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Resumption of burials a high risk the country cannot afford to take – MP Muzammil

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‘We shouldn’t seek exclusive rights during a grave crisis’

By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP (Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna) National List MP Mohammed Muzammil yesterday strongly urged the government not to resume burial of Muslim corona victims under any circumstances, though a section of the Muslim community is demanding that Muslim covid-19 victims be allowed to be buried.

Muzammil, who represents the National Freedom Front (NFF), a constituent of the SLPP, said that the country was struggling to cope with the corona pandemic and no one should be allowed to play politics at a time of national health emergency.

The NFF has five elected MPs and one National List MP in the 145-member SLPP parliamentary group.

In a brief interview with The Island over the phone, the former JVP MP emphasised that whatever the religious dictates and sentiments, the Sri Lankan Muslim community should adhere to specific instructions issued by the government as regards the cremation of corona victims.

Pointing out that the ongoing corona second wave could lead to a an unprecedented catastrophe, Muzammil said the Muslim community had no option but to follow government guidelines. The national economy was already in tatters, as in many other countries, with all major revenue sources such as tourism, garment trade and foreign remittances badly affected, and, therefore any further deterioration of health situation could be disastrous, the MP said.

The government would have to take decisions for the benefit of all people, the MP said, adding that the burial of corona victims was against the health guidelines now in place. Commenting on other Muslim members of parliament pushing for the burial of Muslims dying of COVID-19, Muzammil said that they should be free to express their views. “There is nothing wrong in them taking a stand on this sensitive issue,” the MP said, emphasizing the responsibility on the part of the government to do the right thing.

Muzammil said that he deeply regretted the issue caused by the demand for Muslim burial rights. Responding to another query, the MP pointed out that the Catholic community accepted the government dictates in that regard without causing unnecessary issues.

The MP warned of dire consequences if decision-makers allowed burials at the expense of, what he called the overall health of the country. “Let me explain how burial of bodies could cause a catastrophe. Unlike Catholics, we do not cover a hole dug in the ground to receive the body with sand. Instead, we place some planks and then cover them with sand. This can pose quite a health hazard. Therefore burials shouldn’t be permitted under any circumstances,” Muzammil said.

The MP pointed out how the community could be affected if bodies were released to the families. There could be corona outbreaks all over the place, lawmaker Muzammil said, pointing out how the situation could go out of control.

Responding to another query, Muzammil said that he might earn the wrath of a section of the community for taking a stand contrary to that of their other members of parliament. The lawmaker said that he felt it was his duty to educate the Muslims of the need to follow the government guidelines and also strengthen the government initiatives to contain the rapidly spreading virus.

The MP urged that no one should play politics with the issue at the expense of the country. The country should be told in no uncertain terms that decisions were taken by the government, in consultation with the health authorities, and the military, and it would be the responsibility of all communities to follow specific instructions.

All communities, including the Muslims, should be prepared to give up traditions, and practices, until experts had finalized studies, he said.

“We are still in control of the situation. But, we are certainly not in a position to take a chance. Decisions must be followed to the letter. I also believe Muslims have to be buried. I support that position. But the extraordinary situation on the ground makes my personal stand, on this matter, irrelevant,” MP Muzammil said.

Whatever the politicians say, the vast majority of Lankans realized that the country should follow what was best for all, the NFF representative said.

Muzammil warned that burial of COVID-19 victims could, overnight, cause the rapid deterioration of the situation. Urging the government to be firm on the matter, the MP said: “Please don’t let a few illogical men jeopardize the health of all.”

Muslim burials were done in accordance with Arabian customs which the Sri Lankan Muslim community would have to give up or face the consequences. “We shouldn’t be part of the problem,” the lawmaker said.

Lawmaker Muzammil said that though he wanted to oppose resumption of burials and generally dealt with the issue, he couldn’t get an opportunity to address the parliament when the Corona threat was debated on Oct 23. “The government parliamentary group was allocated 162 minutes. There were 31 speakers, I wasn’t among them.”

