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Zuhair takes up right of Muslims killed by COVID-19 to be buried according to their religion

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Former lawmaker M. M. Zuhair, PC, has strongly opposed what he calls forcible cremation of Covid-19 victims on a directive given by Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC.

 The following is the text of a letter by former Senior State Counsel Zuhair to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa: 

This is further to my previous representation dated 06th May 2020.

 According to media reports the Hon Attorney General has directed the Director-General of Health Services that the dead bodies of Covid-19 victims unclaimed by the immediate members of the family to be cremated. (Ada Derana. Lk-09/12/2020 at 15.07 hrs. and AFP “Sri Lanka cremates Muslim Covid-19 victims against religious wishes” 09/12/2020 7.40 pm).

 Firstly it is well known that the right to accord a dignified burial to a deceased person is an internationally recognized right. This is a right available to every person not merely to Muslims.

Secondly it is equally well known that the kith and kin of the deceased Muslims in particular have refused to accept the dead bodies as a protest against the unlawful refusal by the health authorities of our country to allow Covid 19 deceased persons a dignified burial. In the circumstances the Attorney General ought not to have directed the forcible cremation without hearing the kith and kin of the deceased persons. Such direction is in violation of the principles of natural justice, which principles the Attorney General is bound to uphold.

Thirdly, the direction has been made in terms of the Quarantine and Prevention of Deceases ordinance. If that be the case, the Attorney General would have seen that section 3(1)(i) of the Quarantine Ordinance provides for both options of burial and cremation and that he ought not to become a party to directing solely the cremation of the ‘under protest’ bodies without the consent of the kith and kin and in violation of the provisions of the Quarantine Ordinance read with section 17 (1) (c) of the Interpretation Ordinance. He ought not to expose the illustrious office of the Attorney General and the State to possible claims of damages.

Fourthly, Professor Tissa Vitharana has been quoted in the media last week that the expert panel appointed by the Minister of Health to advise her on the quarantine measures does not have a single virologist and hence not a competent panel, though the country has many eminent experts, virologists, epidemiologists, etc. Whereas 190 countries in the world had permitted burial of Covid-19 deceased persons following the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines, Sri Lanka and China are said to be the two countries that do not allow burials. The excellent work otherwise done by the countries health authorities and the armed forces are being brought into disrepute world-wide by the panel’s undue delay in resolving the problem by giving convincing scientific reasons as to why the WHO guidelines cannot be followed here.

 Fifthly, if in fact and in science Covid- 19 will spread through contamination of water, I wish to state that no one, Muslim or otherwise will ask for burial of their victims. According to WHO any virus contaminated water may cause diarrhea but will not spread Covid-19.

Sixthly recent judicial decisions have kept the matter open to be decided by the Cabinet based on expert opinion which is anxiously awaited. Courts have not restrained the government or the experts from taking necessary decisions.

Permit me also to point out the following matters. Two Ministers Hon. Chamal Rajapaksa and Hon. Mahinda Amaraweera said recently that the government is favourably considering restoring the 27th March 2020 gazette allowing both burial and cremation for Covid-19 deceased persons and a third Minister Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella said a final decision will be taken after the experts give their opinion to the Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi. The country’s accredited experts on the subject must not delay giving the opinion and they must do so with convincing scientific reasons for the public to know, because the government’s pursuit to restore burials in line with the opinion of the experts of the country as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines are being perceived as being delayed unreasonably.

According to the WHO, water contaminated by any virus may cause diarrhoea but not Covid 19. If the local experts on virology and epidemiology have scientific reasons to establish that Covid-19 will spread through contamination of water to the living cell of a host, they also need to explain that apart from human beings animals, birds and fish will not be infected and will not host the virus and transmit them to human beings who may consume or handle them. There is thus an urgent need for the Sri Lankan experts to clear with scientific reasons all possible misconceptions.

The main protective measures that the public have been presently made aware of, to restrict the spread of Covid-19 are related to contamination through inhalation of infected droplets or by touching infected surfaces but not to Covid-19 contaminated water being consumed by living cells and getting transmitted to human beings. Experts in the relative field must clarify these matters on an urgent basis with scientific reasoning and evidence.  

The composition of the committee of experts and their expertise in the relevant field to override WHO guidelines and the meetings or discussions they are engaged in need to be publicized in the interest of transparency. These representations are being made in the interest of the country’s best interests, its global reputation particularly in the Middle-Eastern countries which provide the highest foreign exchange earnings of US $ 7,000 million per year and in establishing acceptable scientific reasoning in the process of decision making affecting the fundamental rights of persons both living and dead.”

