Muslim woman jailed for wearing dress disliked by Sri Lankan Buddhists

Sri Lankan authorities have used anti-hate laws to imprison a Muslim woman for wearing a dress displaying the wheel of a ship.

47-year-old M. R Mazahima was arrested by police who describe the printed motif on her Kaftan as the ‘Dharmachakra’ wheel symbolising Buddhist teachings.

The wheel print on the dress offended Buddhists, court was told.

Acting Magistrate Gamini Rambakenpura in the central town of Mahiyanganaya ordered to further remand Mrs Mazhima until June 3 after the police informed the courts that the controversial dress has been sent to the Department of Buddhist Affairs to verify the identity of the symbol.

Attorneys at law, AM Mohammed Zarook and Nusra Zarook appeared for the defendant.

Police had charged the Muslim woman under Sri Lanka’s adoption of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - a law designed to safeguard human rights.

Local judges have no mandate to grant bail to suspects charged under the ICCPR act. Suspects must appeal to the high courts, which is a costly deterrent.

'Punished in Ramadan'

On 18th May M.R Mazhima was arrested on the streets of Hasalaka, 180 kilometres away from the capital, Colombo, on her way to the bank to withdraw money sent by her husband, a construction labourer stationed in Colombo.

She had been dressed in the Kaftan with the controversial wheel motif on the day of arrest after being forced by majority Sinhala Buddhists in the area to give up her customary Abaya.

Muslim women throughout the island are being coerced to give up the Abaya following the Easter Sunday bomb attacks allegedly by Islamic militants.

“My wife doesn’t know the difference between the Dharmachakra or a ship’s wheel,” said Mazhima’s husband, Abdul Munaf.

“We are very poor people. Why are we who did not commit any crime, punished in this manner in the holy month of Ramadan?”

Most recently the ICCPR was used to imprison an award-winning writer who was accused of insulting Buddhism by writing a short story.☐



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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