Sri Lanka will ban the wearing of the burqa and shut more than 1,000 Islamic schools, the latest actions affecting the country’s minority Muslim population.
Minister for Public Security Sarath Weerasekera told a news conference on Saturday that he had signed a paper on Friday for cabinet approval to ban the burqa on “national security” grounds.
A “burqa” is an outer garment that covers the entire body and the face, and is worn by some Muslim women.
“In our early days, Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said. “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 the bombing of churches and hotels by armed fighters that killed more than 250.
The move drew a mixed response, with activists saying the move “violated Muslim women’s right to practise their religion freely”.
Later that year, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, best known for crushing a decades-long insurgency in the north of the country as defence 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 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.