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AFP
February 24, 2021

Sri Lanka Muslims protest Covid cremations

World

AFP
February 24, 2021

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s minority Muslims 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 Khan who two weeks ago had weighed in on the plight of Muslims in Sri Lanka.

Khan 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.