Papua New Guinea in push to revive death penalty

Spate of violent crime in Pacific nation sparks new laws, including crackdown on black magic

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 May, 2013, 5:10am


Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has announced a renewed push for the death penalty, and life sentences for rape, saying that "draconian" penalties were needed to tackle violent crime.

O'Neill said the impoverished Pacific nation would also repeal its controversial Sorcery Act, meaning any black magic killing would be treated as murder. And he unveiled tough punishments for drug and alcohol offences. It follows a spate of horrific crimes against women including a beheading and the burning alive of a mother accused of witchcraft, as well as the gang rape of two foreigners last month.

"There will be maximum penalties that have never been seen before in this country," O'Neill said, according to PNG media reports. "We are serious about addressing this issue. We will regulate and pass laws that some people in our country may find draconian. But the people are demanding it."

The PNG government has received more than 100 petitions from human rights and other groups across the globe calling for urgent action.

In February a 20-year-old mother accused of witchcraft was stripped and burned alive in front of a crowd at a market and an elderly woman was beheaded last month after being accused of black magic.

In April, an Australian was murdered and his friend sexually assaulted by a group of men, followed barely a week later by the ambush of a US researcher, her husband and their guide on a wilderness track.

Central to the law-and-order push is a drive to revive the death penalty, now in place for treason, piracy and wilful murder, but not used since 1954.