Report – By the PMC news desk and Pacific Media Watch
The burning alive of a young woman accused of being a sorcerer in Papua New Guinea has shocked a nation and triggered debate about how to abolish such “barbaric” acts.
The publication of a photo of the burning of the woman, a mother of two, on a Mount Hagen city rubbish dump by the daily newspaper Post-Courier has also sparked debate about journalism ethics.
But the newspaper published the photo as a warning that urgent action needed to be taken to prevent similar tragedies happening and condemned the actions of the hundreds of onlookers who watched 20-year-old Kepari Leniata die.
“It is murder and we appeal to the Western Highlands police to immediately arrest and charge the perpetrators,” said the Post-Courier in an editorial.
“At the top of their list should be the ‘witch doctor’ who claimed the woman and two others from Gumine, Chimbu province, caused the death of a six-year-old boy.”
The relatives of the boy doused petrol on the woman whom they had suspected of killing the boy with sorcery and burnt her alive.
“The torture and brutal murder of a mother of two provided a photo opportunity for many of the onlookers, including school children, who crowded around and took photos of the woman being consumed alive by the fire,” the newspaper reported.
Rubbish dump fire
“The perpetrators tied the woman up with rope, drenched her with petrol, placed her on top of a heap of rubbish then placed used tyres over her before setting her alight.”
The newspaper said in the editorial that tragically, this was not the first sorcery-related killing in a Highlands province as human rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had written to the PNG government in 2009 to express concerns at similar killings.
“Their concerns at that time came on the back of 50 reported deaths in 2008 and the killing of another two in similar circumstances a year later,” the paper said.
The Post-Courier also condemned the crowd watching for not intervening to save the woman.
“The photographing of Wednesday’s brutal act by the crowd (including school children), without making moves to stop and condemn the murderers’ actions, points to a bigger danger of ordinary Papua New Guineans accepting this callous killing as normal and this methodology of dispensing justice as acceptable,” the paper said.
The Post-Courier said the “frequency in the occurrence of this barbaric act” warranted the intervention of PNG’s political leaders – “especially from the Highlands region where there has reportedly been an increase in similar cases in recent years”.
“They must come out condemning this act and appeal to those who witnessed the crime to come forward and give information to police, which would lead to the arrest of the perpetrators,” the paper said.
The Post-Courier added that work by the PNG Constitutional and Law Reform Commission to repeal the Sorcery Act – believed to be a key factor behind the “prosecution” of alleged sorcerers and witchcraft – should also be fast-tracked.
In a debate on Media Monitors Facebook social media site about whether it was right to publish the photo, Avaiki Nius editor Jason Brown said: “As citizens, and especially as journalists, it is our duty to be unblinking. If our duty includes the obligation to inform, then this might include consideration of when we need to blink for our audience.”
A former Post-Courier publisher, Bob Howarth defended the publication, saying: “I think, yes, it needs the pix. What was more horrifying than the actual burning victim was the looks on the faces of the adults and children watching such cruelty and savagery… and it happens too often.”
Cecile Pouilly, a spokeswoman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement: “We note with great concern that this case adds to the growing pattern of vigilante attacks and killings of persons accused of sorcery in Papua New Guinea.”
Source: Pacific Media Watch 8198