• Campaigns

Tortured for witchcraft in Papua New Guinea

By Vlad Sokhin

With sorcery-related killings in Papua New Guinea making news around the world, photographer and recent Amnesty International Media Awards nominee Vlad Sokhin finds the heroes behind the headlines.

I came to Papua New Guinea (PNG) for the first time at the beginning of 2012. Shocked by the horrible statistics on domestic violence, and surprised by the lack of visual information, I decided to start a photographic project on the issue. I called it “Crying Meri”, “meri” meaning woman in Pidgin – the language spoken in PNG.

I went to PNG four times during 2012-13. I covered several angles of gender-based violence. I photographed victims of domestic violence, interviewed members of the street gangs (called “raskols”), went to prisons and police stations to document how the authorities are tackling this type of crime. I spoke to perpetrators, and to survivors in shelters, with social workers and nurses – trying to build the big picture.

I was particularly concerned about the safety of the women and children I interviewed. I didn't want to put them in any danger because of my images. Before I photographed any of them I wanted to be sure that they understood what I was doing, and how and where their images would be used. I carefully explained why I was doing this project, all the time with the help of someone from the community: social workers, doctors or nurses, women advocates, people from NGOs, parents of abused children.

Shocking brutality

While working in theHighlandsregion of PNG, I witnessed the aftermath of sorcery attacks – the most shocking thing I have ever seen in my life.

In remote villages of Simbu and Jiwaka provinces I met survivors of sorcery-related violence, usually elderly women, who had been accused of using black magic to kill people. Brutally tortured, and left with mutilated limbs, these women were “lucky” to have survived, because many others haven’t.

The women I met were hiding from their tormentors in places far from their own homes. They will never be able to return to their villages to see their relatives.

Despite widespread violence, the PNG government does not have a programme to help victims of sorcery-related attacks nor is it providing any shelter to these women. Such cases are rarely brought to court. Sometimes even the police are involved in witch-hunts, supporting the perpetrators rather than the victims.

In the Highlands region I worked closely with Monica Paulus, who helps people accused of sorcery. Without any support from the government, she provides shelter for survivors of such attacks, often risking her life. You never hear about people like her in the news, but I think that she is one of the real heroes for doing such dangerous and important work.

Visual diary

While doing my project, I made a visual diary. With words and Polaroid images I kept a record of my thoughts and impressions, writing down conversations with victims and perpetrators, and otherwise capturing the moments and events that surrounded me every day. Here are some of the posts I made during my last trip to PNG in February 2013.