Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh

Accused “Witches” Attacked in Gambia

March 20, 2009 11:14 AM
by Kate Davey
Amnesty International reports that up to 1,000 people have been accused of witchcraft and persecuted in Gambia.

Detained and Persecuted in Gambia

According to Amnesty International, up to 1,000 people were accused of “witchcraft,” detained and forced to drink hallucinogenic liquid in Gambia.

Victims told Amnesty that “witch doctors” arrive in villages with armed security, police and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s personal guards. They then take villagers they accuse of being witches to detention centers and beat them.

One victim who was detained explained to Amnesty that detainees were forced to drink “dirty water”; afterward, they developed diarrhea and started vomiting. “I stayed there for five days. I experienced and witnessed such abuse and humiliation. I cannot believe that this type of treatment is taking place in Gambia. It is from the dark ages,” the victim stated.

President Yahya Jammeh invited the witch doctors to Gambia from Guinea after the death of his aunt.  Amnesty reports that it is thought that President Yahya Jammeh believes witchcraft was involved in her death.

Background: Witch hunts around the world

Belief in witchcraft remains strong in several countries. In Papua New Guinea, a woman was burned alive after villagers accused her of being a witch.

In Tanzania, albinos are being killed for their body parts, which are thought to have magical powers for use in witchcraft; one of the victims was a seven-month-old baby who was ordered killed by a witch doctor.

In February, police arrested seven suspected witch doctors after the ritual murder of a woman in Kampala, Uganda.

Gendercide Watch explains the reasons why contemporary witch hunts occur are similar to those behind witch hunts in the European Middle Ages: “witch-hunting … is closely tied not only to prevailing superstitions, but to socio-economic pressures, natural disasters, and personal jealousies.”  The site refers to several newspaper articles from the past several years that indicate that witch hunts in various African countries appear to be on the rise.

The site also quotes a South African police sergeant who explains how “witches” are accused: “Generally, if people believe there is a witch in their village, they will consult the [witch-doctor]. He or she will then ‘sniff out’ the witch. The person who is accused will then be killed or ordered to leave the village.”

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