A woman saved from a mob after being accused of being a sorceress in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea higlands has apparently been hacked to death by a group of men.
The woman – known as "Misila" – was one of four women saved by missionaries in January after a measles epidemic killed several people in a remote village in the Pacific nation's highlands.
Anton Lutz, a Lutheran missionary, said the woman was axed to death this week in a mob attack in a region in which women were particularly vulnerable because there was no phone or radio communications contact and no road access.
"What we're hearing is that on Monday about 10 men came and axed her while she was with her family," he told ABC News.
"It's related to the beliefs about this spiritual being that lives inside of people – it's a very specific ancestral belief that this group has about all sickness and death being the result of these spirit beings that live inside of mostly women and their children."
Mr Lutz was one of several missionaries who joined with police to protect Misila and three others earlier this year.
The women were accused of being witches by a "witch-finder" who was paid by villagers to identify the believed source of the measles outbreak. Police said the villagers later agreed to perform a stone-turning ceremony in which they turned over stones to indicate that they would no longer make accusations of witchcraft.
Mr Lutz said the family of Misila would not try to retaliate against her killers but would rely on police assistance.
"Her family was helpless to do anything and she died," he said. "They are hoping that the police will be able to apprehend them and seek justice another way."
Belief in black magic is widespread in the poverty-stricken Commonwealth nation, where unexplained deaths can often lead to accusations of sorcery, typically against women. Frequently, the alleged sorcerers are reportedly targeted on the basis of personal or communal vendettas.
Human rights groups have long called for greater efforts to end sorcery murders and protect women. The country has one of the world's worst rates of violence against women, with officials saying that up to 68 per cent of women have suffered violence and up to a third have been raped.
Human Rights Watch said in January that Papua New Guinea was "one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman".
"Women in Papua New Guinea face violence at every turn," said Elaine Pearson, the organisation's Australia director. "The shocking reality is that the majority of women in Papua New Guinea will experience rape or physical assault in their lifetime, while the government fails to bring justice for victims."
Two years ago, Papua New Guinea repealed 1971 laws which allowed people accused of murder or serious assault to rely on a victim's practice of sorcery as a defence.
Despite the changes, experts and rights groups said women continue to be subject to increasingly brutal attacks.
"In the highlands there are lots of instances where people will talk about how witchcraft has spread to an area where it wasn't previously," Richard Eves, an expert on Papua New Guinea culture at the Australian National University, told ABC News last year.
There's been a real failure by the state to follow through on some of these arrests in a number of situations. It doesn't really help, it basically means people are acting with impunity." [Telegraph]