You know how the long-ago witch hunts were stupid and hateful? What a relief those days are over.
Except they’re not. In many countries, people are still killed on suspicion of witchcraft. United Nations experts cautioned in 2009 that murders of women and children accused of sorcery were on the rise. Following are just a few of many examples from around the world.
1. Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s religious police department has an official Anti-Witchcraft Unit that it dispatches to catch sorcerers and break their spells. In 2007, the Saudis executed an accused sorcerer. A woman awaiting the death penalty for alleged witchcraft died in prison.
Like the New England witch hunters of yore, those in Saudi Arabia use magic as a convenient excuse to silence inconvenient people. Accusations of sorcery have been leveled against foreign women working as domestics for Saudi families who charge their employers with sexual assault, according to Saudi Arabia expert Christoph Wilcke.
This east African country killed approximately 600 elderly women on charges of witchcraft just two years ago. The Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life found a strong and pervasive belief in magic among Tanzanians. It sometimes leads to reverence rather than murder. One woman who claims to be a witch charges between $20 and $120 for services including medical cures and exorcisms — in a country where the average income is under two dollars a day.
Gambia’s dictator Yahya Jammeh rounds up, tortures and kills his citizens under the pretext of hunting for witches. Amnesty International estimates that at least six people died after Jammeh’s minions forced them to drink a mixture of unknown substances. Dozens more hallucinated and suffered severe and lingering pain. Those who survived suffered shame from the accusation in a country where people believe in and condemn witches.
Last year a mob burned an accused witch alive after a shaman said she killed a boy. Their faith in the shaman suggests that Nepalis believe that sorcery can be used for good, but the punishment for black magic is death. This year another mob beat a 45-year-old woman to death based on accusations that she cast a spell on a neighbor’s daughter. The Nepali government is not on board with killing witches: police arrested three women suspected of participating in the murder. In the past it sentenced men to 20 years in prison for killing a woman suspected of practicing black magic.
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