The second wave of the corona virus is currently wreaking havoc in the country. The government is taking all necessary steps to protect the people from this pandemic.
The impact of the Coronavirus can only be controlled if it is carried out in accordance with the preventive guidelines of the public health authorities.
However, Health Minister Pavithra Vanniyarachchi has issued an Extraordinary Gazette notification No. 2170/8 on April 11 this year stating that the bodies of those who died of the Coronavirus infection must be cremated.
REGULATIONS made by the Minister of Health and Indigenous Medical Services under Section 2 and 3 of the Quarantine and Prevention of Diseases Ordinance (Chapter 222)
“The body of a person who died or suspected to have died of Coronavirus infection must be burned at a temperature of between 800 and 1200 degrees Celsius for at least 45 minutes to an hour to prevent any possible biological threat,” the notification said.
Thus the Muslims and Catholics living in the country are distressed greatly by this notification. Muslims have repeatedly called on the government led by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa not to cremate the dead Muslim bodies.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that People who have died from COVID-19 can be buried or cremated according to local standards and family preferences.
However, the corpses of those who died of the coronavirus in Sri Lanka continue to be cremated. No scientific explanation has yet been given for this decision taken by the Ministry of Health.
Several fundamental rights petitions have been filed challenging health authorities’ decision to cremate all coronavirus (COVID-19) victims in the Sri Lankan Supreme Court and investigations are underway.
The ongoing second wave has led to an increase in the number of people infected with the coronavirus as well as an increase in the number of deaths.
Thus, the demands for permission to bury the bodies of those who died of the coronavirus are increasing day by day from the Muslim community.
Credible sources said that the matter was discussed at the cabinet meeting held on Monday the 2nd Nov.
Opposition leader Sajid Premadasa, MPs Rauff Hakeem, Rishad Badiuddin and Mujibur Rahman brought the matter to the attention of the government in Parliament on Tuesday.
Responding to this, Health Minister Pavithra Vanniyarachchi said, “We have taken the decision to cremate the bodies instead of burying them on the advice of specialists from the health sector.”
However, the Ministry of Health is re-examining the matter at the request of Justice Minister Ali Sabri. A committee has been appointed for this, she said. The health minister urged the opposition not to politicize this.
Meanwhile, news was spreading that permission has been granted to bury the corpses of those who died due to coronavirus infection. That was fake news based on rumour that ‘there is no need to cremate corpses’ has been circulating on social media sites such as Facebook and WhatsApp since last Tuesday (03).
This fake news, which was published without any sources, caused great relief to the people who were very worried about the cremation of corpses thus it went viral as many people started sharing the news on social media without verification of the truth. Not only that but some people also shared this information on social media as a voice recording.
There are various political and economic motives behind the creation of such fake news. Based on a research of Facebook posts by the author of this article, it was observed that most of the people who had uploaded this fake news are those who are constantly writing on Facebook for politicians.
This was confirmed by Senal Vanniarachchi, the founder of Hashtag Generation, an organization that monitors social media in Sri Lanka. Not only that, he accused that in the background of spreading such fake news; since there are more and more voices in favour of politicians on social media like Facebook.
During this Covid situation, many fake news stories began to appear. The impact is now felt in the country to the extent that even President Gotabhaya Rajapakse is urging the people not to believe the fake news and to follow only the official news of the government.
Meanwhile, a 60-year-old man from Wellawatta and an 18-year-old youth from Mitiyagoda were arrested in the first week of October and remanded for spreading fake news. A police spokesman said they would be prosecuted under the Penal Code, the Police Ordinance and the Computer Crimes Act.
However, Attorney-at-Law and researcher Viranjana Herath said, “There are no direct laws in the country to control the creation and dissemination of fake news. It is imperative that we make laws related to this. The law should be enacted after detailed discussions with all parties concerned in this regard”. He further stressed that the law should be framed in such a way that it does not infringe on the freedom of expression right of the public.
The big question, however, is whether fake news problem can be solved by law alone. It is noteworthy that not only the laity but also the well-educated are among those who spread misinformation available to them through social media.
The standard solution for this is to bring about awareness among all parties the way to identify fake news.