Sri Lanka has banned face coverings that could conceal the wearer’s identity, affecting Muslim women who wear burqas, niqabs, or hijabs, according to Al Jazeera. While the law did not directly name any of these garments, Al Jazeera reports that activists have already condemned the law for violating Muslim women’s ability to freely practice their religion. The law comes after a series of attacks on Easter Sunday targeting several crowded churches and hotels killed approximately 250 people, according to the Wall Street Journal.
President Maithripala Sirisena released a statement last Sunday claiming the law was solely for national security purposes, saying, “No one should obscure their faces to make identification difficult.” Tehani Ariyaratne, a women’s rights activist, told Al Jazeera, “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.”
This reactionary move comes after the Sri Lankan government has been accused of failing to prevent the Easter attacks based on warning from Indian intelligence agencies, according to Time. Rather than address the attacks, the government has instead chosen to deploy a law that has proven incendiary for members of the Muslim community and women’s rights activists in the country. Sri Lanka is often plagued by religious violence, as Time reports that there is a history of tension and conflict between Buddhist nationalists within the country and Muslims and Christians.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks that occurred on April 21, 2019, which NPR reports are an uncommon event for the country. Following this, Human Rights Watch reports that crowds have harassed and assaulted Muslim refugees within the country. Muslims make up 9.7% of Sri Lanka’s population, according to Time, and is often a target of religious violence in the country. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a presidential candidate in elections slated for later this year, has already campaigned on dismantling radical Muslim militants within the country, according to NPR.
The ban, which officially took effect on April 29, 2019, will likely only further incite violence against the Muslim community within Sri Lanka. Nearly 1,000 refugees have been forced to flee their homes following the attack, according to Time.
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