Accused 'Witch' Kepari Leniata Burned Alive in Papua New Guinea

Friday, 08 Feb 2013 10:17 AM

By Megan Anderle

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Hundreds of bystanders, including many children, watched a 20-year-old mother accused of witchcraft be stripped and tortured, then burned alive in a Papua New Guinea town.

Kepari Leniata was accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who died in the hospital the day before.

More than 50 men participated, torturing her with a hot iron rod, binding her, and dousing her in gasoline before setting her ablaze with a pile of car tires and trash in the Western Highlands provincial capital of Mount Hagen, national police spokesman Dominic Kakas said.

In rural Papua New Guinea, a poor tribal nation of seven million, witchcraft is often blamed for unexplained misfortunes. Retaliations have become increasingly violent in recent years.

Though the country's prime minister, police, and diplomats condemned the killing on Friday, photos depicting the grisly event were plastered across the front pages of the country's biggest circulating newspapers, Fox News reported, making it one of the highest-profile sorcery-related murders in the country.

No one was arrested in the organized killing, said Deputy Police Commissioner Simon Kauba and he criticized Mount Hagen investigators for their inability to make a single arrest.

"The incident happened in broad daylight in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses and yet we haven't picked up any suspects yet. I am very, very curious about that," Kakas said.

Kakas said Leniata's husband is the "prime suspect," but he can't be found. He said he didn't not know if there was a relationship between the husband and the dead boy's family.

Prime Minister Pete O'Neill said he had instructed police to use all available manpower to bring the killers to justice.

The U.S. Embassy in the national capital Port Moresby issued a statement calling for a sustained international partnership to enhance anti-gender-based violence laws throughout the Pacific.

In other sorcery-related killings, police arrested 29 people in July last year for allegedly taking part in a cannibal cult in the country's jungle, according to Sky News. They were charged with the murders of seven suspected witch doctors.

Police claim they ate victims' brains raw and made soup of their penises to attain supernatural powers.

Murder is punishable by death by hanging in the country, but no one has been hanged since it gained independence in 1975.

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