Hiding behind the corona virus crisis President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government has adopted an openly racist practice of forcefully seizing the bodies of dead Muslims and cremating them against the wishes of their families even when the death has nothing to do with COVID-19.
On 15 May 2020 reports surfaced of a 67 year old Muslim man who died in his home on 5th May in Madampitiya being forcibly taken away by security forces and cremated. The families were forced to sign consent forms by heavily armed security personnel. The dead person had no symptoms of COVID 19 and their families have not been placed in quarantine after the death. Even though the body was cremated the death has not been registered as a corona virus death.
The issue was raised by Sri Lanka Muslim Congress MP Ali Zahir Moulana on Twitter while activists are also increasingly concerned. Moulana questioned the “underlying objective” of what he referred to as atrocious acts by the Government to prevent families of victims to provide last rites for the deceased according to their faith despite clear World Health Organisation guidelines. Moulana said the Government was using “brute force and intimidation against grieving families”.
“What are the actual number of fatalities from COVID19 in Sri Lanka? How many others have been wrongfully cremated and families silenced? President @GotabayaR you owe us all an explanation!” he said.
Several cases have been filed at the Supreme Court against the Government policy to forcibly cremate Muslims. Vice President of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka Hilmy Ahmed and three MPS of the ACMC including Rishard Bathiudeen have filed petitions challenging the gazette forcing cremation for victims of COVID 19. “Pray that the SC which won the admiration of the country in December 2018 during the constitutional coup will not succumb to political manipulation. The world focus is on us for denying right to bury” Ahmed tweeted after the case was filed.
The government however is moving beyond the scope of the gazette and forcibly cremating Muslims who die of causes unrelated to the virus activists are warning.
According to activists following the case the death had occurred at 1.15AM. An emergency doctor visited the residence about one hour later to confirm death. Police were informed of the death around the same time. About 12 hours later police visited the home to pick up the body and take it to National hospital. The body of the deceased was thereafter placed in the mortuary without a covering. The next day the corpse was taken to Borella cemetery and cremated. The family was forced to sign a piece of paper about a suspicion of corona virus. Moulana said that the entire family of the deceased was threatened not to divulge the details of what had taken place publicly. “That the family is subject to harsh intimidation by the authorities clearly indicates evil and malevolent intent, with the apparent aim of keeping such incidents a secret” the former SLMC MP said.