Pacific Media Watch

10 February 2013

PNG: Opinion - Time for leaders to condemn sorcery killings

Hero image
The controversial Post-Courier photo of the sorcery burning described by the editorial as "barbaric". Image: Ramcy Wama

EDITORIAL PORT MORESBY (PNG Post-Courier / Pacific Media Watch): Papua New Guineans do actually live in the 21st Century and use mobile phones, watch television, surf the net and drive to work in cars – we basically have technology at our finger tips.

Just like other members of the global community we have become technological beings and respect the rights of others here and abroad to choose and to enjoy all that this world has to offer. After all that is enshrined in our Constitution and the law of the land is explicit in that there must be respect for the dignity of every individual.

Respect for the rule of law and the rights of others are pillars of a modern-day democracy and we would like to think Papua New Guinea falls under this category.

But when we hear stories of Papua New Guineans being accused of sorcery and burnt alive in a somewhat public spectacle, we recoil with fear and disgust and ask whether we should indeed be proud of ourselves as a nation of individuals who respect our fellow human beings and believe that justice is dispensed in a legally constituted court of law and not a kangaroo court chaired by individuals misled by superstition and trickery.

It is in this light we condemn in the strongest terms possible the gruesome burning of a woman [[20-year-old Kepari Leniata] suspected of sorcery in the Western Highlands capital, Mt Hagen. It is murder and we appeal to the Western Highlands police to immediately arrest and charge the perpetrators, at the top of their list should be the ‘witch doctor’ who claimed the woman and two others from Gumine, Chimbu Province caused the death of a six-year-old boy.

Witch doctors and the so-called "glass man" are nothing but con artists whose claims to posses magical powers are a sham designed to prey on unsuspecting Papua New Guineans.

Tragically, this is not the first sorcery-related killing in a Highlands province as human rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch wrote to the PNG government in 2009 to express concerns at similar killings. Their concerns at that time came on the back of 50 reported deaths in 2008 and the killing of another two in similar circumstances a year later.

The photographing of Wednesday's brutal act by the crowd (including school children), without making moves to stop and condemn the murderers’ actions, points to a bigger danger of ordinary Papua New Guineans accepting this callous killing as normal and this methodology of dispensing justice as acceptable.

The frequency in the occurrence of this barbaric act warrants the intervention of our political leaders, especially from the Highlands region where there has reportedly been an increase in similar cases in recent years. They must come out condemning this act and appeal to those who witnessed the crime to come forward and give information to police, which would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators.

Work by the PNG Constitutional and Law Reform Commission to repeal the Sorcery Act, which human rights groups believe is a key factor behind the "prosecution" of alleged sorcerers and witchcraft, should also be fast-tracked and the necessary legislation put to Parliament for this archaic law to be abolished once and for all.

PNG Post-Courier editorial published on 7 February 2013.

Burnt alive! - PNG Post-Courier page 8 news story


Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 New Zealand Licence.

Pacific Media Watch

PMC's media monitoring service

Pacific Media Watch is compiled for the Pacific Media Centre as a regional media freedom and educational resource by a network of journalists, students, stringers and commentators. (cc) Creative Commons