"...For most of us in the West, terms like sorcery and witchcraft tend to conjure images of delusional, damaged retirees gathering old berries for moonlit séances. However, some of the people who live in the more remote regions of Papua New Guinea possess a more extreme belief in the power of the occult. In fact, they take it seriously enough that, in the past couple of weeks, some of them have formed an armed mob and attacked two women accused of sorcery in PNG’s western island of Bougainville.
Women's rights advocate and former schoolteacher Helen Rumbali, her sister Nikono, and Nikono's two teenage daughters were held captive and tortured with knives and axes for three days before the mob beheaded Helen and seriously injured Nikono. Finally, after another fortnight of tense hostage negotiations with members of the local community, police managed to secure the release of the remaining three captives on Monday. Over the past few years, incidents like these have become common in Papua New Guinea. Late last month, six women accused of sorcery were tortured with hot irons as part of an Easter “sacrifice” in a village in the Southern Highlands. Yet despite the growing problem, sorcery-related violence often goes unreported.
“It’s something that has been going on for a long time," Kate Schuetze, Pacific researcher for Amnesty International, told me. "But there’s a huge stigma in terms of reporting sorcery-related violence. Those who've been accused of sorcery often have to flee the areas that they’re from, which means they might not want to report to the police or the media what’s been happening.”
Although sorcery-related killings are by no means a new phenomenon in PNG, the issue has gained significant attention recently, after images of a 20-year-old woman burned to death over sorcery claims were picked up by the international media in February. Since then, fresh reports of sorcery-related violence have been condemned by the international community...."