations that allow the detention of anyone suspected of causing “acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill will or hostility between different communities”.
The rules have been set up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The Act has received scrutiny from both local and international rights groups that have demanded its repeal.
The wearing of Burqa was temporarily banned in 2019 after Islamic militants bombed churches and hotels killing more than 250 people. Later that year, Rajapaksa became the president, promising a crackdown on extremism, according to Reuters.
Among the Sinhalese majority, Rajapaksa is considered a national hero for orchestrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009 and bringing an end to the 26-year-long armed conflict. However, he remains deeply unpopular among the Tamil and Muslim communities.
After the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009, he was charged with human rights offences – allegations that he has denied.