Police Watch as Woman is Burned Alive for Sorcery

In this Feb. 6, 2013 photo, bystanders watch as a woman accused of witchcraft is burned alive in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea.

This past Wednesday in Papua New Guinea (PNG), 20-year-old Kepari Leniata was tortured and then tied up, doused in gasoline and set on fire in front of a crowd after being accused of killing a 6-year-old boy through sorcery by the boy’s relatives. Police officers, adults, and children watched as this woman was murdered. Apparently the police officers were unable to intervene because they were outnumbered by the villagers but afterwards, they did not make a single arrest. Currently, there is no known connection between Leniata and the 6-year-old boy who died in a hospital and more than 50 people are suspected to have played a part in this murder.

PNG’s National Police Spokesman is furious that the police did not make any arrests and stated that an internal investigation is being conducted to determine why these police officers could not save this woman.

The UN states that this incident is just one of other vigilante attacks and killings of people who have been accused of sorcery in PNG. Last July, 29 people, who were a part of a cannibal cult, were arrested for murdering 7 suspected witch doctors. Also in 2009, a young woman was burned alive at the stake because of a sorcery-related crime.

In PNG, there is a widespread belief in sorcery. Many of these people do not accept natural causes as an explanation for death, accidents or illnesses. The UN urges PNG authorities to educate its populace to prevent more attacks and murders based on sorcery. The UN has also called on the PNG government to stop these attacks and to bring these deaths to justice.

The PNG Police Commissioner suggests that courts need to be established to deal with sorcery allegations, as an alternative to villagers dispensing their own justice.

I thought that burning witches was something that took place between the 15th and 18th centuries, not during the 21st century! I am absolutely shocked and outraged that such a thing could take place in front of a crowd of people, including police officers, and nothing was done to save this woman’s life. Also, how would courts go about dealing with sorcery? It seems a little crazy but worth it if it would save  lives.

What do you believe should happen to the police officers that did not do anything to save this woman? Also do you believe in the Commissioner’s idea of courts somehow establishing a way to deal with sorcery allegations? How would the court system deal with the issue of sorcery?




  1. I understand that PNG has a widespread belief in sorcery. The people who live there actually believe that they are doing the people of the community a service. Therefore, for courts to tell them that sorcery doesn’t exist would be ineffective. The court system in PNG needs to find a way to adequately deal with sorcery allegations. If it doesn’t, innocent people are going to keep dying. But, when you really think about it, putting someone on trial for sorcery is just ridiculous. But at the same time, it wouldn’t really seem ridiculous to the people who live in PNG. Another problem could arise is that how do you prove or disprove a sorcery case? Maybe the courts and the people have a better answer to that question, because sorcery is a widespread phenomenon there.

  2. This story is shocking. First of all, fifty people were involved in this murder? The idea that fifty people in the entire world believe in sorcery is surprising to me, let alone the fact that out of fifty people, not one thought that maybe burning a woman alive was morally wrong. Assuming the people of PNG simply do not know any better, blame should fall on the government and the police. Outrageous crimes are committed all the time, but not usually when police officers are present. They could have called for back-up. They could have used their weapons to prevent these people from committing this public murder. I agree with Cali that news of witch/sorceress burnings in this century seems unfathomably primitive. To address Cali’s question, I do not think that anything should be added to the PNG court systems or laws in regard to this imaginative concept of sorcery. This was murder. Recall that the Son of Sam claimed his dog told him to murder people. New York would not add provisions of law for this conduct. I understand from this blog post that sorcery is wide spread in PNG, but to me this was still nothing more than getting away with brutal murder. The fifty murderers and conspirators should have been arrested and convicted in accordance with PNG law. The police officers who did not take action should at least be removed from the force if not charged themselves. Then again the police officers might raise the defense that they were cast under a spell at the time.

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