Muzammil said that the Muslim community should speak in one voice on this matter.



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BASL urges President to de-escalate tensions in different parts of country

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The Bar Association of Sri Lanka has called upon President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to instruct the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of tensions in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by the public.”

 “Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint”, the BASL has said in a media statement.

 “We also call upon you to ensure that steps are taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.”

The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police.

 The armed forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

Full text of the BASL letter to the President:

The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) expresses its gravest concerns at the current situation at fuel stations throughout the country and the reports of several incidents of conflicts between civilians and members of the police force and the armed forces at fuel stations. There has been video footage of civilians being assaulted by personnel of the armed forces and the police, the latest being of a civilian being kicked by an Army officer at a fuel station. There have also been situations of the police and Army opening fire into the air to contain the crowd.

Your Excellency is no doubt aware that thousands of desperate civilians are waiting in queues at hundreds of fuel stations in the country. The queues are kilometres long. The tension at the fuel stations have arisen from this desperation for which there is no immediate solution in sight.

The BASL wishes to warn Your Excellency of the imminent dangers this situation could give rise to. The present unrest could result in a conflagration between civilians and members of the armed forces or the police. Some years ago, confrontations between members of the public and the armed forces resulted in the deaths of civilians. Such incidents between the members of the armed forces or the police and the civilians will discredit Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the police.

We call upon Your Excellency to take all necessary steps to give instructions to the Defence Secretary, the Commanders of the Tri Forces and the Inspector General of Police to ensure that there is an immediate de-escalation of the situation in different parts of the country – especially at fuel stations – understanding the difficulties faced by public. Whilst keeping in mind that the police and armed forces are acting under very trying circumstances, nevertheless it is necessary to give strict instructions to the police and the forces to desist from violence in dealing with the public and to act with utmost restraint. We also call upon you to ensure that steps be taken under the law to deal with errant officers who have subjected civilians to such violence.

The Sri Lanka Army and other service personnel must be deployed only in very limited circumstances as contemplated in the Criminal Procedure Code. The BASL is of the view that it is not appropriate for service personnel to be deployed in the present manner in matters which essentially should be managed by the Sri Lanka Police. The Armed Forces should also not be used to disturb or hinder peaceful protests as was seen last week in Galle.

We trust that this will receive the immediate attention of the Government as to do otherwise may otherwise result in unprecedented turmoil and harm.

The BASL believes that the ultimate solution to the situation at fuel stations is to be transparent with the public and to ensure an equitable and effective system of fuel distribution throughout the country.

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SC orders AG to submit report on fuel purchases and distribution

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By A.J.A. Abeynayake

A three-member Supreme Court bench consisting of Justices Vijith Malalgoda, Mahinda Samayawardena and Arjuna Obeysekera yesterday ordered the Attorney General to submit a report on fuel purchases, the distribution thereof and the sectors to be provided with fuel on a priority basis.

The Supreme Court made the order after considering two fundamental rights petitions presented by the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

The BASL has requested the Supreme Court to direct the Cabinet of Ministers to consult all stakeholders and independent experts to formulate and implement the necessary policies, and to provide concessions in relation to the prices of essential goods and services to the people including LP gas, fuel, electricity, milk powder, medicines and food.

The petitions were filed by the President of the BASL Saliya Pieris PC, Deputy President Anura Meddegoda PC, former Secretary Rajeev Amarasuriya, Treasurer Rajindh Perera and the Assistant Secretary Pasindu Silva.

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A/L may be delayed by one month

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Education Minister Sushil Premajayantha told Parliament yesterday that although it had been scheduled to hold the G.C.E. A/L Examination 2022 in November this year, it could be further delayed by another month.

Responding to a question by MP Shantha Bandara, the Minister said: “The examination should be held at least after three months of releasing the results of the previous A/L exam because the students who need to sit it again should have enough time to prepare,” the Minister said.

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