SYDNEY (AFP) - Eight people have been sentenced to death and 88 jailed for life over the sorcery-related killings of seven men and children in Papua New Guinea, a report said on Wednesday (July 25).
The frenzied murders happened in April 2014 in the Pacific nation's Madang province, with the National Court hearing a "berserk" crowd used bows and arrows, knives and axes to kill the victims.
Of the 97 people charged, eight were handed the death penalty and 88 imprisoned, The National newspaper reported. The other person died last month.
AFP was unable to reach the court in Madang to confirm the verdicts.
Local PNG media have previously reported that the crowd marched on Sakiko village, motivated by concerns about several deaths in the area attributed to sorcery.
The National said on Wednesday the mob first killed a man travelling to work at a sugar cane farm. He was shot with an arrow and hacked to pieces. Another was also hit with an arrow then slashed with knives and axes.
Three other men were killed before two children, aged five and three, were snatched from their mother's arms, the newspaper said. Previous reports said they were "chopped to pieces".
In sentencing, Justice David Cannings said there was no proven connection or justification between the belief in sorcery and what happened.
"So the genuine belief in sorcery is not a mitigating factor. It cannot be regarded as an extenuating circumstance to lessen the gravity of the crimes," he was cited as saying.
"Black magic" and cannibalism sometimes occur in PNG, a sprawling and poor nation where many people do not accept natural causes as an explanation for misfortune, illness, accidents or death.
Rights groups have waged campaigns for justice for victims of sorcery-related attacks, spurred by the horrific murder of a young woman accused of witchcraft in 2013.
In that case, Kepari Leniata, 20, was stripped naked, tied up, doused in petrol and burned alive in front of a crowd by relatives of a boy who died following an illness in the Mount Hagen area.
Following Leniata's murder, in 2013 PNG repealed the 1971 Sorcery Act which allowed a reduced sentence for anyone who committed assault or murder if they believed their victim had been involved in sorcery.
It also revived the death penalty for violent crimes.
The law allows for execution by lethal injection, hanging and firing squad, but it has not been carried out since 1954.