Ali Sabry defends government actions as issue of cremation of Muslim Covid victims flares up

ECONOMYNEXT – Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi says that a “Specialists Committee” is to meet this week to discuss the contentious issue of the cremation of the remains of Muslim victims of Covid 19 when she answered Opposition questions in Parliament today.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa brought up the question pointing out that the Ministry of Health had promised a solution to the issue many months ago.

“It is a cardinal sin for the remains of a Muslim to be cremated,” Premadasa pointed out, as it is for Roman Catholics.

Justice Minister Mohamed Ali Sabry told Parliament that it was because “there was fear of the unknown that cremation was made mandatory.”

However several months ago Ali Sabry lobbied the government hard to have the decision overturned even appearing on TV talk shows and offering his opinion that the authorities should be sensitive.

In an interview with Derana TV in April Ali Sabry said that the regulations had been amended and at the time the first Muslim died “burial was permitted.”

He also pointed out that 182 countries allow burial in accordance with World Health Organisations guidelines. However, the remains of the first Muslim and eight more since have been cremated against the wishes of the families.

Right-wing commentators which support the governing Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna have said that Muslims would “weaponise” the virus if an infected person’s remains were released to them.

Sri Lankan authorities are sticking to a Colonial-era Ordinance that makes it mandatory for victims of plagues and contagion to be cremated soon after death.

Muslims, Jews and Christians believe that their remains should not be cremated according to the dictates of their faith.

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This comes after the government Gazetted regulations in April making it compulsory to cremate the remains of people who die from being infected with COVID 19.

In the Gazette, issued under the provisions of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance state that “Notwithstanding the provisions of regulations 61 and 62 the corpse of a person who is suspected to have died of Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID 19) shall be cremated.”

It also says the cremation should be done at temperatures between 800 to 1,200 degrees Celsius at a government-authorised crematorium.

The regulation makes it compulsory to cremate the bodies of the victims disregarding the dictates of his or her faith and the wishes of the families.

Lawyer Farman Cassim PC is asking why Sri Lanka is still insisting on not allowing burials when 182 countries around the world are burying the remains of COVID 19 victims.

“Is there something that health experts in Sri Lanka have discovered that no-one else has so that only cremation is permitted?” he asked.

Cassim told EconomyNext that the initial guidelines issued to Judicial Medical Officers at the outbreak of the disease did not mention burial. However subsequently these Standard Operating Procedures were changed and burial included in accordance with international standards.

This permitted both cremation and “deep burial” of COVID 19 victims’ remains in accordance with the recommendations of various bodies including that of the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Sri Lankan Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA).

The former Director-General of Health Services Dr Anil Jasinghe is on record that cremation or burial is allowed. He told reporters at the end of May that burial is allowed as long as the contamination of the water table does not take place. (Colombo, November 3, 2020)

Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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