Imran Khan and Mahinda Rajapaksa talk at the end of the Trade and Investments conference in Colombo. Reuters
Gulf Today Report
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.
The government first banned burials in April over concerns — which experts said were baseless – by influential Buddhist monks that the practice could contaminate groundwater and spread the virus.
The policy was decried by members of the South Asian nation's Muslim community who constitute 10 per cent of the 21 million population.
While Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi did not give a reason in her announcement reversing the ban, official sources said Imran had raised the subject with both President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during his trip earlier this week.
A policeman stands guard as protesters hold placards during a demonstration against the government policy of forced cremations of Muslims in Colombo. AFP
Dozens of demonstrators had used Imran 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.
'Welcome' Sri Lanka's official notification
In response to the policy change, Imran thanked his Sri Lankan counterparts. "I... welcome the Sri Lankan govt's official notification allowing the burial option for those dying of Covid 19," he said on Twitter.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi also said Pakistan was grateful to Sri Lanka's leadership for allowing the option of burial for victims of COVID-19.
"Indeed it is these very principles of mutual understanding, respect and humanity that bring relationships to thrive and prosper," Qureshi wrote on Twitter.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Sayed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari has appreciated the Sri Lankan government for issuing official gazette notification allowing burial of COVID-19 deceased in the island country on Imran Khan’s request.
"Appreciate Sri Lankan government’s official gazette notification allowing burial of COVID19 deceased in Sri Lanka within few hours of PM Imran Khan’s visit,” he tweeted. "It is every Muslim’s final right to be buried as was requested by Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan,” he said to his tweet.
The 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation had also raised the forced cremation policy at the United Nations in Geneva this week.
Traditionally, Muslims bury their dead facing the Holy city of Makkah. Sri Lanka's majority Buddhists, who are strong backers of the current government, are typically cremated, as are Hindus.
In December, authorities ordered the cremation of at least 19 Muslim COVID-19 victims, including a baby, after their families refused to claim the bodies from a hospital morgue.
Muslim community leaders say more than half the country's 459 COVID-19 victims were from the Muslim minority.
They attribute the disproportionate number of fatalities to a fear of seeking treatment, and in particular, to the fear of being cremated should they die of the disease.
In talks with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday, Imran highlighted Buddhist heritage sites in Pakistan and stressed the building of cultural ties, the Pakistan embassy said in a statement. I
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