Sri Lanka Muslims protest Covid cremations as PM Imran visits

Published February 23, 2021
Muslim community leaders say more than half the 450 Covid-19 victims were from the Muslim minority. — AFP/File
Muslim community leaders say more than half the 450 Covid-19 victims were from the Muslim minority. — AFP/File

Sri Lanka minority Muslim community demonstrated in Colombo on Tuesday demanding an end to forced cremations of Covid-19 victims as Prime Minister Imran Khan arrived on an official visit.

Dozens of Muslims carried a mock janazah, or coffin, denouncing the Sri Lankan government's policy of banning burials of virus victims disregarding their funeral rites.

The demonstration was aimed at the visit of Prime Minister Imran who two weeks ago had weighed in on the plight of Muslims in Sri Lanka.

He had welcomed an announcement by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa on February 10 that burials would be allowed, but a day later Colombo backtracked and said there would be no change in the cremation-only policy.

“Respect Prime Minister's statement and allow burials,” said a banner carried by the demonstrators who assembled at an open space in front of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa's office.

His government has 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 — by influential Buddhist monks that burying bodies could contaminate groundwater and spread the virus. The World Health Organisation has said there is no such risk, recommending both burial and cremation of virus victims.

Traditionally, Muslims bury their dead facing Makkah. 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.

Muslim community leaders say more than half the 450 Covid-19 victims were from the Muslim minority which accounts for just 10 per cent 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.

Opinion

Last call
Updated 23 Sep 2021

Last call

The exchange rate alone can no longer absorb the full impact of the deterioration in the current account.
Appeasing terrorists
Updated 22 Sep 2021

Appeasing terrorists

The policy of appeasement has not worked in the past and it certainly will not work now.

Editorial

Dialogue, at last
Updated 23 Sep 2021

Dialogue, at last

The govt has attempted to make the ECP controversial at a time when its input is critical for the poll reforms
AUKUS controversy
Updated 23 Sep 2021

AUKUS controversy

Instead of flexing its military muscle, the Western bloc needs to engage China at the negotiating table.
Provocative act
Updated 23 Sep 2021

Provocative act

Afghan Taliban flags have been found hoisted at Jamia Hafsa seminary three times since Aug 21.
22 Sep 2021

Interest rate hike

THE State Bank’s decision to raise its key interest rate by 25bps to 7.25pc underpins its acceptance of emerging...
PCB chief’s challenge
Updated 22 Sep 2021

PCB chief’s challenge

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan has propelled fears of regional insecurity.
22 Sep 2021

No need for secrecy

THE government should not make a mountain out of the Toshakhana molehill. That would only encourage speculation of...