Sri Lankan govt will not rush through process to ban burqas: Cabinet Spokesman

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Colombo, Mar 16 (PTI) The Sri Lankan government will not rush through the process to ban burqas and the decision on the issue would be taken after reaching a consensus, a senior minister said on Tuesday.

The Cabinet spokesman's remarks came a day after Pakistan's envoy to Colombo Saad Khattak criticised the Sri Lankan government's plan to ban the wearing of burqas in the country, saying such 'divisive steps' in the name of security will not only hurt the sentiments of Muslims but also strengthen wider apprehensions about the fundamental human rights of minorities in the island nation.

Sri Lanka’s Cabinet at its weekly meeting on Monday did not take up the issue of imposing a ban on Niqab.

“It will be done in consultation and after reaching a consensus,' Cabinet spokesman and senior minister Keheliya Rambukwella told reporters on Tuesday.

He said that the government “will not rush through the process to ban face coverings”.

Any decision would be followed depending on intelligence assessment in terms of national security considerations, the minister said.

The Public Security minister Sarath Weerasekera announced over the weekend that he had signed a Cabinet paper proposing the ban on Niqab.

The paper was expected to be taken up at Monday's Cabinet meeting.

Weerasekera said the burqa had posed a threat to national security.

Asked if the government was stalling the decision on the issue due to the ongoing sessions at the UN Human Rights Council, Rambukwella said 'there was no such thing'.

Sri Lanka is seeking the support of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) at the ongoing UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

The Buddhist-majority nation in 2019 had temporarily banned the wearing of burqas under emergency regulations following the Easter Sunday attacks in which nine suicide bombers belonging to the local Islamist extremist group National Thawheed Jamaat (NTJ) carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels, killing 270 people, including 11 Indians, and injuring over 500.

The Lankan government last year had also made the cremation of COVID-19 victims mandatory, citing health concerns. It cited the opinion of some experts who claimed that the burial of COVID-19 victims would contaminate the water table, thereby spreading the pandemic further. The cremation of bodies is forbidden in Islam and Christianity.

Amidst mounting international criticism, including from Pakistan, the government revised its policy last month.

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan had also raised the issue during his visit to Colombo last month.

Muslims make up about 9 per cent of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists account for more than 70 per cent of the population. Ethnic minority Tamils, who are mainly Hindus, comprise about 12 per cent, while Christians account for over 7 per cent of the population. PTI Corr NSA AKJ NSA