A young mother was tossed screaming on to a pyre of tires and burned alive after being accused of killing a neighbor’s six-year-old son with sorcery.
The woman, named by Papua New Guinea’s The National as Kepari Leniata, 20, ‘confessed’ after she was dragged from her hut, stripped naked and tortured with white-hot iron rods.
She was then dragged to a local rubbish dump, doused in petrol and, with hands and feet bound, thrown on a fire of burning tires. As the mother-of-two screamed in agony, more petrol-soaked tires were thrown on top of her.
The tragedy unfolded after Miss Leniata’s young neighbor fell sick on Tuesday morning. He complained of pains in the stomach and chest and was taken to Mt Hagen hospital where he died a few hours later.
Relatives of the boy were suspicious that witchcraft was involved in the death and learned that two women had gone into hiding in the jungle.
After they were tracked down, the pair admitted they practiced sorcery but had nothing to do with the boy’s death. Miss Leniata, they said, was the person responsible.
The boy’s family went to her hut at 7am on Wednesday, stripped her and dragged her away to torture and death.
The Papua New Guinea Post-Courier reported that the sorcery-related murder took place in full view of hundreds of onlookers. “The torture and brutal murder of a mother of two provided a photo opportunity for many of the onlookers, including school children, who crowded around and took photos of the woman being consumed alive by the fire,” said the newspaper, which published a photo of the incident.
The newspaper also reported that although firemen rushed to the scene, angry perpetrators chased them away. Several policemen present at the scene were unable to save the women because they were outnumbered by the perpetrators and their supporters.
Although paramedics responded to the scene, they were unable to save Leniata, who leaves behind two children, the youngest an eight-month-old daughter.
Papua New Guinea police said they were treating the torching as murder and preparing murder charges against those responsible.
There is a widespread belief in sorcery in the poverty-stricken Pacific nation where many people do not accept natural causes as an explanation for misfortune, illness, accidents or death.
”People believe it’s (sorcery) something that exists, but it’s a crime. People will have to be arrested,” said Papua New Guinea police spokesman Dominic Kakas, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“As long as people believe in sorcery and they will tend to take violent action in relation to that, we will still have such killings in relation to that. That is why the commissioner is concerned, and he wants everyone to sit down and put their heads together and find a way to address this issue so that we can end or stop such senseless killings.”
The incident was condemned by David Piso, the head bishop of Gut Nius Lutheran Church. “Sorcery and sorcery-related killings are growing and the government needs to come up with a law to stop such practice,” Piso said.
‘Many innocent and helpless people have been killed and tortured after being accused of witchcraft, but taking a life is against the teachings of the Bible and the laws of the country,’ he said.
Authorities and international diplomats have spoken out against the torching of the young mother.
The US embassy in the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby issued a statement strongly condemning the “brutal murder” of Leniata, who had an eight-month-old daughter, as evidence of “pervasive gender-based violence”.
“We add our voice to those of Papua New Guinean religious and civil society leaders who have spoken out against the brutality inflicted upon Ms Leniata,” the embassy said.
“There is no possible justification for this sort of violence. We hope that appropriate resources are devoted to identifying, prosecuting, and punishing those responsible for Ms Leniata’s murder.”
The country’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill has sworn to bring the killers to justice, as he addressed the matter in a statement today.
The lives of the two other women accused of sorcery were spared.