Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Getting tough on sorcery killings



PEOPLE with superstitious beliefs are accusing innocent people of sorcery and murdering them, often without evidence or trial, The National reports.

In Lae earlier this month, perpetrators of such Stone Age beliefs were the subject of Justice Nicholas Kirriwom’s ruling when he sentenced Oro man Wilson Okore to 50 years in jail with hard labour.

The penalty was perhaps the harshest yet for such crimes.

A recap of some of these will highlight the court’s approach and appropriate penalties to deter people from taking justice into their own hands without any respect for the law.

In one of these cases, Gideon Neo, a young man from Simbuluk village, Bulolo, Morobe province, was sent to jail by Justice George Manuhu for 23 years last July 19.

He was found guilty of murdering an elderly man, Kiputong Waiag, who was from the same village, after accusing him of sorcery.

Neo and two others, who were armed with a bush knife and axe, had gone to Waiag’s house on the night of April 18, 2006, and killed him while he was asleep in his kitchen.

They had accused him of causing the death of a relative through sorcery.

Neo denied the murder but the trial found him guilty.

Justice Manuhu said that many people accused of murder gave sorcery as an excuse for their crime.

He said people should

exercise restraint in dealing with sorcery and find alternative ways to resolve deaths that they believe were caused through such acts.

Back in 2007, on Nov 15, Peter Kapisa, in his 30s and married with 10 children from Umela village, Menyamya district, also in Morobe, was sentenced to 28 years in prison by the National Court for killing his fourth wife.

Kapisa had suspected Ronica Amje of stealing his cargo pants to be used for sorcery against him.

Acting out of that suspicion, he beat his wife to death with the butt of an axe.

In this case, Justice Sao Gabi said the sanctity and value of life was far more precious and valuable and no amount of remorse or compensation would adequately compensate a life that was lost.

He said the unlawful taking of another person’s life was a horrendous act which must be adequately punished.

He said this was a vicious killing of an unarmed and defenceless woman.

Justice Gabi sentenced Kapisa to 28 years in jail after he had pleaded guilty.

“This kind of killing must be visited with a strong punitive and deterrent sentence,” he said.

Going back further to Dec 11, 2006, the National Court in Lae convicted two other men of the murder of a 60-year-old man.

They were subsequently jailed to about 20 years each on Feb 5, 2007.

Krimbu Siwing, 36, and Chris Kipi, 26, both married from Biawen village, Wau, Morobe province, were found guilty of the murder of one Sanik Nalu.

They had wounded Nalu in a fight in the village on Feb 21, 2005.

Nalu died afterwards from a damaged lung on June 10, 2005.

Justice Manuhu told the court that there were no clear motives except allegations that Nalu

had used sorcery to kill one of the prisoners’ father.

The judge said people must not resort to taking the law into their own hands as they could seek redress through the courts under the Sorcery Act.

On Feb 6, in his ruling on Kokoda man Okore for the killing of Jerry Kaiulo over claims of sorcery, Justice Kirriwom has set the benchmark in an effort to deter murders emanating from sorcery allegations.

His imposing of the 50-year jail term is higher than the previous judgements by Justices Gabi and Manuhu.

Okore killed Kaiulo after he and Prisca Houje, the woman who was the subject of the sorcery, claimed they had “visions” of the ploy.

“The prisoner is fortunate that he pleaded guilty to murder and not found guilty of wilful murder had he gone to trial,” Justice Kirriwom said.

Such a statement hints at the possibility of heavy penalties such as life imprisonment or even the death sentence for those who face trials for sorcery-related killings.

And 50 years in jail may only be the minimum – no less.


Amnesty slams ‘inaction’


AN Amnesty International researcher says supernatural belief is no excuse for people in Papua New Guinea to kill those they accuse of sorcery, or for the police to fail to act against such crimes.

Apolosi Bose is calling on the PNG Government, police and judiciary to do more to stop a surge in sorcery-related murders, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 50 people in the past year.

Mr Bose says some police officers in PNG have a belief in the supernatural and are afraid to stand up to sorcerers and those who accuse people of sorcery.

But he says they must do their job professionally.

“We are saying that is totally unacceptable, police officers are there to protect people to ensure that crimes are not committed or if someone perpetrates a crime that person should be taken to task according to the law.”

Mr Bose says the police need more staff and training to investigate sorcery related killings, which make up more than half the murders in PNG. – Radio New Zealand International


*Peter Miva is a reporter with The National’s Lae Bureau


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