When researching ‘The Black Hours’ I was horrified to learn of the dreadful persecution of the vulnerable that allowed thousands of people to be tortured and executed on trumped up charges of witchcraft. But that’s all in the past isn’t it? People don’t behave like that anymore do they? Well, sadly they do. Even now, in the 21st Century, the old, the young, the vulnerable, those who have no protection or who live on the edges of society, are still being accused, tortured, beaten and murdered for crimes they cannot possibly have committed. Here is a brief tour of the ignorance, cruelty and shame that is still going on.
Central African Republic: It is estimated that hundreds of people are convicted (that’s convicted, not just accused) of witchcraft every year.
Democratic Republic of Congo: As of 2006, it is estimated that between 25,000 and 50,000 have been accused of witchcraft. These children are known as enfants sorciers (child witches) or enfants dits sorciers (children accused of witchcraft). They are often subject to violent exorcisms carried out by religious pastors and are thrown out of their homes. It is believed that sometimes accusations of witchcraft are used as a way for a poor family to abandon children they cannot afford.
Gambia: in 2009, Amnesty International reported that 1000 alleged ‘witches’ were put into detention centres where they were forced to drink a hallucinogenic potion in order to secure confessions.
Ghana: So many women have been accused of witchcraft in Ghana that there are actually witch camps where they can go for safety, thought to hold around 1000 women. These women, mostly elderly, live in dreadful poverty, often without running water or electricity. An ActionAid report into the Kukuo camp states that the majority of women were accused of witchcraft after their husbands died – suggesting that an accusation of this type may be used as a way for families to take the widow’s property. In a quote that could have been written in 1647, Lamnatu Adam of women’s rights group Songtaba says that it is women who do not conform that are in danger of being accused of witchcraft:
‘Women are expected to be submissive so once you start to be outspoken in your views or even successful in your trade; people assume you must be possessed.’
(BBC News Magazine, 01/09/2012)
India: It is estimated that 750 people have been killed in witch-hunts in the states of Assam and West Bengal since 2003. Lynchings are often reported in the local press.
Kenya: On the 21st of May 2008, it was reported that at least 11 people accused of witchcraft had been burnt to death by a mob. The mob, comprised of up to 300 young men, hunted down and killed eight women and three men, most over the age of seventy.
Nigeria: Some 15,000 children have been accused of witchcraft. They may suffer horrible violence and exorcisms and mostly end up living on the streets. Lancaster-based charity Stepping Stones Nigeria has compiled reports of more than 250 cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft in Akwa Ibom state.
Papua New Guinea: In 2008 a local newspaper reported that more than 50 people had been killed for practising witchcraft.
Saudi Arabia: In 2006 Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali was condemned to death for practicing witchcraft. In April 2009, Amina Bint Abdulhalim Nassar was arrested and later sentenced to death for practicing witchcraft and sorcery. She was beheaded in December 2011. And in June 2012, a Saudi man, Muree bin Ali bin Issa al-Asiri was beheaded for sorcery and witchcraft. Few details of the cases are released by the Saudi government, but in the 2012 case, the defendant was found in possession of books and talismans, and also admitted committing adultery with two women.
Tanzania: in the Meatu district, it is estimated that half of all murders are witch-killings.
United Kingdom: On Christmas day 2010, 15-year-old Kristy Bamu died in a bath in Newham, east London after undergoing horrific tortures and beatings. He had been visiting his sister Magalie Bamu and her partner, Eric Bikubi. The couple were apparently obsessed with kindoki (the word for witchcraft in their native country, the Democratic Republic of Congo) and accused the boy of putting spells on a younger child. A couple have been jailed for life for torturing and drowning a teenage boy they accused of being a witch. After the couple were convicted and sentenced, detectives said that other children in Britain had been subjected to terrible ordeals after being accused of witchcraft. Children’s charities have called for churches and carers to be more aware of this type of abuse.
It seems, then, that centuries later, there are people in the world who think the same way as Matthew Hopkins did, and there are still hundreds of people willing to back those views, often with the approval and help of the authorities, and continue the persecution, torture and murder of innocents. As always, it is the vulnerable and the powerless that suffer the most.