- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2013

A female teacher was publicly tortured and beheaded by a mob of villagers in Papua New Guinea after she was accused of using sorcery against a neighbor, the Associated Press reported Monday.

The villagers — wielding guns, machetes and axes — pulled Helen Rumbali out of her house, along with her sister and two nieces. They then burned down the house, the AP reported.

The assailants accused the 40-something schoolteacher of witchcraft, saying she was responsible for the death of a sick villager. They said a swarm of fire flies led them from the deceased person’s grave to Ms. Rumbali’s house, the AP reported.

After being slashed repeatedly with knives, the woman’s older sister and two teenage nieces were released following negotiations with police. Ms. Rumbali was publicly beheaded, the AP reported.

The United Nations has documented hundreds of cases of sorcery-related violence in Papua New Guinea in recent years, many of which are carried out with impunity, the AP reported.

The country’s Sorcery Act allowed for a belief in witchcraft to be used as a partial legal defense for killing someone suspected of black magic. The government repealed the law last month in response to the recent violence, the AP reported.

“There’s no doubt that there are really genuine beliefs there, and in some circumstances that is what is motivating people: the belief that if they don’t kill this person, then this person is going to continue to bring death and misfortune and sickness on their village,” Miranda Forsyth, a lawyer at Australian National University, told the AP.

But some argue the attacks are fueled by an economic divide that breeds jealousy, not by a growing belief in black magic.

“Jealousy is causing a lot of hatred,” said Helen Hakena, chairwoman of the North Bougainville Human Rights Committee, which is based in the area in which Ms. Rumbali was killed. “People who are so jealous of those who are doing well in life, they resort to what our people believe in, sorcery, to kill them, to stop them continuing their own development.”

She told the AP that the witchcraft accusation against Ms. Rumbali was just an excuse.

“That was definitely a case of jealousy because her family is really quite well off,” she said.

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