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Accused 'witch' tortured, burned alive in Papua New Guinea

Posted By Kristen Butler, UPI.com   |   Feb. 8, 2013 at 8:28 AM  |  Updated Feb. 8, 2013 at 6:49 PM   |   Comments

Feb. 8 (UPI) -- Kepari Leniata, 20, was thrown screaming onto a pyre of tires and burned alive after being accused of killing a neighbor's son with sorcery.

After Leniata's six-year-old neighbor fell sick on Tuesday morning, he was taken to Mt Hagen hospital where he died a few hours later. Relatives of the boy believed witchcraft was involved and went to two women who admitted they practiced sorcery, but they told villagers that Kepari Leniata was the person responsible. The boy's family then dragged her from her home on Wednesday morning.

The young mother "confessed" after she was stripped naked and tortured with hot iron. She was then dragged to a local dump with hands and feet bound, covered in gas and thrown on a pile of burning tires. More gasoline-drenched tires were thrown on top of her as she screamed. Police and the fire truck called to the scene were beaten back by the crowd and could not reach Leniata before she died at the villagers' hands.

Many in Papua New Guinea believe in sorcery and witchcraft. In 1971 the country introduced the Sorcery Act to criminalize the practice and curb belief. Last July, 29 people were arrested accused of sorcery and cannibalism after allegedly murdering seven people to ritualistically eat their brains.

The other side of belief means "kangaroo courts" are a regular occurrence in some villages, where neighbors condemn each other for black magic. In 2009 a man was hacked to pieces by machetes after such a "court" made up of village elders convicted him of sorcery.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill issued a statement Thursday:

"Barbaric killings connected with alleged sorcery. Violence against women because of this belief that sorcery kills. These are becoming all too common in certain parts of the country. It is reprehensible that women, the old and the weak in our society should be targeted for alleged sorcery or wrongs that they actually have nothing to do with."

The U.S. embassy at Papua New Guinea issued a statement condemning the "brutal murder," calling it evidence of "pervasive gender-based violence."

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