Oct 24, 2015

Papua New Guinea students share video appearing to show women tortured for 'witchcraft'

Helen Davidson
The Guardian
October 23, 2015

Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea

A shocking video has emerged which purports to show the torture of four women suspected of witchcraft in a Papau New Guinea village.

Sorcery-related violence and murder has long been an issue in the island nation, but government efforts to end it have failed to have an impact or even see one conviction.

The video shows at least four women who have been stripped, tied up, burned and beaten. They are prodded and threatened with machetes while being questioned by a group of men. The Guardian has obtained an edited version of the video but has chosen not to publish it.

The Guardian was told by two PNG sources the women were accused of sorcery after a young man fell ill in a village in Enga province in August.

Social media posts said the women were accused of “invisibly” taking the man’s heart, and then putting it back after they were tortured. In their attackers’ eyes this would also prove their guilt as sorcerers.

“There’s no real way they can prove themselves innocent,” one PNG source who has been involved in rescues of victims of sorcery-related violence, told Guardian Australia. “Once they’re suspected they’re basically done for, they’ll be tortured and maybe killed as well.”

According to the translation the women deny having done anything, and plead with their attackers. “My son, stop it!” says one woman, laying on the ground.

“Talk out, where did you put it?” comes the reply. “Burn her with the wire.”

“I’ve got nothing to do with it,” says another woman. “I am a mother with five children.”

It is thought at least one woman died after the ordeal but the Guardian was unable to confirm the claim.

The video is a graphic recording of what is a common occurrence in parts of PNG, and several similar acts in recent years have also been filmed or photographed and shared. “It’s not police photos or anything of the crime being shared,” said the source involved in rescues of victims. “It’s actual participants who are there and actually bragging about what they’re doing. It’s kind of like a Abu Ghraib video or something.”

 A video being shared on social media purports to show the torture of four women suspected of witchcraft in a Papua New Guinea village. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
 A video being shared on social media purports to show the torture of four women suspected of witchcraft in a Papua New Guinea village.
He said he was aware of many people sharing the video on their smartphones, including high school students, and said it wasn’t out of horror but rather approval for the actions being taken against the four accused women.

“There’s no logic going on in the matter … To try to talk logically, even to students, doesn’t really get you very far. They say, we have evidence and you ask what kind of evidence and they say it’s invisible evidence you can’t see it,” he said.

“It’s hard to argue against that.”

The incident is just one of numerous acts of violence or death related to accusations of sorcery and anger is increasing among Papua New Guineans as the attackers go unpunished.

In May a woman named Mifila was allegedly hacked to death just months after being rescued from “death row” in a village. She and three other women had been rescued in an intervention by police, missionaries and community workers.

“The lady, she was accused of performing magic resulting in the death of several people in the village,” Commander Epenes Nili, deputy police commander for Enga province, told Guardian Australia. “With this total lie, just because of the strong belief in [sorcery] there, she was murdered.”

Despite the resolve of some local commanders such as Nili – who has claimed he had to fundraise for the intervention trip – there has not been a single arrest or conviction for sorcery-related violence or murder.

In a high-profile case in 2013, 20-year-old Kepari Leniata was burned alive after she was accused of witchcraft. No arrest or conviction has been made.

Belief in witchcraft remains strong in the country, particularly in the highlands, although it has been noted that with increasing intermarriage and travel between regions, the beliefs are spreading to areas where they previously didn’t have a hold.

Samuel Basil, the PNG deputy opposition leader, said whole communities were taking part in torturing suspected victims. “It’s very hard for police to act when whole community is involved, and there’s no witness to testify,” Basil told the Guardian.

Basil said PNG police departments – particularly in rural and remote areas – were hugely under-resourced and could rarely intervene in an incident even if they witnessed it.

Boosting police numbers to enforce laws and educating people about sorcery were key, he said.

“We have a culture, a Melanesian culture, where some people very strongly believe in sorcery, including some very educated people. I do not believe in that but I’m sure I have very educated relatives who believe in sorcery,” he said.

“It’s very hard to fight right now, but I will raise this in parliament and help members of parliament who want to put up tougher laws.”

A PNG law that allowed a defence to violence if it was done to “stop witchcraft” was repealed in 2013, and killings related to sorcery accusations are now punishable by death.

The government is also developing a sorcery national action plan but Basil said there had been no improvements.

A sorcery-related forum will be held in PNG next week, with visiting academics and members of law enforcement and the US ambassador to PNG, Walter North.


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