Woman Suspected of Witchcraft Burned Alive

Saeed Ahmed, CNN, January 8, 2009

A woman in rural Papua New Guinea was bound and gagged, tied to a log and set ablaze on a pile of tires this week, possibly because villagers suspected her of being a witch, police said Thursday.

Her death adds to a growing list of men and women who have been accused of sorcery and then tortured or killed in the South Pacific island nation, where traditional beliefs hold sway in many regions.

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Early Tuesday, a group of people dragged the woman, believed to be in her late teens to early 20s, to a dumping ground outside the city of Mount Hagen. They stripped her naked, bound her hands and legs, stuffed a cloth in her mouth, tied her to a log and set her on fire, Kauba [Simon Kauba, assistant commissioner of police and commander of the Highlands region] said.

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The country’s Post-Courier newspaper reported Thursday that more than 50 people were killed in two Highlands provinces last year for allegedly practicing sorcery.

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The killing of witches, or sangumas, is not a new phenomenon in rural areas of the country.

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In recent years, as AIDS has taken a toll in the nation of 6.7 million people, villagers have blamed suspected witches—and not the virus—for the deaths.

According to the United Nations, Papua New Guinea accounts for 90 percent of the Pacific region’s HIV cases and is one of four Asia-Pacific countries with an epidemic.

“We’ve had a number of cases where people were killed because they were accused of spreading HIV or AIDS,” Kauba said.

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