‘Her screams pierced our hearts, I knew I was going to die too’

Prayer meeting against sorcery accusation-related violence (SARV)
People crowd into a church in a Highlands province in Papua New Guinea for a prayer meeting to end violence resulting from false sorcery accusations. Image: NPR

By Rebecca Kuku of The National, Papua New Guinea

One of the survivors of a horrifying sorcery accusation-related violence (SARV) attack and torture of nine women in Papua New Guinea falsely accused last month of using sorcery to kill a leading businessman tells her story of survival. She does not want to be named as the situation is still tense and she is still in hiding and fears for her life. (Translated into English).

On July 22, about 200 women from Enga’s Lakolam village were rounded up by a mob of machete-wielding men following the death of prominent businessman Jacob Luke.

The mob suspected an old woman from the village had used sorcery to “eat Luke’s heart” and causing his death.

She was dragged out of her house, beaten and thrown on top of a tyre and tortured as we all watched, including her family, her children, her sons, who could do nothing to save her.

“They tortured her and told her to name the other women who had helped her. After being beaten and tortured — maybe she got tired — maybe she just wanted to be free from it all, but named us, falsely accusing us as they had accused her.

“Once they got our names, nine of us, they poured kerosene on her and set her on fire.

“Her screams pierced our hearts, I knew I was going to die that day as well.

“All I thought of was my children, my sons, and I prayed.

‘I prayed that they do nothing’
“I prayed that they will do nothing, that the Lord would hold them back from trying to defend me, because I knew, they would be killed too, if they tried to defend me.

“I looked in my son’s eyes, begging him to understand that he must do nothing,” she said.

The survivor said that the nine of them were rounded up by the mob. They were beaten, stripped naked and tortured.

“The pain drowned out the humiliation, as they burnt my nipples and opened my legs and shoved hot iron rods into me.”

“They wanted us, to admit that yes, we had killed him using sorcery so that they could have a reason to pour kerosene on us and burn us as they had the other woman.

“Among us, the nine of us, there was one of our daughters.

“She is in her 30s, mother of two and was four months pregnant.

‘Everyone watched … was happy’
“They didn’t care, they tortured her as well — everyone watched, everyone was happy, as to them, they were only getting justice over the death of Luke, but God is good, she survived,” she said.

She said their houses were all burnt down by the angry mob.

“We saw our homes go up in flames as we were torture.

“I thought of my children, wondering if the little ones were okay, praying that they are safe.

“I must have passed out because when I looked up again, I saw my two elder sons …” she said as she started to sob.

She said husbands, sons, brothers could only watch and do nothing, as Luke was a well-respected man, a leader.

“One man stood there and watched as two of his wives were tortured — one of the wives died during the torture and one survived.

Five women died
“Five women died that morning, the one who falsely accused us of helping her to eat the heart, and another four who died during the torture.

“But five of us made it out of ‘hell’ alive.”

When asked, if she would be willing to testify against the perpetrators and have them prosecuted to get justice for what they did to her and other women, she said, all that mattered was her life.

“I do not think we will ever get justice. What is justice anyway?”

“Luke was a leader — to the mob, we had killed him, and they will kill us.

“I do not care if they get prosecuted, I just want to live.

“Be with my children and hold my grandchildren,” she said.

Situation still tense
The woman said that things were still tense and they were still afraid for her life.

“I do not know what is going to happen now. I do not know where I am going to go to.

“Four of us are old, Lakolam has been our home, and we raised our children and our grandchildren here.

“Only the pregnant mother of two is young, but we are here, they are taking care of us, taking us to the hospital, most of us are still healing.

“I do not know what will happen tomorrow, I do not know if I will still be alive next week, but today I am alive and I thank my God for today.”

Rebecca Kuku is a reporter for The National daily newspaper in Port Moresby. Republished with permission.

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