Harmful superstitions

Police investigate torture of women accused of witchcraft in Papua New Guinea

Women carry wood in Papua New Guinea. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

In October of 2015, a gruesome video depicting four women being beaten, burned and cut with machetes went viral in Papua New Guinea. The women had been accused of taking a man’s heart through sorcery, which is known as “sanguma” in PNG. One of the accused died as a result of the injuries inflicted upon her, and the other three were exiled.

Violence against “sorcery,” which is almost always directed at women, has become a widespread problem in PNG, where belief in the supernatural powers of witches is deeply entrenched. A law that cited “stopping witchcraft” as a viable defense to murder was only repealed in 2013. To showcase the challenges that police face when trying to stem the impact of harmful superstitions, deputy police commander Epenes Nili has released footage of testimony given by Max, the man who claims to have his heart “invisibly” stolen by four witches.

“She came and ate my heart while I was still sitting in the house,” Max says in the video. “I felt so cold and shivering that I went and lay down at the doorway to the room. And I called out ‘Sande, Sande’ and passed out. That was the end. I died like any other dying person.” Max claims that he was able to return to life because the villagers forced the women to confess and return his heart.

Nili has also asked locals to hand over those responsible for the torture. “Today we send a strong warning to the community … that the kind of idea they try to make up to implicate especially females, it’s only evil,” he said. “I strongly condemn this kind of action and I warn the people not to take the law into their own hands. Any suspected sorcery cases must be reported to police immediately.”

Read the story at The Guardian.

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