A woman accused of sorcery was tortured, burned and set on fire on Wednesday in Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea, reports Australia’s Courier Mail. Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old mother of one, was accused of sorcery by the relatives of a six-year-old boy who had died the previous day. Both of Papua New Guinea’s national newspapers ran front-page stories with photos depicting Leniata burning in a mass of flames. Witnesses spoke of how the woman was tortured with a hot iron rod, bound and doused in gasoline before being thrown on a heap of rubbish and set on fire.
Local police and firefighters claim they were unable to help the women due to the large crowds that gathered to watch, writes the BBC. “It is reprehensible that women, the old and the weak in our society should be targeted for alleged sorcery or wrongs that they actually have nothing to do with,” Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, Peter O’Neill, said in a statement, writes the Courier Mail. Police spokesperson Dominic Kakas explained how sorcery-related killings have become “an ongoing problem and has been in the spotlight for some time now.”
An Oxfam report in 2010 found that beliefs in sorcery and the practice of witchcraft are not uncommon in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Many people “do not accept natural causes as an explanation for misfortune, illness, accidents or death,” the report states. Instead, some blame their problems on sorcery or black magic – sanguma as it is known in the local language. In 2012, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, highlighted the “brutality of assaults perpetrated against suspected sorcerers, which in many cases include torture, rape, mutilations and murder.”
“The accusations of sorcery,” Manjoo said, “are commonly used to take away women’s land and/or their property.”
A representative of the U.S. embassy in the capital Port Moresby has condemned the killing of Ms. Leniata as “brutal murder” and evidence of “pervasive gender-based violence” in Papua New Guinea, according to the BBC.
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