PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (May 7, 2008) - Once again, there are reports of people being accused of committing sorcery and being judged instantly and put to death.

In other places, it is called a kangaroo court method of dealing with justice, meaning it is done bush-style without resort to the judicial means.

Kangaroo courts are cropping up in some parts of the Highlands with a frequency that must be alarming.

The alarm is not with people living in the cities and towns, it is the people in the rural areas who must live with the possibility that it will be their turn next to face a superstition agitated crowd. It can be so easy for one or two people to rev up others, particularly when exploiting existing enmities and suggesting that a relative’s death "must’’ have been caused by others because of some circumstantial evidence.

Sorcery is not something you can put your finger on. It is a crime in the eyes of the national judicial system and people can be convicted and punished if found guilty. But it is very hard to prove.

Back in remote villages, sorcery is a charge easily put into words and easily labeled against the weaker or less protected members of a village community.

So when police or other upstanding members of society condemn such sorcery-related killings, it is just words without any likelihood of something good happening.

For police, the way to express their horror is to get experienced investigators into the site of the sorcery payback killing and get enough evidence to prosecute the leaders and the actual killers.

For the community itself, their best sign of working to combat the evil that results in such deaths is for the conscience-stricken ones to give evidence.

After all, if such a kangaroo court gets away with one such killing, it may well turn on somebody else in the same community later. The ones being quiet now may find themselves facing the vengeful and ill-informed mob next time.

It is an evil part of our society that has to be confronted. It is certainly one among the many reasons why large numbers of rural people migrate to the cities, to get away from the fear of being falsely labeled a sorcerer or from being killed by sorcerers.

Either way, the practice is having grave effects on many village societies in Papua New Guinea.

Only by the brave actions of people in the rural areas backed up by committed police and lawyers will it change.

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