Violence Against Women Accused of Sorcery In Papua New Guinea

Every now and then a case of serious human rights abuse occurs that seems to capture the imagination of the global media and wider community. This has certainly been the case in Papua New Guinea, where the recent killing of Kepari Leniata was widely reported around the world. Kepari was accused of bewitching a six-year old boy and then stripped, tortured with a hot iron rod, doused in petrol, and burned on a pile of rubbish and car tyres. The photo taken of this terrible crime has been seen by countless people around the world and led to the government being petitioned by the UN and Amnesty, amongst many other groups. In response to this the government recently repealed the sorcery act and passed a new law to allow the death penalty to be applied to such cases.

Photographer – Vlad Sokhin – has captured some incredibly powerful images of this problem, which have been used by Amnesty to raise awareness of this issue. I thought that I was fairly resilient to being horrified by images after having seen some terrible cases of abuse over the years but even I was moved close to tears by seeing some of these shots.Please see brief report from Vlad below and feel free to contact him on or see his website if you need any further information on his work.


Sorcery-related-violence is widespread in Papua New Guinea. In the Highlands Region of PNG witch-hunts occur almost in every province. Locals believe in black magic, often accusing random women and men of causing the death of someone from the village.

According to the Amnesty International, at least 50 people were killed in ‘sorcery’ attacks in 2008. Despite the fact that men can also be victims, it is six times more likely for women. When those ‘sanguma’ (witches) people being tortured, locals cut their bodies with machetes and axes, burning them with hot iron bars, forcing to admit that they were involved in witchcraft. If the victims survive, they would be expelled from the community permanently. Despite this widespread violence, the PNG Government does not have a program to help victims of sorcery-related violence nor provides any shelter for those women and men. It is very rare such cases are brought to court and sometimes even police are involved in witch hunt, supporting the perpetrators, not the victims.

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