Saudi Arabia increases Sri Lanka’s Hajj quota

Saudi Arabia increases Sri Lanka’s Hajj quota
Pilgrims from different countries have started arriving in Saudi Arabia. (SPA)
Updated 06 July 2019

Saudi Arabia increases Sri Lanka’s Hajj quota

Saudi Arabia increases Sri Lanka’s Hajj quota
  • Hajj pilgrims FROM Sri Lanka will obtain their entry visas to Saudi Arabia through an online portal for the first time

COLOMBO: The Saudi government has increased the Hajj quota for Sri Lankan pilgrims by adding 500 visas to the existing number, bringing the total to 4,000 from this year, Azmi Thassim, the island’s ambassador in Riyadh, told Arab News on Saturday.

Mohamed Hashim Mohamed Haleem, minister of postal services and Muslim religious affairs, thanked King Salman and Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah Dr. Mohammed Salih Bentin for this enhanced facility to allow more people to perform Hajj.

The Sri Lankan minister said that the new quota would be distributed among the prospective pilgrims on the ministry’s waiting list.

The minister said that for the first time in Sri Lanka, its Hajj pilgrims would obtain their entry visas to the Kingdom through an online portal. “We are thankful to the Saudi government for the new service which will save time and effort to obtain the Hajj visas for the pilgrims,” Haleem said.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi Arabia will issue 500 additional Hajj visas for Sri Lankan pilgrims.

• Sri Lankan pilgrims will obtain their visas through an online portal.

Prospective pilgrims have to apply with the required documents through a licensed travel operator in Sri Lanka, which will obtain the pilgrimage visas for the applicants provided they have not performed Hajj in the past five years. Applicants are required to attach their health certificates and other requested documents along with their applications.

“The Saudi government has been considerate in gradually increasing this quota from 2,240 pilgrims in 2015 to 3,500 to this year, and now an additional quota of 500 more pilgrims has been given on a request made by my ministry,” the minister said.

The minister explained that the Easter Sunday bomb blasts had an impact on the movement of the Hajj pilgrimage this year since about 100 pilgrims had withdrawn from the selected list due to pecuniary difficulties. 

He said that the security situation was quickly returning to normal, and there was no reason for concern.

He said the first flight of pilgrims is scheduled to leave Colombo by Saudi Arabia Airlines on July 15 from Bandaranaike International Airport. Sri Lankan Airlines will also fly pilgrims to the Kingdom.

Commending the health facilities and services available in Makkah and Madinah, he said that the Sri Lankan government would also send a team to attend to pilgrims with any urgent medical needs until they were taken to the nearest medical facilities.

Last year, the minister recalled that a Sri Lankan pilgrim successfully underwent heart surgery in Makkah. “These facilities were offered free-of-charge by the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, to look after the millions of Hajj and Umrah pilgrims who visit the holy cities throughout the year,” he said.


Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
Updated 19 January 2021

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
  • Taliban spokesman says first vice president wants to sabotage the peace talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday demanded the execution of Taliban prisoners as violence surges in the country in spite of US-sponsored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”