7 Countries That Still Kill “Witches”

Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 Favorite. It was originally published on October 26, 2013. Enjoy.

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.

2. Tanzania

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.

3. Gambia

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.

4. Nepal

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.

5. India

Last June, a primarily female crowd killed two women believed to have murdered several children through witchcraft. As in Nepal, police arrested people suspected of participating in the mob. Some Indian states have adopted laws banning violence against people suspected of witchcraft.

6. Papua New Guinea

A crowd tortured and murdered a young mother accused of killing a boy through sorcery. They burned her alive before a large audience, some of whom broke off to chase police away before they could intervene. The prime minister lamented that violence against women is increasing because of the popular “belief that sorcery kills,” despite a law that specifically prohibits burning suspected witches.

7. Uganda

After burning a man’s house down and driving him from his village, locals tied him up and beheaded him for alleged witchcraft. While Ugandans kill some suspected witches, they pay others to help them with things like ensuring job security.

This is a small sampling of countries where natives believe in witchcraft and kill people for it. While the governments of some nations, including Saudi Arabia and Gambia, embrace this belief and use it to their own ends, others are working to end it. Either way, accusations of black magic empower people to eliminate individuals they dislike and to terrify others into conformity.

It all makes Halloween witch costumes a little less funny.

Photo credit: Thinkstock/iStock

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Melania Padilla
Melania Padilla3 months ago

Oh, the ignorance.....

Mark Donners
Mark Donners9 months ago

Don't be fooled by humanity's so-called "intelligence". Even plants are smarter than this.

Leanne B.
Leanne B.10 months ago

Simply heartbreaking!

Allan Richardson
Allan Richardsonabout a year ago

Mandy, I agree that Christians and others ought to respect the REAL Wiccan religion (not my personal spiritual path, but mine is accepting of others). The problem is that the same WORD has acquired two very different meanings, due to deliberate misinformation spread by the medieval Church.. The reason the headline puts "witch" in quotation marks is that most of the people being killed for "witchcraft" (as defined by detractors, of course) are NEITHER actual Wiccans NOR the "disciples of Satan" the church thinks they are; they are essentially being punished for "crimes" that were never committed by anyone, merely imagined by the sick minds of their accusers.

This is true, of course, of the Islamic and animist misconceptions of witchcraft. While Muslims believe in a literal Satan (an idea borrowed from Christians), animists or nature worshipers do not; they do, however, believe in evil spirits as well as good ones (possibly outnumbering good ones), and a "witch" in their eyes is someone with the same powers as their good magicians, but invoking evil spirits to do evil. In fact, Wicca could be said to have originated from an early form of animist practice, which the Church demonized for its own political reasons (using the same lies to demonize the Jewish faith with the Friday night "witches' sabbath" myth).

So, if the article were actually ABOUT modern Wiccans, there would be no quotes around the word "witch," but fortunately most of THEM live in countries where freed

Mandy H.
Mandy H.about a year ago

I find the quotation marks around the word 'witch' very insulting. Witches are real, it's a real religious/ritual practice which deserves more respect. Yes it's disgusting that people are being killed for witchcraft but don't treat Witchcraft like it doesn't exist. People are killing Christians and when reporting these incidents authors always respect the Christian religion, Witchcraft should be equally respected. The complete and total lack of respect with which witchcraft is treated is infuriating!

Lea Silhol
Lea Silholabout a year ago

Halloween is the *perfect* day to share this post on the Social Networks.Your readers will come for candies, and come back home with a sore stomach. ;)
Too bad there's not a petition relating to this folly direcly linked.
Happy "witches appreciation day" (hopefully), everybody!

Catman P.
Catman P.about a year ago

Aweful Ignorance

Manuela C.
Manuela C.about a year ago

Pure ignorance. Some cultures' beliefs are very hard to demystify!

Catman P.
Catman P.about a year ago


Janet B.
Janet B.about a year ago