Asia

Papua New Guinea prime minister to repeal sorcery law

Peter O'Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Peter O'Neill says he cannot guarantee legislation would be introduced this parliamentary session

The prime minister of Papua New Guinea has vowed to revoke a controversial sorcery law after a string of attacks on people, reports say.

Peter O'Neill made the statement days after a woman was beheaded in south Bougainville.

She was accused of practising sorcery that caused the death of a teacher, local media said.

In parts of the Pacific nation deaths and mysterious illnesses are sometimes blamed on suspected sorcerers.

'Barbaric'

Several reports have emerged in recent years of accused people, usually women, being killed.

The country's Sorcery Act 1971 criminalises the practice of sorcery.

But critics say it gives the notion legitimacy and has led to an increase in false accusations.

The United Nations has called on the PNG government to strengthen legislation on the issue.

"We're starting to work at it," Mr O'Neill was quoted as saying by Australia's ABC News.

"We have quite a lot of issues on the table, so please give us a chance to work on it.

"Hopefully this session of parliament, but I cannot guarantee it. Realistically, a few sessions away, we will be able to put an act to parliament to stop this nonsense about witchcraft and all the other sorceries that are really barbaric in itself."

In the most recent case, a woman was reportedly decapitated by a mob who accused her of using witchcraft to kill a colleague in Lopele village.

Police said villagers armed with weapons outnumbered police and looted property.

The acting assistant police commissioner for south Bougainville, Paul Kamuai, told ABC News that local forces were unable to stop the violence.

A 20-year-old woman was burned alive in February after she was accused of sorcery.

In 2009, after a string of such killings, the chairman of Papua New Guinea's Constitutional Review and Law Reform Commission said defendants were using accusations of witchcraft as an excuse to kill people, and called for tougher legislation to tackle the issue.

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