Sri Lanka bans face veils after attacks by militants

Published April 29, 2019
Authorities in Sri Lanka on Monday banned women from wearing face veils under an emergency law put in place after deadly Easter Sunday attacks by militants. — AP/File
Authorities in Sri Lanka on Monday banned women from wearing face veils under an emergency law put in place after deadly Easter Sunday attacks by militants. — AP/File
A woman wearing a hijab walks through a street near St Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 29, 2019. — Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
A woman wearing a hijab walks through a street near St Anthony's Shrine, days after a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter Sunday, in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 29, 2019. — Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Authorities in Sri Lanka on Monday banned women from wearing face veils under an emergency law put in place after deadly Easter Sunday attacks by militants.

The measures would help security forces to identify people as a hunt for any remaining attackers and their support network continues across the Indian Ocean island, authorities said.

But there are concerns within the Muslim community that a prolonged ban could fuel tensions in the religiously-diverse nation that emerged from a civil war with ethnic minority Tamil separatists a decade ago.

Officials have warned that the militants behind the April 21 suicide bombings on hotels and churches that killed over 250 people were planning more attacks, using a van and bombers disguised in military uniforms.

"It is a presidential order to ban any dress covering faces with immediate effect," Dharmasri Bandara Ekanayake, a spokesman for President Maithripala Sirisena, told Reuters.

Separately, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is feuding with Sirisena, issued a statement saying he had asked the justice minister to draft regulations to ban the burqa.

The All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), the top body of Islamic scholars in Sri Lanka, said they supported a short-term ban on security grounds, but opposed any attempt to legislate against burqas.

"We have given guidance to the Muslim women to not to cover their faces in this emergency situation," ACJU assistant manager Farhan Faris said after the scholars asked the government to drop plans for a law against the burqa and niqab.

"If you make it a law, people will become emotional and this will bring another bad impact ... it is their religious right," he told Reuters.

About 9.7 per cent of Sri Lanka's roughly 22 million people are Muslim. Only a small minority of women, usually in Muslim areas, fully hide their faces.

Human Rights Watch condemned the ban.

"That needless restriction means that Muslim women whose practice leads them to cover up now won't be able to leave home," the group's executive director Kenneth Roth tweeted.

In Kattankudy, the Muslim-majority hometown of Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Zahran, the suspected leader of the militant group behind the attacks, there were few women in the streets and none had their faces covered.

Two women declined to be interviewed by Reuters. Residents said only a small percentage of women in the town wear the burqa.

Owais Ibrahim, a Muslim shopkeeper, said he supported a ban on face coverings for security reasons.

"If it is not allowed it is not a problem," he told Reuters. "If we are living in Sri Lanka, we must respect their rules."

Editorial

Ominous demands
Updated 18 May, 2024

Ominous demands

The federal government needs to boost its revenues to reduce future borrowing and pay back its existing debt.
Property leaks
18 May, 2024

Property leaks

THE leaked Dubai property data reported on by media organisations around the world earlier this week seems to have...
Heat warnings
18 May, 2024

Heat warnings

STARTING next week, the country must brace for brutal heatwaves. The NDMA warns of severe conditions with...
Dangerous law
Updated 17 May, 2024

Dangerous law

It must remember that the same law can be weaponised against it one day, just as Peca was when the PTI took power.
Uncalled for pressure
17 May, 2024

Uncalled for pressure

THE recent press conferences by Senators Faisal Vawda and Talal Chaudhry, where they demanded evidence from judges...
KP tussle
17 May, 2024

KP tussle

THE growing war of words between KP Chief Minister Ali Amin Gandapur and Governor Faisal Karim Kundi is affecting...