Facebook used to sensationalise sorcery accusations in PNG

4:20 pm on 5 June 2019

An NGO which helps victims of sorcery allegations in Papua New Guinea says there is merit in looking at controlling the use of Facebook in the country.

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Photo: Photo / AFP

The director of PNG's Tribal Foundation, Ruth Kissam, said Facebook is increasingly used to spread misleading information about sorcery allegations.

She was speaking after a recent Facebook post with pictures of two women being tortured in a Highlands village over alleged sorcery.

Belief in sorcery is relatively widespread in PNG. It is broadly believed to operate through a person who can wield a supernatural power to perform mostly malevolent and harmful acts on other people.

Ms Kissam said she earlier hoped social media would be a platform for conveying accurate information on how to help people caught up in such torture attacks, which are often deadly.

But she said too often people were sensationalising the issue on Facebook with false reports and misleading information.

"I for one would actually support the government's move to monitor Facebook - not really ban Facebook but monitor it, because people need to be responsible and there is such a high degree of irresponsibility. People might as well use their national identity cards to log on to Facebook, if they have to."

Her comments follow a recent indication by PNG's government, albeit under the former prime minister Peter O'Neill, that it was looking to review how platforms like Facebook operate in PNG.

People's comments on the recent Facebook post about two women being tortured included claims that village justice systems were more effective than the national court system.

"That's the greatest challenge that we face here. Because there is a belief. Because they believe what they believe (in sorcery) they think they are justified in what they are doing," Ms Kissam said.

"We're having a culture where people just want to sensationalise things, so they put it up on Facebook just to get likes... and generate comment," she explained.

"When you really do ask what's happening, and how we can help, when it comes down to that, we're not getting any information.

"Because of all these people sensationalising it, they don't realise that some people's lives may be in the balance."

"That's why we're working with the police so that people will start to respect the rule of law, and the police come down hard on them"

However, the campaign to counter sorcery accusation-related attacks is compromised because PNG has one of the lowest police-to-population ratios in the world. Police are generally undertrained, underfunded, and lack basic law enforcement tools.

"Most police are in urban areas," Ms Kissam pointed out.

"They don't want to be based in rural areas. And most of these killings are in rural areas. So people of course will take matters into their own hands and justify it, because don't have access to justice."

However, Ms Kissam said in general more people were coming forward these days to report cases of sorcery accusation-related attacks in their communities.

She attributed this to greater awareness about the issue. Despite a major successful prosecution in a sorcery accusation related attack last year, very few cases are brought to the courts.

According to Ms Kissam, under the Sorcery Accusation Related Violence national action plan, the Foundation is working with police to se up a SARV desk in every province so that victims and others can come to report cases.

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