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Sri Lanka to ban burqas and shut Islamic schools for ‘national security’

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A burqa is a garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire body, including the face, with mesh in the eyes.

Sarath Weerasekera, the country’s public security minister, signed a document on Friday to approve the cabinet to ban burqas for “national security” reasons.

“In our day, Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” she said at a news conference on Saturday. “It’s a sign of religious extremism that occurred recently. We will definitely ban it.”

The wearing of the burqa in the predominantly Buddhist nation was temporarily banned in 2019, after a series of bombings on Easter Sunday which killed more than 270 people and injured 500 in churches and hotels.

In the days following the attacks, Sri Lankan intelligence services said they believed the suicides had clear links to ISIS. Zahran Hashim, the alleged mentor and leader, was a radical Islamist preacher, known to local authorities and the Muslim community.

Later that year, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, best known for crushing a decades-long insurgency in the north of the country as secretary of defense, was elected president after promising repression against extremism.

Rajapaksa is accused of widespread abuses of rights during the war, charges he denies.

Weerasekera said the government plans to ban more than 1,000 Islamic madrassa schools that he said were violating national education policy.

“No one can open a school and teach kids what you want,” he said.

Government movements over the burqa and schools follow an order from last year that forced it to burn Covid-19 victims – against the wishes of Muslims, who bury their dead. This ban was lifted earlier this year following criticism from the United States and international rights groups.

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