1,000 people kidnapped by witch hunters
MAKUMBAYA, Gambia (AFP) — Victims of a purge on witchcraft in the secretive west African state of Gambia have told of horrific ordeals including rape after being force-fed potions inducing hallucinations.
According to Amnesty International and anonymous police sources in Gambia, as many as 1,000 people have been kidnapped and held by so-called witch hunters backed by armed men carrying out orders from the Gambian authorities.
There are reports that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh blames witchcraft for the death of an aunt earlier this year, and villagers have now told how the idyll of their traditional life was shattered last week.
“We were arrested on Monday in our village by armed men accompanied by so-called witch hunters and taken to Kololi,” a 63-year-old man told AFP in Makumbaya, a collection of rundown huts and houses some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the capital Banjul.
“We were forced to drink concoctions and after drinking the liquid that night, most of us who were abducted fell down and went into trance and did not know what was happening,” added the man, who asked not to be identified.
Visibly weak, he was held for five days and later released, none the wiser as to why he was targeted.
Witnesses and victims said instructions to cure sick minds by inducing trance-like states were used as cover for rape.
The Gambian media, which is under heavy government scrutiny, has barely mentioned the witch-hunt.
Only the opposition weekly Foroyaa reported the Makumbaya abductions.
Its political editor Halifa Sallah, who is also the leader of Gambia’s biggest opposition party, was arrested March 9 on charges of spying and seditious acts for reporting about the events in Makumbaya.
Charges against him were dropped last week.
Rights group: 1,000 seized in Gambia ‘witch-hunt’
(CNN) — Around 1,000 people accused of being witches in Gambia have been locked up in secret detention centers and forced to drink a dangerous hallucinogenic potion, according to human rights organization Amnesty International.
Amnesty claims Gambian President Yahya Jammeh … invited “witch doctors” to the West African nation.
At least two people have died after drinking the liquid while many more have suffered serious kidney problems. Others suffered injuries as a result of being severely beaten, Amnesty said Wednesday as it called on authorities to “put an immediate stop to the witch-hunting campaign.”
Amnesty claimed Gambian President Yahya Jammeh had invited “witch doctors” — believed to be from neighboring Guinea — to the West African nation following the death of his aunt.
Jammeh, a former soldier who has ruled Gambia since leading a military coup in 1994, is reported to believe that witchcraft was involved in her death, according to Amnesty.
Gambians ‘taken by witch doctors’
Amnesty spoke to villagers who said they had been held for up to five days and forced to drink unknown substances, which they said caused them to hallucinate and behave erratically.
The paramilitary police armed with guns and shovels surrounded our village and threatened that anyone who tries to escape will be buried six feet under
Many said they were then forced to confess to being witches. In some cases, they were also allegedly severely beaten, almost to the point of death.
Eyewitnesses and victims told Amnesty the “witch doctors” were from neighbouring Guinea.
As well as police, army and national intelligence agents, they were also reportedly joined by “green boys” – personal protection guards of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.
Amnesty said the incidents took place in the Foni Kansala district, near to the president’s hometown in Kanilai.
In the most recent incident, said to have taken place on 9 March, hundreds of people from Sintet village were allegedly rounded up.
One eyewitness told the rights group: “The paramilitary police armed with guns and shovels surrounded our village and threatened the villagers that anyone who tries to escape will be buried six feet under.”
Three hundred men and women were allegedly randomly identified and forced at gunpoint into waiting buses, which ferried them to Kanilai.
Once there, they were stripped and forced to drink dirty herbal water and were bathed with herbs, the eyewitness said.
Many of those who drank the concoctions developed instant diarrhoea and vomiting, the eyewitness added.
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