Liberia: Mob Violence Leaves One Dead in Sinoe

The two women accused of kidnapping and witchcraft in Sinoe were stripped naked and paraded through the streets. A third woman was mobbed to death.

-Two others humiliated for 'being witches'

An angry crowd has reportedly beaten to death a woman identified as Willean Nywallah in Johnny Town, Upper Kpanyan District, Sinoe County, for allegedly kidnapping a baby.

The crowd, according to the report, also humiliated two other women, who were reportedly suspected of being accomplices of Willean Nywallah. The two women were stripped naked and paraded through the center of the town.

The incidents, which took place Sunday, December 13, 2018, have since brought the township to a standstill.

The three women were accused of using African Science (Juju or witchcraft), as a means to steal away a four-month-old child that was left lying in a house by the father.

The township became tense during the evening hours of Tuesday, December 12, when news spread that the baby was reportedly missing. The mother of the child, Sayetta Samuel, had left the child with the father to perform some domestic chores.

After a vain search for the child for over several hours, a witch doctor, who was called to intervene, reportedly revealed that Willean Nywallah and the two other women were responsible for the missing child.

It was also reported that the witch doctor further indicated that the women were "witches" and were responsible for several deaths in the community.

Eyewitnesses said the women were also sexually assaulted, with some of their abusers inserting sticks into their private parts.

This led to the death of Willean, who was reportedly buried overnight. The grave was discovered by some community members who reported the case to officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) in the district, and the decomposed corpse was ordered exhumed and photographed.

According to Johnny Town police officer Marshall Gballah, it all started when the incident about the missing child was brought to his attention through an invitation extended him by community chairman Philip Wah, who subsequently instructed him to make an announcement about the incident.

"I was also asked to begin an investigation into the matter. The first people I interrogated were the mother and father of the missing child, who explained what had happened. That is how we brought a group of young boys together to commence a search throughout the township and the bushes," he said.

"The mother said she left the child with the father on her way out, and the father later responded that the child was lying in the room. A team of young men was subsequently dispatched to find the child. They searched all over the bushes and did not find the child. At this point, the residents became more confused and the town became tense," officer Gballah said.

He added that the young men continued the search until nightfall, with no results, and slept at the chairman's compound to continue the next day. When day broke, Gballah said the community chairman told him that in other to continue the search the town needed to make available L$5,000 and also L$10,000 to seek the help of a traditional herbalist.

"In continuation of the search, District Commissioner Alfred Jarwolh asked the missing child's mother to name those present when the baby was left with the father. This is how the name of Willean Nywallah surfaced with her colleagues," he said.

Through interrogation by state security officers and stakeholders, the community police, local authorities, the town chief, paramount chief, and the commissioner were exonerated from having any link to the missing child.

But after police officers were brought in from Panama, a town near Greenville, and they started torturing the women and putting handcuffs on their hands, the lady who died reportedly pleaded, "Please don't carry us, we have the baby, but this baby is on the road!"

"As soon as the angry crowd heard this, they started to throw stones and objects at the building where the interrogation was taking place. They were later caught and stripped naked. At first, the police took them to Panama, but later brought them back to the community," he said.

"A traditional herbalist from Tarjiwon District, Grebo quarter community, was called to perform a ritual so as to determine whether the three girls were witches. The herbalist performed the ritual and claimed the girls were witches, responsible for the killing of several people in the town.

"After the herbalist's pronouncement, the crowd became violent and started beating the ladies. They were also threatened with invoking the wrath of the traditional devil," Officer Gballah said.

Officer Gballah was also arrested and is now in police custody at the police depot in Greenville, the capital of Sinoe County; but the acts have been condemned by the leadership of the Sinoe Youth Association (SIYA).

SIYA, in a release over the weekend, called on the national government and local authorities to thoroughly investigate the incident in order to bring justice to those who are being unjustly treated.

The group has, therefore, called on President George Weah and his government to speedily investigate this situation and bring all those perpetrators to book.

The group added, "Mob violence is never a solution under our justice system. Those who feel aggrieved should seek the court and not take matters into their own hands. It is against this backdrop that SIYA is beseeching the government to immediately intervene in this situation. We believe our sisters are being humiliated unfairly."

The four-year-old child is yet to be found and returned to the parents.

Meanwhile, trial by ordeal (TBO) was outlawed by the Supreme Court of Liberia in 1916 in a case in which a number of individuals accused of being witches refused to submit to sassywood (a form of TBO that involves drinking a poison brew that often results in death) and the matter was brought before the Court on appeal. The court annulled TBO on the basis that it violated a suspect's right against self-incrimination (a right protected under the Liberian 1847 Constitution) by holding:

"While it is provided that the native and district courts shall administer the native customary law, we cannot admit the legality of a proceeding which is evidently intended to extort a confession from the accused, and which is in conflict with the organic law of the state, which declares that "no person shall be compelled to give evidence against himself." ... Any custom, which panders to the superstition of the natives of the country is, in our opinion, contrary to the genius of our institutions and should therefore be discouraged. (Jedah v. Horace (1916) 2 LLR 63)."

*Leoby S. Jarteh, Danida project officer, contributed to this story.

Edited by William Q. Harmon

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