A copy has been also sent to the AG.



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Pakistan Navy ship arrives in Colombo

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Pakistan Navy Ship (PNS) Taimur arrived, at the port of Colombo, on a formal visit, yesterday morning (12). The visiting ship was welcomed by the Sri Lanka Navy, in compliance with naval traditions.The 134m-long ship is commanded by Captain M. Yasir Tahir and it is manned by 169 as the ship’s complement.

The Commanding Officer of PNS Taimur is scheduled to call on Commander Western Naval Area, at the Western Naval Command Headquarters, today. The ship is expected to remain in the island, until 15th August, and the crew of the ship will take part in several programmes, organized by the Sri Lanka Navy, to promote cooperation and goodwill between the two navies.

PNS Taimur is also expected to conduct a naval exercise with the Sri Lanka Navy in western seas on its departure on 15th August.

Meanwhile, PNS Tughril, an identical warship belonging to the Pakistan Navy, arrived in Sri Lanka on an official visit on 13th December 2021 and conducted a successful naval exercise with SLNS Sindurala off the western coast on 16th December. Naval exercises of this nature with regional navies will enable each partner to overcome common maritime challenges in the future, through enhanced cooperation.

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Stalin reads riot act to govt. over proposal to allow schoolchildren to work part time

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

The Alliance of Trade Unions and Mass Organisations yesterday warned that the government’s decision to allow schoolchildren, between the ages of 16 and 20, to work part time, would have disastrous consequences.Addressing the media on 11 Aug., General Secretary of the Ceylon Teachers’ Union, Joseph Stalin, said that the government was planning to amend laws, allowing schoolchildren to work in the private sector for 20 hours a week.

“Now, this may look like a progressive idea. A lot of families are

struggling and if another family member can chip in, it would be a great help. I am sure a lot of children feel the same way. It is also true that there may be children who will find great jobs and horn their skills,” he said.However, these proposals have come at a time when education is in crisis and the schools are on the verge of collapse.

“During the last two and a half years, most children have learnt nothing. But children who go to elite schools are doing better. These schools have systems in place, but most others don’t. Children who do not go to tier one schools have suffered and most children who do not go to such elite schools will not find part time work that will prepare them for the jobs of the future,” he said. “It’s not easy to balance school work with vocation training, especially physically intensive work. Most people will drop out and social mobility will further stagnate. Fix the education system first and create a more level playing field,” Stalin said.

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Harsha: Will RW use Emergency to steamroller his economic reforms?

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By Saman Indrajith

SJB MP Harsha de Silva yesterday asked President Ranil Wickremesinghe whether the latter was planning to use Emergency powers to suppress the people who might oppose his economic reform agenda.

“It is being asked why the government wants to continue the State of Emergency. The anti-government protesters have gone home. There is no unrest. There are those who say that the President wants to keep the Emergency laws to carry out economic reforms. Does that mean the President will use these laws to scare people into submission if they do not accept his economic reforms? I don’t think people can be intimidated. I want the President to answer this question,” he said.

MP de Silva said that the government did not have public support and that it was obvious that the spectre of the Rajapaksas was haunting the government.

“I agree that Wickremesinghe was appointed constitutionally. We have to work within the Constitution. However, the 134 votes he received on 20 July were not realistic. They have managed to manipulate the Constitution, but the government doesn’t have the support of the people. The problem is can the government win the support of the people,” he said.The SJB lawmaker added that Sri Lanka needed to restructure its debt. However, the country had not even started the process.

“One of the consultants we hired, Lazard, says that we have to start with China because it is new to debt restructuring. But we have not done so. Not only that, we have in fact started a diplomatic issue with China. What’s the front page news today? Can this government solve this sensitive international issue? Can it carry out the necessary economic reforms?” he asked.

MP de Silva said that the government had to work with the people and that it had to be honest with them. The government needed to present a common programme on which an all party government could be established.

“In 2020, we said that the government was on the wrong path and that we needed to seek IMF assistance. The government didn’t listen. We need an all-party programme to go before the IMF and get a decent deal. Today, I present to Parliament an economic recovery plan we have prepared. When we decided to throw our weight behind SLPP MP Dullas Alahapperuma, I was entrusted with the task of making an economic plan. We have run it through experts too. I ask the MPs to look at this and suggest improvements.”

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