PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (TheBlaze/AP) — Papua New Guinea police say they are about to make their first arrests almost a week after a mob stripped, tortured and bound a woman accused of witchcraft, then burned her alive in front of hundreds of horrified people in the South Pacific nation’s third largest city.
More than 50 members of the mob doused Kepari Leniata, a 20-year-old mother, with gasoline and then set her alight on a pile of car tires and trash in Mount Hagen last Wednesday. She had been accused of sorcery by relatives of a 6-year-old boy who had died in the local hospital the previous day.
Police spokesman Dominic Kakas on Tuesday said suspects had been identified through witness interviews. He said there will be as many as 50 arrests on charges of murder by Wednesday.
During the attack, bystanders, including many children, watched and some took photographs of Wednesday’s brutal slaying. Grisly pictures were published on the front pages of the country’s biggest circulating newspapers, The National and Post-Courier, while the prime minister, police and diplomats condemned the killing.
In rural Papua New Guinea, witchcraft is often blamed for unexplained misfortunes. Sorcery has traditionally been countered by sorcery, but responses to allegations of witchcraft have become increasingly violent in recent years.
Kakas said onlookers were shocked by the brutality but were powerless to stop the mob. Police officers were also present but were outnumbered and could not save the woman, he said. There is an internal investigation underway into what action police at the scene took.
Police Commissioner Tom Kulunga described the slaying as “shocking and devilish.”
“We are in the 21st century and this is totally unacceptable,” Kulunga said in a statement.