Port Moresby, Caritas: 'Stop violent witch hunts'

Church calls for an end to impunity for those who torture women accused of witchcraft. Last month four women were killed because they were blamed for the death of a local businessman. So far, the government's implemented plans have not worked.

Port Moresby (AsiaNews) - "Stop the violence related to accusations of witchcraft" and impunity for those who carry out such acts. This is the call made today by Caritas Papua New Guinea during a press conference after the barbaric abuse perpetrated against nine women accused of procuring through witchcraft the death of a well-known businessman in Enga province.

After the discovery of the body of Mapai Transport owner Jacob Luke, who probably died of a heart attack or stroke, members of the local community tortured nine women, killing four of them.

"The survivors were placed in the care of our staff and volunteers under the administration of the Catholic Diocese of Wabag. We will continue to offer them care until their reintegration into the community, when it is deemed safe," said the diocese's auxiliary bishop Msgr. Justin Ain Soongie. "We strongly condemn this heinous act perpetrated by some individuals who continue to disturb the peace and harmony of our societies by inflicting unimaginable suffering on vulnerable women."

"Witchcraft is an opportunistic behavior largely driven by suspicion, fear, revenge, dishonesty and economic desires, and unfortunately it is usually encouraged by friends and relatives," the official Caritas statement continues. "Although witchcraft beliefs and practices are still prevalent in some parts of the country, we have never seen an act as barbaric as this recent incident."

"We also call attention to the recent statements made by the Enga Provincial Police Commander and the Police Commissioner, particularly their assurance to pursue the perpetrators and have them arrested and prosecuted," Bishop Justin Ain Soongie continued in his statement. "We urge them to keep their word and make the same appeal to the courts in Wabag to act promptly to expedite all cases of violence related to registered witchcraft accusations so that the perpetrators are punished," because "the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of such serious acts is simply unconscionable."

To put an end to the problem once and for all, the final appeal was addressed to politicians, "We call on the elected members of parliament in Enga province and the new government to prioritize the elimination of violence related to witchcraft accusations" both locally and nationally. "To remain silent on the issue is to implicitly endorse this evil that is gradually destroying our families, our homes, our societies and the country as a whole," the statement concludes.

According to an Australian National University study published in 2017, only 91 out of 15 thousand offenders had been incarcerated for their crimes. Plans implemented so far by the government to eradicate "witch hunts" have proven ineffective. On the contrary, according to several local sources, violence related to accusations of witchcraft is increasingly prevalent even in provinces of Papua where it has not traditionally been present.