Colombo: Sri Lanka's Cabinet on Tuesday approved a controversial proposal to ban all forms of face coverings in public places, citing a threat to national security.
The move came weeks after Minister of Public Security Sarath Weerasekara signed a note 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.
He said the decision was taken two years after a wave of coordinated terror attacks on hotels and churches on Easter Sunday. “All forms of face covers are a threat to national security,” he said.
However, wearing face masks to combat COVID-19 is allowed. The covering of the full face will automatically include 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 criticised 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 nation.
Meanwhile, Weerasekera in a Facebook post wrote that the Cabinet has approved the proposal to ban all face coverings, including the burqa.
"I requested approval to draft a law for the covering of full-face adhering to the quarantine law which means there will be no prohibition to wear face masks to prevent the COVID-19 virus," he was quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror news website.
The Buddhist-majority nation 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 per cent of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists account for more than 70 per cent of the population. Ethnic minority Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, comprise about 12 per cent, while Christians account for over 7 per cent of the population.