FIJI JUDGE NOTES RISE IN WITCHCRAFT CASES

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SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 17) – A Fiji magistrate said he is concerned by the increasing number of witchcraft cases in which people suspected of such practices are either attacked or their property damaged.

Magistrate Syed Mukhtar Shah said he had dealt with more than 100 cases of similar nature since he became a magistrate in the last 13 years.

Mr. Shah, who is presiding over cases in the Nadi court, said he had heard 30 cases involving witchcraft in the Western Division in the last five years. He said this number was high for a small country like Fiji where there were many people in society who were superstitious.

While there has been no scientific proof that witchcraft has been successful, Mr. Shah said most people who appeared before him were bold enough to use it as an excuse, thinking they could escape the wrath of the law.

He said some people had even gone to the extent of naming the demons, or tevoro, that was being worshiped so that it could bring ill-luck and bad omen to them.

"They are so precise that they even name the tevoro - like Moro, Tatanasui or Dakuwaqa," he said.

He said people were always coming up with their explanations of why they committed the offence on others they suspected to be practicing witchcraft.

He said nothing in the law book stated witchcraft was unlawful.

"There is nothing in the law that can stop people practicing it," he said.

Mr. Shah said regardless of whether witchcraft was successful, people must not take the law in their own hands. He said if they suspected someone of practicing witchcraft and it was disturbing the peace in their community, they must report it to police.

"Those suspected can only be charged with disturbing the peace but not witchcraft."

Last week he jailed a carpenter for three months for entering the house of an elderly man in his neighbourhood and threatening to kill him because he suspected that witchcraft had killed his father-in-law.

Rusiate Vulaono, 28, of Matavolivoli, Nadi, pleaded guilty to criminal trespass by night.

In mitigation, Vulaono said he was angry because his father-in-law died and he went to "fix the man up."

Mr. Shah asked him who was the tevoro, and Vulaono told him it was Moro.

"I'm the biggest tevoro here," said the judge. "I've given you a short and sharp sentence so that other like-minded people can learn from it too."

Psychotherapist Selina Kuruleca said we live in a society of superstitious beliefs.

She said we must shift out of superstitious beliefs and clearly draw a boundary around it.

Ms. Kuruleca said people needed to be responsible of whatever happened to them instead of taking an easy way out and blaming others for it, like using witchcraft as the excuse.

She said witchcraft would only come through if people actively participated in it.

October 18, 2005

Fiji Times Online: http://www.fijitimes.com.

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