‘Barbaric’: Dark underbelly of crisis on Australia's doorstep

·Assistant News Editor
·3-min read

A woman and her daughter in Papua New Guinea have reportedly been tortured due to a belief they were practicing sorcery following the death of the woman's husband amid the worsening coronavirus situation in the country

According to PNG's national newspaper, police had to rescue the pair who were accused of practising witchcraft by local villagers.

It's believed her husband's death was linked to a Covid-19 infection as the virus continues to spread throughout the island nation

Her husband was a community healthcare worker, The National reported. 

The women were reportedly rescued by police while being tortured. Source: The National/Goroka Hospital
The women were reportedly rescued by police while being tortured. Source: The National/Goroka Hospital

The women, aged 45 and 19, were located by authorities while being held captive by locals in a settlement in Goroka, in the Eastern Highlands, on Tuesday. 

Both the mother and daughter had broken arms, burn marks and cuts on their arms, heads and bodies when police found them being held captive.

A relative reportedly got word to police, allowing the women to be saved.

The ABC's Papua New Guinea correspondent called the report "incredibly distressing".

The disturbing case highlights a unique dark side of the country's worsening battle with the coronavirus pandemic. 

Known locally as Sanguma, there is a deep and persistent believe in black magic and witchcraft that still exists in parts of PNG, particularly in the remote villages in the highlands. 

In this instance, the family members of the husband had reportedly blamed the wife, accusing her of sorcery over his death, a common scenario in such cases as victims are overwhelmingly vulnerable women. 

Police say they have launched an investigation and issued threats to those involved with local Goroka MP Aiye Tambua describing the crime as "plain barbaric".

Sanguma belief fuels violent killings

Human rights groups estimate that there are as many as 200 killings related to sorcery in PNG on an annual basis, while local activists say thousands are forced from their homes and communities due to accusations of witchcraft.

In November, there was a spike in sorcery-related deaths with five people killed in a single week, including the hanging of a 13-year-old boy. 

The belief of witchcraft remains stubbornly persistent in much of the country's rural areas. Source: Nick Whigham
The belief of witchcraft remains stubbornly persistent in much of the country's rural areas. Source: Nick Whigham

Lutheran missionary Anton Lutz, based in Enga, in the PNG highlands, said the diverse beliefs in black magic motivate the extrajudicial killings.

“Papua New Guineans’ ideas about sanguma and sorcery are regionally diverse, logically contradictory, change over time, and spread to new places and people where they mix with other pre-existing beliefs," he told The Guardian at the time. 

“And they are used to justify their illegal violence against vulnerable people."

In the latest figures from the country's Department of Health, PNG recorded 157 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, taking the national official total to 6,112 – a vast majority of which have been recorded in the last month. 

However due to limited testing regime, the real number of infections is believed to be dramatically higher. 

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