Accused Witch Burned Alive in Papua New Guinea

Shortly after being tortured into confessing to witchcraft, a 20-year Papua New Guinea woman was burned alive on a local rubbish dump.   Kepari Leniata, who lived in the Highlands village of Paiala with her husband and two children, came under suspicion for witchcraft following the death of a six-year old boy.   The boy died in hospital just hours after being admitted complaining of chest and stomach pain.   When the family of the deceased boy suspected witchcraft, they accused two local women who had fled into the jungle for safety.   After the women were tortured into confessing to sorcery, they also implicated Leniata.     Following the accusation of causing the boy's death through witchcraft, the family then recruited a large group of fellow villagers who participated in the execution. 

Kefari Leniata was stripped and dragged from her hut before being tortured into confessing with a branding iron.    She was then dragged to the rubbish dump, doused in gasoline, and  her bound body was thrown on top of a pile of burning automobile tires.   As she screamed in agony, more burning tires were thrown on top of her until her body was consumed.  Police attempted to rescue her but were turned away since they were outnumbered by the crowd.  A firetruck was also turned away.   Many schoolchildren were part of the large crowd that witnessed the death.

Belief in witchcraft remains strong in many parts of the country and incidents of witch burning have been on the rise in recent years.   In a press statement, Papua New Guinean Prime Minister Peter O'Neill publicly vowed to bring the ones responsible to justice.  "No one commits such a despicable act in the society that all of us, including Kepari, belong to,” he said. “Violence against women because of this belief that sorcery kills. These are becoming all too common in certain parts of the country. 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.”   

Whille sorcery and the killing of sorcerers was outlawed in 1971, many self-declared sorcerers still advertise their services in parts of the country.   Sorcery is commonly blamed for deaths, whether due to accident or disease and attitudes remain slow to change.   Police continue to crack down on anti-witch crusades including a cannibal vigilante cult that was active until recently.  As well, another young woman was tortured and burned alive in the same manner as Kepari Leniata in 2009.

Police are still investigating including using the numerous photographs taken during Kepari's murder to identify the ones responsible. 

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