MELBOURNE, Feb 15 – About 100 people have been arrested in connection with the horrific burning murder of a young mother in Papua New Guinea, it is reported. The Australian Associated Press said police in the Western Highlands city of Mt Hagen made the arrests following an early morning raid on Thursday.
Kepari Leneiata, 20, who was also known as Angelin, was last week stripped, tortured with a hot iron poker and burned alive before a crowd of onlookers after she was accused of using sorcery to kill a six year-old boy.
“Police are now in the process of interviewing them. We will know by today or during the weekend how many are formally charged with murder and how many are released,” provincial police commander Martin Lakari told the National newspaper.
The murder triggered international outrage, with PNG Prime Minister Peter O’Neill joining the United Nations, the US and Australia in describing the crime as barbaric. Police have been under pressure to make arrests after photos in both of PNG’s daily national newspapers appeared to show hundreds of witnesses watching Leneiata burn. Police in Mt Hagen also say they have also saved two elderly women from being tortured after they were accused of using sorcery to kill an eight year-old girl.
A post-mortem later revealed the girl had been raped and strangled. Police say the suspects are still at large. Chairman of PNG’s constitutional law reform commission (CLRC), Benjamin Poponawa, said a paper had been prepared for tabling in Parliament to repeal PNG’s colonial era sorcery legislation.
“To remove the mentality of sorcery, the CLRC is proposing to have the act repealed in its entirety so that such cases of murder can only be dealt with under the criminal justice system,” Poponawa is quoted by the newspaper as
“This will classify anyone who kills another person in retaliation for sorcery-related deaths as a murder suspect.”