Sri Lanka has banned all face coverings as part of emergency regulations enacted after the Easter Sunday bombings that killed more than 250 people.
The Sunday ban by President Maithripala Sirisena, which went into effect Monday, forbids “all forms of face covers” that might hide a person’s identity — calling them a “threat to national security and public safety.”
The new rule effectively bans helmets and masks, but also Muslim burqas that cover the face and body, and niqabs — face veils that cover everything but the eyes.
Last week, a Sri Lankan Parliament member proposed banning burqas on security grounds, the BBC reported.
Just under 10% of the country’s population of 21 million are Muslim.
“The President has issued his directive to ensure national security and a peaceful and reconciled society, where no ethnic group or community would be subjected to discomfort,” a statement from Sirisena’s office read.
Muslim groups in Sri Lanka pushed back on the ban, saying they already made a voluntary decision to temporarily bar Muslim women from wearing face coverings several days ago.
“We strongly criticize the decision,” Vice President of the Sri Lanka Muslim Council Hilmy Ahmed told the BBC. “We will not accept the authorities interfering with the religion without consulting the religious leadership.”
Austria, France, China and Belgium are among several countries that have previously banned full-face veils in public.
Tensions remain high in the country just over a week after coordinated suicide bombings targeted several churches and luxury hotels, killing 253 and injuring hundreds more. Following the attack, ISIS claimed responsibility, but the Sri Lankan government suspects National Thawheed Jammath, a “homegrown Islamic extremist group,” is to blame.
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