EARLY Easter Sunday, a wave of bombings took place in luxury hotels (the Shangri La, Cinnamon Grand, and Kingsbury, all in the capital city Colombo) and churches across the country, killing approximately 290 people and wounding hundreds more.
The first wave of attacks struck at the heart of the country’s minority Christian community during busy Easter services at churches in the cities of Colombo, Negombo, and Batticaloa on Sunday morning, leaving the entire country in a state of lock-down.
According to Sri Lankan officials. the attacks were carried out with the support of an international network, BBC reported. And now, eight days after the series of attacks which ripped through the country, the island nation has passed its first major bit of legislation to tackle the situation.
Starting April 29, all kinds of face veils including helmets, masks, the burqa, the niqab, and the hijab are banned in public.
Any face covering that “hinders the identification of individuals in a way that threatens national security” is now banned in Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena said in a statement, according to CNN.
“President Maithripala Sirisena has made this decision to strengthen national security as well as to not inconvenience any demographic group so as to create a peaceful and harmonious society in Sri Lanka,” the presidential statement read.
Sri Lanka’s Muslims make up 9.7 percent of its 21.4 million people. Thus, there are concerns that this ban will infringe on the community’s religious liberties. Humans Right Watch South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly fears will be collective punishment of all Sri Lankan Muslims.
A burqa is a garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire body, with mesh over the eyes, the niqab is a full-face veil with an opening for the eyes, while the hijab covers only the hair.
While the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), the top body of Islamic scholars in the South Asian island nation, have backed the legislation based on security grounds. A Sri Lankan women’s rights activist Tehani Ariyaratne, however. has different opinions.
“Any ban on the ‘niqab’ without consultation with those who would be directly affected by it, is nothing but a reactionary response by the state, designed to distract from its woeful lack of accountability for the events that have taken place over the last week,” Al Jazeera quoted her as saying.
“Muslim women and Muslim women’s rights groups and activists have not been consulted in the process of putting this ban in place. This is unacceptable. It is a violation of their right to practice their religion freely, and they should be the principal stakeholders in this discussion,” she added.
Sri Lanka is not the first country to ban the burqa and the niqab. A handful of countries around the world, such as Austria, Denmark, France, Tajikistan, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, the Netherlands, China, and Morocco, also have similar legislation in place.
Meanwhile, the bombings investigations continue and the Sri Lankan authorities have warned that more violence could be imminent.