According to multiple reports, Kepari Leniata, 20, was tortured and killed in front of a mob of hundreds in the town of Mount Hagen. The woman, stripped naked and covered in gasoline, was burned alive on a pile of trash by relatives of a young boy who had died earlier in the week. The relatives had accused Leniata of killing him with sorcery.
WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTO FOLLOWS
Police and firefighters who tried to save Leniata were chased away by an overwhelming crowd. Agence France-Press writes that the woman "admitted to killing the boy, who died after being [hospitalized] with stomach and chest pains on Tuesday."
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A photo taken on Feb. 6 shows a young mother accused of sorcery who was stripped naked, reportedly tortured with a branding iron, tied up, splashed with fuel and set alight on a pile of rubbish topped with car tyres, in Mount Hagen city in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea. According to the Post-Courier newspaper she was torched by villagers who claimed she killed a 6-year-old boy through sorcery, with police outnumbered by onlookers and unable to intervene. (AFP / Getty Images)
According to the BBC, police chief Supt Kaiglo Ambane told local media that those responsible for Leniata's murder would be brought to justice.
The U.S. Embassy and Australia's high commissioner have condemned the murder. In a statement featured in a report by the Australian Associated Press, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said that "no one commits such a despicable act."
"Barbaric killings connected with alleged sorcery. Violence against women because of this belief that sorcery kills," O'Neill said, according to the AAP. "These are becoming all too common in certain parts of the country. 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."
AFP notes that many people in the island nation believe in sorcery rather than accept natural causes of death. While the 1971 Sorcery Act technically outlaws the burning of alleged witches, the practice persists. In 2009, another woman was burned alive for alleged sorcery, the news outlet points out.
In a 2009 blog for The Huffington Post, Zama Coursen-Neff, the director of Human Rights Watch's Children's Rights Division, said that this incident and other similar killings have become indicative of a larger, more troubling trend.
In Papua New Guinea, research indicates, two-thirds of women experience domestic violence, and 50 percent of women have experienced forced sex. The Australian development agency AUSAID just issued a new report identifying violence against women as a major barrier to Papua New Guinea's development