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Sri Lanka allows burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims

This comes a day after PM Imran’s Sri Lanka visit

SAMAA | - Posted: Feb 26, 2021 | Last Updated: 8 months ago
Posted: Feb 26, 2021 | Last Updated: 8 months ago

Protesters hold placards during a demonstration against the government policy of forced cremations of Muslims who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus, outside a cemetery in Colombo. Photo: AFP

Sri Lank made changes to the Quarantine and Prevention of Disease Ordinance(Chapter 222) allowing the burial of Muslim COVID-19 victims.

Earlier, the bodies of the coronavirus victims had to be cremated irrespective of their religious identity.

Now the families of those who died of coronavirus have the option to either bury or cremate the body after the regulation was amended to replace the phrase “cremation of the corpse” with “cremation or burial of the corpse”.

The notification was issued on Thursday. The development comes a day after Prime Minister Imran Khan concluded his two-day Sri Lank visit. PM Imran Khan has welcomed the Sri Lankan government’s decision.

Upon his arrival in Colombo on February 23, Sri Lanka’s Muslims staged a demonstration demanding an end to forced cremations of COVID-19 victims

Dozens of Muslims carried a mock Janazah (coffin) denouncing the Sri Lankan government’s policy of banning burials of virus victims.

Related: Sri Lanka Muslims protest Covid cremations as Pakistan PM arrives

Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on February 10 said that burials would be allowed, but a day later Colombo backtracked and said there would be no change in the cremation-only policy.

Rajapaksa’s government had rejected international pleas and recommendations from its own experts to allow Muslims to bury their dead in line with Islamic custom.

The government first banned burials in April amid concerns — which experts say are baseless — that burying bodies could contaminate groundwater and spread the virus.

The World Health Organization has said there is no such risk, recommending both burial and cremation of virus victims.

Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists, who are strong backers of the current government, are typically cremated, as are Hindus.

In December, the authorities ordered the forced cremation of at least 19 Muslim COVID-19 victims, including a baby, after their families refused to claim their bodies from a hospital morgue.

This stoked dismay and anger among the Muslim community, moderates, and abroad, with the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation repeatedly expressing concern.

There have been ongoing tensions between Muslims and the majority Sinhalese — who are mostly Buddhists — since the deadly 2019 Easter bombings carried out by local jihadists.

Muslims say more than half the 450 COVID-19 victims were from the Muslim minority which accounts for just 10 percent of the 21 million population.

Muslims have a disproportionate number of fatalities because they don’t seek treatment, fearing they will be cremated if they are diagnosed with the virus, they have said.

With additional information ffrom AFP.

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