Sri Lanka Bans Face Coverings After Easter Attacks

A week after a series of suicide attacks killed more than 250 people on Easter Sunday, the Sri Lankan government has moved to ban face coverings in public.

President Maithripala Sisirsena instituted an emergency law that will see the ban take effect on Monday. Any face garment that "hinders identification" will be banned across the country, according to a statement from the president's office. While the statement did not specifically mention the burqa and niqab and would seem to include items such as full-face motorcycle helmets, the law is widely being interpreted as a ban on the coverings worn by many Muslim women.

"President Maithripala Sirisena took this decision to further support the ongoing security and help the armed forces to easily identify the identity of any wanted perpetrators," the statement said, according to the BBC. "A decision has been taken by the president to ban all forms of face covering that will hinder easy identification under emergency regulations."

The ban will have a major effect on the country's Muslim population. Just under 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 21 million inhabitants identify as Muslim. Activists have said the measure violates Muslim women's right to practice their religion freely, while others have raised concerns that it may encourage more extremism.

"While the government has the complete support of the Muslim community in bringing in this temporary (the burqa ban) law against terrorism, we need to be careful as it may touch the sentiments of some people, creating a breeding ground for more extremists," said Mohamed Hashim Abdul Haleem, the Sri Lankan minister of Muslim affairs, The Telegraph reported.

On Easter Sunday, suicide bombers targeted Catholic worshippers and hotel guests at different locations across the country. St. Anthony's Shrine in the capital city of Colombo, St. Sebastian's Church in Negombo and Zion Church in Batticaloa were all attacked, as were the hotels Shangri-La, the Cinnamon Grand and the Kingsbury in Colombo.

The blasts left 253 people dead and hundreds more injured.

Rumblings of a possible ban on face coverings began shortly after the attacks. A Sri Lankan member of parliament had made a proposal last week to ban women from wearing burqas on safety grounds, and CNN reported last week that Ella Flower Garden Resort, a hotel 125 miles east of Colombo, had banned guests from wearing burqas and hijabs.

"We mention on signs in here about full-face helmet and fully covered jackets," said Kosala Dissanayake, the hotel's director of sales, according to CNN. "Because of the current situation going on Sri Lanka, we have to take some tough decisions."

While the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attacks, police believe the National Tawheed Jamath, a local extremist group, might be behind the atrocities.

According to the BBC, approximately 150 people were arrested following the attacks, with a number of countries lending their support to the Sri Lankan government in the investigation. The U.S. sent FBI agents and military officials to Sri Lanka, where they were joined by intelligence personnel from the United Kingdom, Australia, India and the United Arab Emirates.

On Friday, 16 people were killed as police and militants clashed during an anti-terrorism raids. The victims included six suspected terrorists, and six children were among the dead.

Sri Lanka remains on high alert, and Sunday church services were canceled across the country over the weekend as a precaution.

Sri Lanka Bans Face Coverings After Easter Attacks | World