Four women accused of witchcraft killed after the death of a well-known businessman

Nine women were attacked following the sudden death of Jacob Luke during a walk in the woods. Four were killed while the others are receiving treatment at a hospital and a Catholic health facility. The violence continued even after the businessman’s funeral with the homes of the accused set on fire. The women were “tortured and locked up in a house,” said Auxiliary Bishop Ain. “It was terrible.”

Wabag (AsiaNews) - Nine women accused of witchcraft causing the death of a well-known businessman have been tortured. Four of them died from their injuries, two are still in hospital in critical conditions and three have been moved to a Catholic health facility.

The incident took place in Enga province, in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, after Jacob Luke, a businessman and community leader in the city of Wabag, was reported missing.

Luke, a well-known public figure, was seen leaving home to go for a walk on 21 July. No one suspected anything since the businessman had the habit of walking in the woods near his village.

Two days later his body was found. It is likely that he died of a stroke or heart attack, but only a post-mortem will determine the actual cause of death. Luke’s brother said that an autopsy is set to take place in the nearby town of Lae.

After news of Luke’s death spread, some residents of his village immediately lashed out at some women of his clan, accusing them of witchcraft (sanguma).

“When I heard the news, I went to pick up Dickson Tanda, coordinator of the local Caritas and we headed to Lakolam, the place where violence broke out,” said Mgr Justin Ain, auxiliary bishop of Wabag.

"Upon our arrival at Lakolam, there was a huge crowd of about three to four thousand people and the atmosphere was very tense,” the prelate explained. “By then the women had already been tortured and locked up in a house. Only a few leaders tried to persuade the perpetrators to release the women but there was no room [for negotiations]; those responsible were adamant.”

The police tried to intervene, to no avail. “About three or four police vehicles came but without enough men. The road was blocked by a dump truck and the agents were told not to come any closer. Seeing that they were outnumbered, the policemen eventually left.”

The women were released around 9 pm, but no one knew where they had taken refuge. Bishop Ain wanted to take them to the hospital for treatment, but the situation became more complicated when, after the funeral, some members of Luke's family set fire to the homes of the families of the women accused of witchcraft. There were no deaths but the houses were reduced to ashes.

On Sunday, after the provincial police moved in, the prelate managed to find the victims. Only five women were still alive. “After talking to the villagers and family members, I got them into my car. They had been badly tortured with iron sticks in every part of the body, including the genitals. It was terrible,” the bishop said.

“I brought them straight to Wabag General Hospital,” he added. “The two in more serious conditions remained, but since there were no more beds in the hospital, we took the other three to a Catholic health facility in Yampu where Sisters had prepared blankets and basic necessities.”.

The situation now seems to be back to normal, but the victims remain under observation. Family members of the women confirmed their innocence, saying they were tortured on false charges. Unlike other cases, those responsible for the violence are not close family members. For reason of confidentiality, the identities of the victims have not been made public.