Cambodians Are Increasingly Being Executed For Sorcery

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By Denise Hruby

It was like a scene from a medieval witch hunt: a victim, accused of a crime that has never been committed, is surrounded by a mob. Terror ensues, before an inevitable death.

On a balmy afternoon, Pov Sovann was sitting outside his house in a tiny town in rural Cambodia, chatting with his relative. Like on most days, there wasn’t much to do besides occasionally tending livestock and watching villagers pass by.

Then, without warning, a group of about 200 people approached him. Armed with wooden sticks and stones, they yelled at him, accusing the 36-year-old of black magic.

With sorcery, the increasingly agitated mob shouted, Sovann had brought death upon six families in the village — each of which had relatives pass away without prior history of disease over the past two years, local newspapers reported.

Sovann was driven into his bedroom upstairs, where a dozen men bludgeoned him.

For years, Sovann had been a renowned traditional healer, a well-respected man in his community who mixed potions from herbs and roots.

Two days before the attack, the relatives of a recently deceased woman allegedly saw centipedes around a corpse’s head — proof enough for the villagers that the 54-year-old woman had been cursed.

Between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., the crowd swelled from 200 to 600 villagers.

“My police could not do anything because there were many people who carried stones and clubs and were very violent,” the district’s penal police chief, Khut Lo, told The Cambodia Daily.

Eventually, after countless stones, fists and clubs had hailed down on Sovann, he was pushed down the stairs of his house and died.

The case of Pov Sovann is particularly grisly, yet it isn’t the first, nor will it be the last.

Human rights group Licadho said they recorded one case of a person being killed for sorcery in 2012, and a total of three in 2013. In the first half of this year, the media has already reported four.

In January, six people set upon an alleged sorcerer and decapitated him. Two days later, another practitioner was hacked to death with a machete. In May, a sorcerer was killed by his own nephew, armed with a scythe.

Experts are struggling to come up with a reason for the brutal killings.

Ryun Patterson, an independent journalist who has spent several months researching magic and sorcery in Cambodia for an e-book, said that “mystics” enjoy a high level of respect among their communities.

“In many cases we saw evidence of that, as people would line up outside the mystics’ working areas while we conducted our interviews,” he said.

Perhaps, he said, it’s simply a strong belief in magic — good and bad — that makes people so afraid of potential harm that they would turn against their neighbors.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Then, without warning, a group of about 200 people approached him. Armed with wooden sticks and stones, they yelled at him, accusing the 36-year-old of black magic.

    With sorcery, the increasingly agitated mob shouted, Sovann had brought death upon six families in the village — each of which had relatives pass away without prior history of disease over the past two years, local newspapers reported….

    In January, six people set upon an alleged sorcerer and decapitated him. Two days later, another practitioner was hacked to death with a machete. In May, a sorcerer was killed by his own nephew, armed with a scythe.

    Experts are struggling to come up with a reason for the brutal killings.

    Seriously? The murderers hand their explanations to people on a platter, and experts still don’t get why they’re killing alleged “sorcerers” when bad things happen? Has it occurred to them that such sections of humanity are superstitious/gullible, stoked by insane cultural teachings, uninformed of modern science, and inflamed by strong but thoughtless moral passions into shooting first and asking questions never?

    Unless this is a question about the origins of superstition in general, I have to wonder why “experts” would be baffled by this. It’s like they can’t accept that humans can just be ignorant and foolish.

    Or is there a religion behind this, and the “experts” don’t want to say anything bad about it? Evangelicals, for instance? This sounds very much like the sort of witch-killing occurring in parts of Africa and South America, and if memory serves me, Christian preachers encourage such superstitions.

    Perhaps, he said, it’s simply a strong belief in magic — good and bad — that makes people so afraid of potential harm that they would turn against their neighbors.

    Gee, you think?

  2. .. Zeuglodon,

    Yes, everything you said. But also people do not want to face their own stupidity, their own guilt or their own responsibility. The want a scapegoat, that is how Christianity started? somebody offered a scapegoat?

    On the other hand, people who sell homoeopathic medicines, are they no also “witch doctors” ?

  3. Regrettably, the ignorant will always outnumber the informed. Information is poor defence when confronted by a mob. The informed are constantly solicited to succour the ignorant, but it is in their self interest to let the ignorant suffer the consequences of their ignorance. Why send students to serve up medicine when they are frequently killed, no let the ignorant rely on their prayers.

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