PNG repeals sorcery law and expands death penalty

Peter O'Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Prime Minster Peter O'Neill pledged to toughen laws in May, after several high-profile crimes

Related Stories

Papua New Guinea has repealed its controversial Sorcery Act but has expanded its use of the death penalty.

Under legislation passed in parliament on Tuesday, killings linked to allegations of witchcraft will now be treated as murder.

The death penalty will be applied to more crimes, including rape, and more methods of execution have been approved.

Amnesty International condemned the move to toughen penalties.

"Papua New Guinea has taken one step forward in protecting women from violence by repealing the Sorcery Act, but several giant steps back by moving closer to executions," Amnesty's deputy director for the Asia-Pacific Isabelle Arradon said in a statement.

'State-sanctioned violence'

In parts of Papua New Guinea, deaths and mysterious illnesses are sometimes blamed on suspected sorcerers, usually women. But officials say accusations of witchcraft are used to justify violence.

The repeal of the 1971 Sorcery Act, which acknowledged the accusation of sorcery as a plausible defence in murder cases, came after a series of brutal public killings.

In February, a 20-year-old mother accused of sorcery was burned alive in a village market. Two months later, a woman accused of black magic was beheaded.

Sorcery-related killings will now be treated as murder and the death penalty will be applicable, local media said.

Ms Arradon called the repeal of the act "long overdue" but accused the government of "attempting to end one of form of violence by perpetrating state-sanctioned violence".

Lawmakers have also approved legislation allowing the death penalty to be applied to aggravated rape - gang-rape, the use of a weapon, or rape of a child - and armed robbery, PNG's The National reported.

Parliament approved several methods for applying the death penalty, the Post Courier reported, including hanging, lethal injection, firing squad and electrocution.

Penalties for kidnapping, theft and white-collar crime were also toughened, with longer jail terms prescribed.

The laws were tough but reflected crime levels and community demands, The National quoted Justice and Attorney General Kerenga Kua as saying.

Papua New Guinea has not carried out an execution since 1954, despite parliament's decision to reintroduce the death penalty for murder in 1991. At least 10 people are currently on death row, Amnesty said.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neil announced plans to begin implementing the death penalty and to increase prison sentences for violent crimes last month, saying "draconian" measures were needed.

His move followed a number of high-profile crimes in the Pacific nation, including the gang-rape of a US academic in April.

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Asia stories


Features & Analysis

  • Cartoon of women chatting on the metroChat wagon

    The interesting things you hear in a women-only carriage

  • Replica of a cargo boxSpecial delivery

    The man who posted himself to the other side of the world

  • Music scoreFinal score Watch

    Goodbye to NYC's last classical sheet music shop

  • Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton checks her Blackberry from a desk inside a C-17 military plane upon her departure from Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, bound for Tripoli, Libya'Emailgate'

    Hillary gets a taste of scrutiny that lies ahead

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • Audi R8Best in show

    BBC Autos takes a look at 10 of the most eye-catching new cars at the 2015 Geneva motor show


  • A robotClick Watch

    The latest in robotics including software that can design electronics to solve problems

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.