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PNG Young Mother Tortured and Burnt Alive after Accused of Being a Witch

Update Date: Feb 07, 2013 03:24 PM EST

A 20-year-old mother from Papua New Guinea was tortured and burned alive on a pile of flaming tires after being accused of using sorcery to murder her neighbor's six-year-old son.

Kepari Leniata allegedly "confessed" to being a witch after she was stripped, bound and tortured with red-hot iron rods, according to the Daily Mail.

After the mother-of -two "confessed" to being a witch, the boy's relatives in Mount Hagen in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea doused her in petroleum and tossed her into a pile of burning tires in front of hundreds of people.  As the Leniata screamed in agony, the relatives threw more petrol-soaked tires on top of her.

Local media reports that the gruesome scene took place in the village of Paiala, where many residents believe that witchcraft exists and sorcery can be used to kill enemies. 

In parts of the country, many mysterious illnesses are sometimes blamed on suspected witches and that have been reports in recent years of several accused sorcerers being killed, according to the BBC.

The Post Courier newspaper reported that police and firefighters were unable to save Leniata because they had been outnumbered by the mob and were chased away.

Provincial police commander Supt Kaiglo Ambane told the National newspaper that authorities were treating the latest case as murder and are looking to arrest those responsible.

The head bishop of a Lutheran Church in the district condemned the killing.

"Sorcery and sorcery-related killings are growing and the government needs to come up with a law to stop such practice," David Piso told The National newspaper.

"Many innocent and helpless people have been killed and tortured after being accused of witchcraft, but taking a life is against the teachings of the Bible and the laws of the country," Piso added.

It all started after Leniata's neighbor's young boy fell sick on Tuesday morning.  He complained of stomach and chest pains and was taken to Mt Hagen hospital where he died just a few hours later.  The boy's relatives were suspicious that sorcery was involved in the young boy's death and found out that two women had gone hiding in the jungle.

After the women were tracked down, they both admitted to practicing sorcery, but had done nothing to cause the boy's death.  Even so, the family held Leniata responsible and went to her hut 7am on Wednesday, stripped her and dragged the mother with her hands and feet bound to torture and death.  The young mother leaves behind two children, including an eight-month-old girl.

In a statement released today, Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister Peter O'Neill swore to bring justice.

"No one commits such a despicable act in the society that all of us, including Kepari, belong to," he said.

"Barbaric killings connected with alleged sorcery. Violence against women because of this belief that sorcery kills. These are becoming all too common in certain parts of the country," O'Neill said.  "It is reprehensible that women, the old and the weak in our society should be targeted for alleged sorcery or wrongs that they actually have nothing to do with."

The US embassy in Papua New Guinea also issued a statement today condemning the killing as "brutal murder," according to the AFP news agency, and evidence of "pervasive gender-based violence".

"We add our voice to those of Papua New Guinean religious and civil society leaders who have spoken out against the brutality inflicted upon Ms Leniata," the embassy said. "There is no possible justification for this sort of violence. We hope that appropriate resources are devoted to identifying, prosecuting, and punishing those responsible for Ms Leniata's murder."

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