Subject: The Witchcraft Police
Date: Sun, 25 Aug 2002 22:54:23 -0700
Organization: The Soylent Green Party
BANGUI (Reuters)—After eating soup cooked with a human heart, 13-year-old Stephanie was told she would be able to transform herself into a cat and cast magic spells.
But Stephanie and the woman who inducted her into sorcery got caught when they tried to creep up on the villa of a member of the Central African Republic's presidential guard.
Now she trembles in confession before Bangui's witchcraft police, who treat cases like Stephanie's as all in a day's work.
I know that it's not a good thing to try and kill someone. But
I trusted this woman because she is a friend of my aunt, pleaded
Stephanie, an orphan.
Stacked beneath the dusty scales of justice at Bangui's police station are long, thin sticks for beating children as well as metal poles and a wooden beam punched with nails to persuade adults to confess to witchcraft.
Hundreds of men, women and children are charged every year with practising witchcraft and police say the numbers are shooting up.
We are seeing an increase in the problem, said the head of
police in Bangui, Jean Guenganno.
It's the result of
The witchcraft detectives are routinely
vaccinated with herbs
prepared by witchdoctors to make them immune to spells.
In a cell next to Stephanie's at Bangui police station, 70-year-old Ermine Qualigon admits she buried a piece of her daughter-in-law's miscarried baby in the hope of making the woman infertile.
My son's wife never gave me any food. When my son and her had
meat, they only gave me soup, she said.
He described to a police officer how his wife became mysteriously thin
and accused his mother of
eating her flesh.
Blaise Damagoa, 13, told how he ate a neighbour's cake, and was later told it contained human heart.
My manner has changed. My aunt calls me to go to the field but I
refuse. I refused to go to school. I told my brother what had happened
after he had beaten me up. He then reported me to the police, he
With some 17 percent of the country's adults thought to be infected with the virus that causes AIDS, doctors believe that many deaths attributed to sorcery should actually be blamed on unprotected sex or infected blood transfusions.
If someone gets ill people believe it is due to bad spirits and
there is little one can do to overcome them, said Marcel Massaga,
head of the government's anti-AIDS programme.
Other people suspect that the bulging witchcraft case files may actually be due to people making accusations through jealousy or to eliminate rivals.
But few dare suggest that witchcraft is not very real in a country where incoming presidents tend to build new palaces and people firmly believe it is to protect themselves against the sorcery of their predecessors.
People believe there is no such thing as an accident, said
Ambrose Balze, a sociologist at Bangui University.
And local human rights groups in smart Western-funded offices will not discount the powers of witchcraft.
In any case, witchcraft is so widespread that campaigning to
abolish the legal recognition of the crime is pointless, said
Matthias Morouba, of the Human Rights Observatory in Bangui.
But we are pushing for fair trials of those accused.
Truth herbs are often used in court to make a suspect
confess. A name cried out by a sick person in his or her sleep after
taking a witch doctor's herbs is also used as a way of identifying
As spells often involve burying bits of clothing, snipped clothes are often dangled before juries as evidence.
But many cases never get as far as the police station once someone is accused of casting spells.
In M'baiki, a large town in the southwest, several women accused of witchcraft were recently buried alive. Others have been executed or had their houses burned down.
Penalties for witchcraft, or being found in possession of body parts for making spells, vary from hefty fines to death. Sentences in the disease-ridden jails of the Central African Republic often amount to the same thing.
I need my mother, said Stephanie as she washed her face in the
police station grounds, trying to ignore the stares of watching