Hundreds of people held in a government-backed witch hunt in The Gambia have been released without charge. Observers cited pressure resulting from Amnesty International helping to publicize the story as the reason for the mass releases and subsequent halting of the witch hunts.
It was reported by Amnesty International last month that up to 1,000 people in the country had been snatched from their villages by witch doctors and then taken to secret detention centres.
They were then forced to drink hallucinogenic concoctions, which led many to have serious kidney problems. At least two people are known to have died of kidney failure after being subjected to the ordeal.
There were also reports of women being raped by witch doctors and security forces, specifically after they were given the concoction and had lost control of themselves. People were also reported to have been robbed after they drunk the potion.
"Amnesty International is relieved that the witch hunting has finally come to an end. These human rights violations should never have been allowed to happen and those responsible for committing these violations must be investigated and brought to justice," said Tania Bernath, Amnesty International's researcher on The Gambia.
Eyewitnesses and victims told Amnesty International in March that the witch doctors, who they say are from neighbouring Guinea, are accompanied by police, army and national intelligence agents. They are also accompanied by "green boys" – Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s personal protection guards.
The witch doctors were invited to The Gambia early this year, soon after the death of President Jammeh's aunt. The President is reported to believe that witchcraft was used in her death.
Amnesty International had called on the Gambian government to put an immediate stop to the campaign, investigate the incidents and bring those responsible to justice.