World Sri Lanka Muslims protest Covid cremations as Pakistan PM arrives
Sri Lanka ends forced cremations after Imran Khan's visit
Sri Lanka on Friday ended forced cremations of people who have died of coronavirus, after visiting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan urged Colombo to respect the funeral rites of the island's minority Muslims. While health minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi did not give a reason in her announcement reversing the ban, official sources said Khan had raised the subject with both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during his trip earlier this week.Dozens of demonstrators had used Khan's visit as an opportunity to call attention to the Sri Lankan government's disregard for Islamic burial customs and carried a mock coffin.
Sri Lanka's minority Muslims demonstrated in Colombo Tuesday demanding an end to forced cremations of Covid-19 victims as Pakistan's 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.
Sri Lanka reverses 'anti-Muslim' cremation order
Critics said the forced burial order was intended to target minorities and did not respect religions. The cremation of bodies is forbidden in Islam. The government had argued that burials could contaminate ground water. Thursday's reversal came after an official visit by Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, who welcomed the decision on his Twitter account.Analysts say that the decision is likely to be influenced by the fact that the South Asian nation is seeking international support at a UNHRC session which began earlier this week.
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.
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The World Health Organization has said there is no such risk, recommending both burial and cremation of virus victims.
Traditionally, Muslims bury their dead facing Mecca. 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 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.
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This story was produced in partnership with Coda Story. On the evening of Oct. 8, Father Stan Swamy took a break from watching TV and came down to the ground floor of Bagaicha, the Jesuit community center he founded in the eastern Indian town of Ranchi, Jharkhand. The 83-year-old priest and social activist was chatting with colleagues when an SUV pulled up outside. Four officers from the National Investigation Agency, India’s counter-terrorism task force, burst into the room—one of them holding a gun. Six more stood outside, and another police vehicle waited about 200 meters away. The officers spoke quietly to Swamy, seized his mobile phone and asked him to pack a bag.