Sri Lankan authorities cremate 20 day old Muslim baby

The Sri Lankan authorities burned the dead body of a 20 day old Muslim baby on Wednesday in accordance with the nation’s controversial policy of cremating all COVID-19 victims.

Baby Shaykh died at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children in Colombo on Tuesday before being cremated on Wednesday.

“The 20-day-old infant was admitted to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital at around 4:00 am today (December 8). At the time of admission the infant was in critical condition with severe pneumonia,” Dr. G. Wijesuriya, the Director at the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children said.

The infant was then transferred to an Intensive Care Unit and was connected to a ventilator and treated throughout the day.

“The infant was confirmed COVID-19 positive in the afternoon, while it was also confirmed that the parents were not exposed to the virus,” Dr. Wijesuriya further noted.

Ex Sri Lankan MP Ali Zakir Maulana spoke to Fahim, the distraught father of Shaykh, and posted his account on Twitter.

Fahim said that upon arriving at the hospital at 10pm on Monday night the baby was subjected to antigen testing which indicated positive, while both himself and his wife’s results were negative.

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Fahim, bewildered by the fact that his baby’s results were positive and his and his wife’s (who was breastfeeding the infant) were negative, also heard that antigen testings usually result in “false positives.” He then requested the doctor to conduct a PCR test (which looks for evidence of the virus) on the child.

Ali Zahir Maulana, said: “The doctor refused and told Fahim to do so privately. Fahim is a three-wheel driver who has been living in a lockdown area for nearly a month and has no income. However, through a few phone calls he managed to get confirmation from people who were willing to pay for the PCR.

“While waiting for the antigen test report and trying to get hold of a private hospital to do the PCR test on the baby, he was told to leave the hospital and return home, leaving the baby in the hospital. Fahim and his wife went home reluctantly.

“Unable to secure any private means of conducting the PCR test, Fahim was in touch with the hospital by phone who informed him that Shaykh had been moved to the MICU around 3am. When contacting the hospital again at 5:30am, he was informed that his baby had passed away.

“Fahim immediately went to the hospital where the doctor told him that he’d need to sign some documents. Fahim said he would only sign if he can bury his baby and if a PCR test would be done. The official refused to release the baby’s body for burial and demanded that Fahim should sign the documents. When Fahim refused, the official demanded that either he should either sign or leave. He had no other option.

“A distraught and grieving Fahim chose to leave, leaving the body of his 20-day old son behind at the hospital. In the afternoon he received several calls from the hospital demanding that he come to the hospital and sign the documents.

“Overcome by grief, he sent his brother-in-law, Rifkhan, instead to try speaking with the authorities. The authorities remained defiant with Rifkhan, and Rifkhan left saying he can’t sign. He also noted that there were several media personnel loitering around the hospital.

“Around 3:30 pm, Fahim received another call from the hospital saying that they are moving Shaykh’s body for cremation to the Borella Crematorium, and to come if he wants. Fahim with a few friends went to the crematorium but he was unable to go inside, as he did not want to see his baby being burnt. Even there, he saw the media recording the entire episode and felt heartbroken of how they were making the burning of his baby son a spectacle.

“His friends tried to speak with the authorities one last time, but they refused to budge and proceeded to cremate the infant. Fahim, grief-struck returned home to his distraught wife and 6-year old daughter. He related to me, he prays this never happens to anyone’s children.

“According to him, they were trying to have another baby for 6 years and considered Shaykh as a blessing. He will indeed remain a blessing to his parents, having gone straight to the Highest Heaven as a pure soul. May Almighty give this family with patience.”

The cremation of baby Shaykh comes days after Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court rejected petitions by members of the Muslim community against the government’s regulation that makes cremations mandatory for COVID-related deaths.

Twelve Muslim petitioners challenged the regulation issued in April, claiming it impinged on the fundamental rights of the island’s Muslim minority. But their pleas fell on deaf ears.

On April 11, the government issued a gazette notification making cremations mandatory for COVID-related deaths.

Muslim leaders claimed the gazette violated World Health Organisation recommendations which do not oppose burials. The WHO guidelines stipulate that victims can be “buried or cremated.”

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