Colombo, April 27 (AFP): Sri Lanka’s Cabinet of Ministers has approved a controversial proposal to ban face coverings, including the burqa, that conceal the wearer’s identity, Public Security Minister Dr. Sarath Weerasekara said.
The decision was announced on Weerasekara’s official Facebook page on Tuesday (27) and was later confirmed by co-cabinet spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella who, citing national security concerns, said all garments that completely cover the wearer’s face in public places will be banned.
Speaking to reporters at the weekly cabinet briefing, Rambukwella justified the Cabinet stance saying many countries have imposed such bans for security reasons.
He said the Cabinet has instructed Sri Lanka’s legal draftsman to draft a bill that will be presented to Parliament in this regard.
Asked how this law will be enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone is required to wear a facemask in public at all times, Rambukwella said: “Police have the legal prerogative to stop a person wearing a face mask and ask them to remove it for identification purposes. But currently there is no legal provision that allows a police officer to ask a woman in a burqa to remove it.”
However, he said, what will be allowed and won’t be allowed to wear in public has yet to be defined.
“As long as it poses a security threat, the police can arrest them,” he added.
On March 11, Minister Weerasekara signed a cabinet paper proposing the ban. The decision has been met with controversy, with human rights activists arguing that the move is discriminatory against Muslim women.