Witch Hunts In The News

Papua New Guinea’s Tragic Witch-Hunts

Witch Doctor
Image Credit: REUTERS/David Gray

An excellent article by Dana MacLean on Papua New Guinea’s witch-hunts was published on October 21, 2014 in the Asia-Pacific current-affairs magazine, The Diplomat. It is a great read for anyone concerned with modern witch hunts and the plight of the accused in foreign countries.

Excerpt follows;

In the past decade in Papua New Guinea, hundreds of men, women and children have been accused of witchcraft or sorcery, and publicly tortured and murdered by vigilante mobs. Endemic fears of black magic haunt Pacific Island communities, fueling the violence.

“It is a public mob-mentality packed action. It is not just killing, but torturing, to try to get a confession out of them,” says Kate Scheutze, Amnesty International’s Pacific researcher.

In April 2014, six people – including two children – were murdered in Sasiko village in the Madang province on the northern coast of Papua New Guinea by marauding men from a neighboring village. Nearly one year earlier, a 20-year-old mother in Mount Hagen, in the Western Highlands, was burned to death after being accused of using sorcery against a 6-year-old boy who had died. These are just two examples of a widespread practice that targets men, women and children as a means to explain hardship and accidents, according to anthropologists. Papua New Guinea’s Constitutional and Law Reform Commission estimates that there are 150 sorcery-related deaths annually.

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Witch Hunts In The News

Kenyan Governor Bans Tanzanian Witchcraft

Kenyan Governor Bans Tanzanian Witchcraft

WUNDANYI, KENYA: A Kenyan governor, John Mruttu, has banned Tanzanian witchcraft and foreign witch doctors from operating in Taita Taveta County, authorities have said. Mruttu has also warned that locals who will be found harbouring them will be arrested and prosecuted.

Scores of people have been killed in the coastal region on suspicion that they were practicing witchcraft with Taita Taveta and Kilifi County the most affected.

“We met and agreed with the county Commissioner Mr Oningoi Ole Sosio that traditional witchdoctors will no longer be allowed to operate in the region. Anyone found harboring or facilitating their movement will be arrested and prosecuted,” Mruttu warned.

Mruttu made his remarks while addressing primary and secondary school heads and school management committees in Voi town during an education conference on Monday. The one day stakeholders’ conference was sponsored by the county government to discuss poor education standards and find lasting solutions to the problems, but apparently seemed like a great opportunity to Mruttu to make declarations about witchcraft. Ironically, the conference was aimed at streamlining standards of educating, identification of special needs placement and inclusion and transforming the county by developing a reading culture.

The meeting found out that widespread belief in witchcraft and practices among residents, sale and consumption of illicit brews and drugs, persistent famine and water shortages, persistent human wildlife conflicts as some of the major development obstacles in the region. However, rather than pass laws regarding the false accusation of witchcraft and the persecution of the accused, Mruttu found it more prudent to ban foreign witch doctors. He noted that witch doctors from the neighboring countries had secretly been invading the region and causing fear among the local community.

“Some have been coming on invitation by the local residents. We want teachers, parents and churches to take the lead in the fight against such outmoded cultural beliefs,” said Mr Mruttu.

A report by Ipsos research carried out last year reveals that Taita Taveta County was leading in terms of witch craft in the Coast region with 11 percent of the residents believing in the tradition. According to the research, ‘Kenya Coast Survey Development, Marginalization, Security and Participating’, Kilifi County is 8 percent while Kwale is third while 7 percent and Mombasa with 1 percent.


Witch Hunts In The News

Accused Of Witchcraft, Surat Woman Compelled for Divorce

Surat, India

A married woman from Piplod area of Surat, India, was accused of witchcraft and forced to leave her husband’s home. The husband and his in-laws also pressured the woman for a divorce.

The wife was sent to her parent’s home in Mahuva of Surat district in May 2014. The husband attempted to have divorce papers signed by the victim, and upon her refusal he would not take her back home. Following the refusal to take her back to home, the woman lodged a complaint in Mahuva police station.

Police booked Vinod Naika, his father Dhiru, mother Sudha and sister Lata, all residents of Piplod in Surat. The accused were booked for torturing the victim, suspecting her of practicing witchcraft. Vinod got married in 2005 with the victim and they had a son together. The relationship was reportedly normal until 2012. But from 2013, the Naika family started torturing the victim. They tortured the woman physically and mentally, she alleged in her complaint. The Naika family did not allow the woman to go to meet her parents, and her parents were not allowed to visit her home in Surat, as the Naikas alleged that her family also practiced witchcraft.

Registering the complaint police have started investigation in the case.

Witch Hunts In The News

Woman Stuck In Drain Accused of Being a Flying Witch

Abalti Barracks, Lagos, Nigeria

Witch Caught 3
Photo by EazyMedia Photos

In the “you can’t make this up” category, a young woman was rescued from a gutter around Abalti Barracks in Lagos, Nigeria on Friday morning, and accused of being a witch for being in the gutter.

