COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s government said Tuesday it would take time to consider a proposed ban on the wearing of burqas, which a top security official called a sign of religious extremism.
Sri Lanka’s minister of public security, Sarath Weerasekara, said Saturday he was seeking Cabinet approval to ban burqas — a garment worn by some Muslim women covering the body and face — a move he said would have a direct impact on national security.
However, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said a ban was a serious decision requiring consultation and consensus.
“It will be done in consultation. So, it requires time,” he said without elaborating, at the weekly media briefing held to announce the cabinet decisions.
The wearing of burqas in Sri Lanka was temporarily banned in 2019 soon after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks on churches and hotels that killed more than 260 people in the Indian Ocean island nation. Two local Muslim groups that had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group were blamed for the attacks at six locations — two Roman Catholic churches, one Protestant church and three top hotels.
Earlier, a Pakistani diplomat and a U.N. expert expressed concern about the possible ban, with Pakistani Ambassador Saad Khattak tweeting a ban would only injure the feelings of Muslims. The United Nations’ special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, tweeted that a ban was incompatible with international law and the rights of free religious expression.
Separately Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said the government would take the time to consult with all parties concerned and reach a consensus.
Sri Lanka also has plans to close more than 1,000 Islamic schools known as madrassas because they are unregistered and accused of not following national education policy.
Muslims make up about 9% of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists account for more than 70% of the population. Ethnic minority Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, comprise about 15% of the population.