PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea – A woman accused of witchcraft has been burned alive in front of hundreds of witnesses in a Papua New Guinea town in one of the highest-profile sorcery-rated killings in this South Pacific island country, police said Friday.
The brutal slaying of 20-year-old mother of one Kepari Leniata on Wednesday has been condemned by the country’s prime minister, police and diplomatic observers.
Leniata was stripped naked by several assailants, tortured with a hot iron rod, bound, doused in gasoline, then set alight on a pile of car tires and trash in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen, police spokesman Dominic Kakas said.
Some of the hundreds of bystanders took photographs. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country’s biggest circulating newspapers, The Nation and Post-Courier.
Leniata was accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in the local hospital the day before, Kakas said.
“Investigations are continuing. We’ve got good leads. The husband is the prime suspect,” Kakas said.
Sorcery has traditionally been countered by sorcery in Papuan New Guinean culture. But responses to sorcery allegations have become increasingly violent in recent years.
Kakas said the death was the first the sorcery-related killing in Papua New Guinea in a year.
Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga described the killing as “shocking and devilish.”
“We are in the 21st century and this is totally unacceptable,” Commissioner Kulunga said in a statement Thursday.
He suggested courts be established to deal with sorcery allegations, as an alternative to villagers dispensing justice.
Prime Minister Pete O’Neill said he had instructed police to use all available manpower to bring the killers to justice.
“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,” O’Neill said.
The U.S. embassy in the national capital Port Moresby issued a statement condemning the killing and calling for a sustained international partnership to enhance anti-gender-based violence laws throughout the Pacific.
The embassy of Australia, Papua New Guinea’s colonial ruler until independence in 1975 and now its biggest foreign aid donor, said in a statement: “We join the U.S. embassy and the PNG government in condemning this murder and join all reasonable Papua New Guineans in looking forward to the perpetrators being brought to justice.”