Sri Lanka’s plan to bury Muslim coronavirus victims on islet sparks outcry

Published: Updated:
Enable Read mode
100% Font Size

A plan by Sri Lanka to bury Muslim coronavirus victims on a remote islet was slammed on Wednesday by locals and the minority community.

Colombo banned burials of COVID-19 victims in April, despite expert assurances they would not spread the virus, implementing a policy of forced cremations.

Sri Lanka’s Muslims, who make up 10 percent of its 21 million people, challenged the policy, pointing out that cremations are forbidden under Islamic law.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

The policy was revoked last week after a visit from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who urged Colombo to respect Muslims’ religious funeral rites.

And on Tuesday, officials proposed burying Muslim virus victims on the remote islet of Iranaitivu, 8.6 miles (13 kilometers) off the country’s northern coast.

That plan sparked protests from locals as well as from Muslim leaders. On Wednesday dozens of Tamil residents, led by Catholic priests, demonstrated in Kilinochchi, the nearest mainland district to Iranaitivu.

For all the latest headlines, follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

They held banners saying the one-square-kilometer (0.4-square-mile) island should not be used as a “graveyard” for the pandemic.

The main Muslim party, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), said families “want to bury our people in our own burial grounds.”

“This proposal of a remote island is an insult, it is unacceptable,” SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem told AFP.

The islet burials policy has yet to be rolled out.

A protest in front of the Poonagary DS office, Sri Lanka, against forced cremation and in favor of minority rights. (Supplied)
A protest in front of the Poonagary DS office, Sri Lanka, against forced cremation and in favor of minority rights. (Supplied)

Ahead of Khan’s visit to Colombo, the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation in February criticized the cremations policy at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, citing similar religious concerns.

Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhists, 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 after their families refused to claim the bodies from a hospital morgue in protest against the policy.

By Wednesday, Sri Lanka had recorded more than 83,000 coronavirus infections, with 483 related deaths.

Read more:

Coronavirus: Sri Lankans protest forced cremation of Muslim baby after burial ban

Sri Lanka lifts COVID-19 victim burial ban

Coronavirus: Sri Lanka’s Muslim COVID-19 victims could be buried in the Maldives

Top Content Trending