PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea – A mob stripped, tortured and bound a woman accused of witchcraft, then burned her alive in front of hundreds of horrified witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town, police said. It was the latest sorcery-related killing in this South Pacific island nation.
Bystanders, including many children, watched and some took photographs of Wednesday’s brutal slaying. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country’s two largest newspapers, The National and the Post-Courier, while the prime minister, police and diplomats condemned the killing.
In rural Papua New Guinea, witchcraft is often blamed for unexplained misfortunes. Sorcery has traditionally been countered by sorcery, but responses to allegations of witchcraft have become increasingly violent in recent years.
Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old mother, had been accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in a hospital on Tuesday.
She was tortured with a hot iron rod, bound, doused in gasoline, and then set alight on a pile of tires and trash in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen, national police spokesman Dominic Kakas said.
Deputy Police Commissioner Simon Kauba on Friday blasted Mount Hagen investigators by phone for failing to make a single arrest, Kakas said, adding that Kauba was “very, very disappointed.”
“The incident happened in broad daylight in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses and yet we haven’t picked up any suspects yet,” Kakas said.
Kakas described the victim’s husband as the “prime suspect” and said the man had fled the province. Kakas said he did not know if there was a relationship between the husband and the dead boy’s family.
He said more than 50 people are suspected to have “laid a hand on the victim” and committed crimes in the mob attack.