Government should revisit Sorcery Act

Editorial

SORCERY related violence and killings are a serious problem that needs to be given attention and resources to deal with it.
And the number of sorcery and witchcraft accusation related violence (SARV) is on the rise.
Last week, police rescued two women from the jaws of death in another sorcery-related violence and mob attack in Kamkumung’s Martha Block in Lae last Wednesday.
The women were in the midst of being tortured – slashed and burnt with iron rods – watched by a crowd of more than 500 people when the Omili police moved in to save them.
The mob had alleged that the two women practiced sorcery and caused the death of another woman.
This is the second such sorcery-related violence and attack in Lae within 26 days. We only know of what is being reported in the media but those who are familiar with this issue know it happens almost every week.
And it is mostly woman who are victims.
Some manage to escape while others die a slow painful death, without the world knowing about it.
Belief in sorcery and witchcraft is deeply entrenched and widely held in different forms across Papua New Guinea, not only in remote or rural areas.
Violence related to accusations of sorcery and witchcraft is a real problem.
The media overtime has been criticised for reporting negative news when it comes to SARV but you can hide the fact, that many are losing their lives to sorcery-related mob attacks, accusations, tortures and killings.
It seems most of the population of PNG do not accept natural causes as an explanation of illness or death.
The belief that sorcerers and witches have used their supernatural powers in order to harm other people is a common belief and the relatives of the victims retaliation against the alleged witches and either murder, torture, destroy of their property or exile them .
This is senseless, barbaric and against the law.
We support the call by northern-end Asst Comm (ACP) Peter Guinness for the Government to revisit the Sorcery Act 1971 that was repealed in 2013.
When the act was repealed, a new provision in the Criminal Code Act 1974 (Chapter 262) was created which provides that any person who intentionally kills another person on account of an accusation of sorcery is guilty of wilful murder, for which the penalty is death.
Guinness said the Government, through the Justice Department and Attorney-General, should come clear with a Sorcery Act because many sorcery victims had suffered severe torture and survived, while others were killed in mob attacks.
We agree with Guinness that there should be clear directives on how police and courts can enforce the procedures in investigating sorcery-witchcraft allegations, court reporting, prosecutions and penalties to enhance justice systems. From those who have been working behind the scene on this issue, they say it is tiring trying to convince those in power that this is a serious problem that needs resources.
People who are accused and tortured need help and the human rights defenders need assistance (mobile credits, money for fuel , money to buy coffins etc) and the police need the co-operation of communities so they can adequately respond to SARV.
This issue need a holistic approach.
There should be more engagement with political leaders to make that sorcery national action plan (Snap) work.
The delay to implement an amended Sorcery Act has resulted in an increase in mob attacks by accusers taking the law into their own hands.

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