The HAWK Project

Friday, March 20, 2009

WitchHunting in Gambia: Gambian Police dismisses reports

DAKAR (Reuters) - Witch doctors and security forces in Gambia have
detained up to 1,000 people on suspicion of being witches, Amnesty
International said on Wednesday. Police in the African country
dismissed the reports as lies.

Victims have been held in secret detention camps for up to five days
and forced to drink hallucinogenic substances which have killed at
least two people through kidney failure, the London-based human rights
organisation said in a statement.

"At 5 a.m. 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," it quoted an
unidentified eyewitness as saying of a recent raid.

Around 300 men and women were forced on to buses at gunpoint and taken
to President Yahya Jammeh's home area of Kanilai, Amnesty quoted the
witness as saying.

"Once there, they were stripped and forced to drink 'dirty water' from
herbs and were also bathed with these dirty herbs. A lot of these
people who were forced to drink these poisonous herbs developed
instant diarrhoea and vomiting whilst they lay helpless," the witness

Gambia's inspector general of police, Essa Badjie, rejected the reports as lies.

"I think they are neglecting what is happening in Afghanistan. They
are lying," he told Reuters by telephone.

"Tell them they are lying. See what is happening in Palestine and
Iraq... The Gambia is a peaceful country," he said. Other officials
could not be reached for comment.

Amnesty said eyewitnesses and victims said the people seeking witches,
themselves known as witch doctors, had come from nearby Guinea, but
were accompanied on their raids by Gambian police and army and
national intelligence agents, along with members of Jammeh's personal
guard, known as "green boys".

Gambia, a tiny sliver of land along the banks of the eponymous river
jutting into the middle of surrounding Senegal, is mainland Africa's
smallest state.

Human rights organisations and press freedom watchdogs accuse Jammeh's
administration and security forces of using arbitrary detention and
other abuses of power to gag political opponents and restrict freedom
of expression.

Halifa Sallah, a leading opposition figure who challenged Jammeh in
the country's most recent presidential elections in 2006, was arrested
10 days ago and charged last week with spying, sedition and holding an
illegal meeting.

Party officials said then that Sallah had been arrested after
travelling outside the capital Banjul to investigate reports that
armed groups were going from village to village searching for witches.

Belief in witchcraft is common in West Africa, where traditional
animist beliefs coexist with Islam and Christianity.

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