Local media reported that a passer-by spotted the woman calling for help and ran to the nearest police barracks for assistance. Rescuers cut open the barricade with great difficult, and were finally able to bring her out. She came out naked. Local media reported the story with variations of the following headline; “Woman Turns Into A Bird And Lands Into The Gutter In Lagos”.

According to Daily Post Nigera, upon interrogation the woman declared, in tears, “My name is Amudat Jimoh. It was God that sent me here. He said I should confess my sins so that I don’t die. Please, I need water to drink. Help me. I don’t know how I found myself here. Please help me.”

Despite her pleas and explanation, many local residents said she was a flying witch who fell and got stuck inside the drainage, considering that the drainage had to be cut open by a welder. Others felt she might have fallen into the gutter during the night.

“I saw this kind of situation years back,” an eyewitness said. “A woman was found inside a pit toilet and said she didn’t know how she got there. According to her, the last thing she recalled was being at a native doctor’s house to get cure of HIV. A bag was found on her with Anti-retroviral drugs in it and money. This is a case Witchcraft.”

The woman was taken away by Ambulance for medical attention.

Photos on local media were titled with variations of “witch caught”.

Witch Caught 1
Photo by EazyMedia Photos
Witch Hunts In The News

70 Year Old Accused Witch Stoned To Death In Kenya

Burning Body

One astonishing aspect of monitoring news sources for witchcraft-related attacks is reading apparently indifferent accounts of horrific events. This article from a Kenyan online newspaper is a perfect illustration, where the author doesn’t seem the least bit fazed by the fact that a 70 year old man was stoned to death in Kenya in 2014.

The sub-title read;

A 70 year old man was attacked and his body set ablaze by residents of Kiambere in Mbeere South on suspicion that he was practicing witchcraft.

The entire article follows;

OCPD Bernstein Shari said police have started investigating the matter and those involved in the death of the elderly man will be arrested and prosecuted.

Shari asked residents not to take law into their hands and instead involve the police by reporting suspects for proper interrogation.

The body of the deceased is still at the Mbeere Police Station.

Perhaps the only thing worse than being stoned to death and your body burned is to be stoned to death and your body burned, and then have your demise reported with little interest in local media. Ever human being deserves better than that.

Witch Hunts In The News

Mob Kills, Buries A Man Accused Of Witchcraft

Kabende Village

A seventy-two-year-old man, Muchinga Kabali, was accused of witchcraft and killed in Kabende Village in Chief Kasoma Bangweulu in Samfya, Zambia. Mr. Kabali was killed and buried by a mob that suspected him.

Luapula Province Police chief Malcolm Mulenga said that at around 16:00 hours on Sunday, February 24, an angry mob descended on Mr. Kabali with various objects and murdered him. Mr. Mulenga said Mr. Kabali was suspected of changing into a crocodile which was terrorizing and killing people in the area.

He said around 17:00 hours, a 28-year-old, Evans Chibuye of Prisons Township, reported the matter to Samfya Police saying that he had seen a mob attack a man. When police officers rushed to the village, they found the mob had dispersed and the body of Mr. Kabali was already buried by the same mob.

Mr. Mulenga said no arrests have been made and investigations had been launched into the matter.

“I wish to warn the public to refrain from taking the law into their own hands. Those found wanting concerning this matter will be dealt with,” he said.

Mr. Mulenga said police have marked the grave and have informed medical practitioners that they would exhume the body to conduct a postmortem.

Witch Hunts In The News

Woman Branded Witch, Killed In Chhattisgarh, India

Chhatiisgarhi Dance

RAIPUR: A woman was killed in India on suspicion of being a ‘tonhi’ – a woman involved in witchcraft practices – in Uparwara village of Naya Raipur on Wednesday.

Local police arrested four people, all who were the woman’s immediate relatives. The case is similar to one of Balrampur, India where a woman was killed by her neighbors when their relatives suffered from a prolonged disease.

The deceased, Dulari Bai, 52, was the wife of a local farmer, Hariram Sahu. The couple didn’t have children. Her husband’s brother, Mehattar, and his family had always accused her of being a witch and beat her frequently because of it.

Things turned worse recently when Mehattar’s daughter-in-law fell sick and murmured Dulari’s name in an unconscious state, which enraged all of the family members. They suspected that Dulari was working spells on the woman to make her sick. Then early on Wednesday, Mehattar, with his wife Rajwanti, son Madan and another person named Manoj, went to Dulari’s house with traditional weapons and beat her to death.

Police acted swiftly and arrested all four of the accused under sections 302, 34 of the IPC while, after further investigations, the case would be registered under relevant sections of the Witchcraft Prevention Act 2005, police said.

