In Tanzania this week, 23 people were arrested by police and charged with murder, after seven villagers were reportedly burned alive for allegedly being witches in the village of Murufiti, reports the BBC.
Being thought to be a witch is a deadly accusation in the East African country, where 500 alleged witches are murdered every year, according to a human right’s organization.
In fact, between 2005 and 2011, approximately 3,000 people were killed once they were identified as witches.
Those most targeted for witchcraft are said to be old women.
In 2009, Johann Hari wrote a feature on the targeting of women in “Witch Hunt: Africa’s Hidden War on Women”:
Across Africa, a war is being waged on women – but we are refusing to hear the screams. Over the past fortnight, I have travelled into the secretive shadow world that mutilates millions of African women at the beginning of their lives, and at the end. As girls, they face having their genitalia sliced out with razors, to destroy their “filthy” sexuality and keep them “pure”. As old women, they face being hacked to death as “witches”, blamed for every virus and sickness blowing across the savannah.
In Monday’s incident, while the genders were mixed, five of the victims were older than 60, while two others were older than 40.
Before being burned alive, witnesses say the victims were attacked with machetes and their respective homes were burned to the ground.
Josephat John, whose parents were both targeted and murdered in the attack, explained what happened this week, “When I returned home in the evening, I found the body of my mother lying 10 metres away from our house, while the body of my father was burnt inside the house.”
Murufiti village leader Hamisi Richard added that — due to the attack — the village has been abandoned in fear, “Men and women have run away from the village. Even children are not there… Everyone was scared of that event, and others feared police search.”
As for the alleged murderers who are in custody, they are to be arraigned in court Friday and officially charged.