Sri Lanka on Sunday has made cremations compulsory for COVID-19 victims, ignoring demonstrations from the country’s minority Muslims who say the new rule goes against Islamic tradition.
So far the South Asian island has reported seven deaths from the deadly viral disease, of which three were Muslims. The bodies the of the deceased were cremated by local authorities despite protests from their Muslim relatives.
“The corpse of a person who has died or is suspected to have died, of… COVID-19 shall be cremated,” Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi stated on Sunday.
The World Health Organization has said victims “can be buried or cremated.”
The country has more than 200 people tested positive for coronavirus, as a consequence indefinite nationwide curfew has been imposed.
The cremations have been criticized by rights groups.
Earlier this month, Amnesty’s South Asia Director Biraj Patnaik said, “At this difficult time, the authorities should be bringing communities together and not deepening divisions between them”.
The country’s main political party that represents Muslims and make up 10 percent of the 21 million-strong national population, has accused the government of “callous disregard” for religious rituals and the families’ wishes.
Tensions between Muslim minorities and the majority Sinhalese population came to a head last Easter after local extremists were accused of suicide bomb blasts at three hotels and three churches that killed 279 people in the unfortunate incident.
Weeks later the incident, Sinhalese mobs attacked Muslims, killing one and wounded dozens more. Hundreds of homes and vehicles were destroyed and the authorities were accused of failing to stop the violence – a charge denied by the government.
The country’s Roman Catholic Church said Sunday it forgave the suicide attackers, adding that “we offered love to the enemies who tried to destroy us.”