“The psychology behind such extreme steps is usually to end the cause, as just a suspicion on someone would not serve the purpose and villagers’ problems would remain intact. Hence, without giving second thoughts, they either humiliate, assault or kill women under suspicion,” said Dr Dinesh Mishra, who is working against superstition and black magic.

He said that it was high time for the administration to take a call. “Acting against accused and working according to prevention Act is fine, but there’s an urgent need to make people aware about how innocents are being killed over groundless issues,” he said.

However, when contacted, the state commission for women told the Times of India that the commission was working without a chairperson, as the former serving Vibha Rao’s tenure ended in December and no other official preferred to comment.

Talking to the Times of India, Subrat Sahu, secretary of the department of women and children, said that cases of assault had come down. “Consistent awareness programs are going on in affected areas which need to be intensified. We would call for registered cases and after conducting surveys, would act swiftly against the issue.”

Chhattisgarh witnesses say frequent cases of assault on women over witchcraft practices often go unreported. This is a third major case reported in last 15 days in the state.

Witch Hunts In The News

Woman Beaten For Witchcraft In Nepal

Golbazar, Nepal

SIRAHA, NEPAL: A gang of three men in Asanpur, Golbazar ruthlessly beat a woman whom they accused of practicing witchcraft. Subardevi Yadav, the victim, was severely beaten up at her own house on Monday.

According to local police, the attackers have been identified as locals Mahendra Yadav, Jugana Yadav and Badri Yadav. They also attacked the other family members of Subardevi.

Subardevi said the villagers have been accusing her of practicing witchcraft for a long time already.

“I have told them not to put baseless accusation on me,” she said.

According to Subardevi, she had even challenged the villagers to bring a ‘real witch-doctor’ to check if she was really a witch.

Subardevi is receiving medical treatment at Golbazar-based Shree Ram Hospital.

Police have already arrested assailants Mahendra and Badri. The third attacking, Jugana, is in hiding. Further investigations are underway, police said.

Malleus In Culture

The Prevalence of Witches in India

Indian Witch

According to writer Anusua Mukherjee, a lot more than just legislation is needed to curb the frequent incidents of witch-hunting in Odisha, India. She cites the Malleus Maleficarum in a recent article for The Telegraph newspaper in Calcutta, India.

According to Mukherjee;

The Witch Hammer, 1486, speaks in the authoritative voice of a book of law – in terms convincing in their precision, it lays down the rules with which the process of “justice”, involving the identification, prosecution and systematic elimination of witches (almost always women), is to be conducted.

She brings the influence of the Malleus Maleficarum into a contemporary context;

Not surprisingly, the book sat on every magistrate’s desk during the Inquisition and was referred to repeatedly in molesting, torturing and killing women by branding them the devil’s accomplices. The methodology it codified – singeing the woman with a red hot iron to extract confessions, stripping her, shaving her body – does not really sound so medieval when considered in the context of contemporary Indian reality.

She then illustrates examples of how the tactics set forth in the Malleus Maleficarum are sometimes applied in a modern world.

Here, the common people’s continuing lack of access to the formal justice system in remote and not-so-remote areas means that any powerful person, starting from the local MP, the village headman, to an ojha (healer) or a quack, can mimic the voice of law to serve his interests, as the author of Malleus Maleficarum did.

If in Birbhum in West Bengal, the kangaroo court led by the village morol allegedly sentenced the 20-year-old girl to a gang-rape because it had judged her guilty of indiscretion, in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, a 45-year-old widow was recently killed by two men who had been led to believe that she was a witch responsible for the death of their relatives.

The places and the details of the crime differ but the victim is invariably a woman, usually from an impoverished background, whose fraught position in terms of gender, class and economy makes it easy for her community to eliminate her by giving her a convenient name – whether of a person of loose morals or of a witch.


General Blog

Accused Witch Beaten to Death in La Libertad, Peru

A 68-year-old accused witch in the La Libertad region of Peru was beaten to death by a group of citizen patrol members who call themselves “ronderos”. The group is reported to have killed the woman because they suspected she was using black magic to kill her own son.

The Lima, Peru newspaper La Republica reports that the woman, Elesmira Zárate, was held by the ronderos for two days and underwent punishment which included physical abuse and being forced to walk for very long distances. Her kneeling body was found in the town of Pichimpampa, after the victim’s family asked for assistance from the local district attorney’s office to retrieve her remains for burial.

The body was taken to a nearby morgue for examination. According to RPP Noticias, investigators found many injuries on the woman’s abdomen, as well as marks on her neck which indicated that she had been choked. Bruises found on her legs, RPP reported, may indicate that Elesmira Zárate was tortured before dying.

Local legal authorities have ordered the arrest of three of the ronderos who are suspected to have been involved in Zárate’s death. RPP reports that the ronderos maintain the woman died from a pre-existing illness and not because of any physical punishments inflicted by the group.

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