Moral Low Ground


Accused Papua New Guinea ‘Witch’ Kepari Leniata Tortured, Burned to Death as Punishment for ‘Sorcery’

(Photo: Ramcy Wama/Post-Courier)

(Photo: Ramcy Wama/Post-Courier)

A young mother accused of killing a neighbor’s child with ‘sorcery’ was brutally tortured before being burned to death in the remote central highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Agence France-Presse reports that 20-year-old Kepari Leniata of Paiala was accused of killing a 6-year-old boy with sorcery. The boy, who fell ill on Tuesday morning, died just hours after arriving at Mt. Hagen Hospital complaining of chest and stomach pain.

The boy’s family suspected foul play– specifically, witchcraft– was to blame for his death. They also found out that two women had ran off into the jungle to hide. Villagers tracked down the pair, who admitted to practicing sorcery but denied any involvement in the child’s death. They fingered Leniata, who was found at around 7:00 a.m.

The dead boy’s relatives stripped the mother of two naked and dragged her from her hut, where she was tied up and tortured with a branding iron before being doused in petrol and burned alive. As Leniata screamed in agony, more tires were tossed onto the grisly pyre. Among the gawking crowd were many schoolchildren. Police who attempted to intervene were held at bay by infuriated villagers. A fire truck that attempted to respond was also turned away.

Police are investigating the incident as a murder and preparing to charge those responsible, AFP reports.

MailOnline reports that Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has vowed to bring Leniata’s killers to justice.

“No one commits such a despicable act in the society that all of us, including Kepari, belong to,” O’Neill said.

“Violence against women because of this belief that sorcery kills. These are becoming all too common in certain parts of the country,” he added. “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.”

Despite having been outlawed in 1971, sorcery is still practiced throughout Papua New Guinea, an impoverished nation of 6 million inhabitants located at the eastern edge of the Indonesian archipelago, just north of Queensland, Australia. Changing laws is one thing; changing deeply-ingrained cultural beliefs quite another. Many Papua New Guineans continue to believe in sorcery, witchcraft and black magic, refusing to accept more scientific explanations for misfortune, illness, death and accidents.

Last year, police in Biamb arrested 29 members of an alleged anti-sorcery cannibal cult who were accused of eating their sorcerer victims’ raw brains and penis soup.

In 2011, a man was caught eating his screaming newborn son during a sorcery initiation ritual near the Western Province town of Tabubil.

And in 2009, another young woman from Mt. Hagen was bound, tortured and burned alive on a pyre of tires after being accused of witchcraft.

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