Peruvian prosecutors seek arrest of two men in lynching of Canadian

A Canadian man who had travelled to the Amazon to study plant medicine in order to become an addictions counsellor was hanged by a mob after the death of a local medicine woman

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 4:01am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 April, 2018, 4:38am

Prosecutors in Peru have asked a judge to order the arrest of two men in connection with the lynching of a Canadian man in a remote Amazonian village last week, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office said on Monday.

Sebastian Woodroffe, a 41-year-old Canadian citizen, was beaten and strangled with a rope in the jungle region of Ucayali on Friday after members of an indigenous community accused him of killing a revered medicine woman.

A cellphone video recording showed two men tugging at a rope around Woodroffe’s neck before he goes limp. A person at the lynching shared the video on social media.

The two men have been identified, said Ricardo Palma Jimenez, the head of a group of prosecutors in Ucayali. “We’re waiting for the judge’s order so police can capture them immediately,” Jimenez said by phone.

One of the men is a relative of Olivia Arevalo, an 81-year-old indigenous shaman of the Shipibo-Conibo tribe who was fatally shot near her home in Ucayali on Thursday.

Woodroffe, who lived in Ucayali, had been Arevalo’s patient, and her family accused him of killing her because she refused to give him the hallucinogenic plant brew ayahuasca, Jimenez said.

Canadian lynched in Amazon after being accused of killing 81-year-old Peruvian healer

But Jimenez said it was far from clear who killed Arevalo. No one witnessed the shooting, the murder weapon has not been found and a test for gunshot residue on Woodroffe’s body is likely to take 15 to 20 days, Jimenez said.

Authorities are exploring several hypotheses related to Arevalo’s murder, including one in which another foreigner might have killed her over an unpaid debt, Jimenez said.

Arevalo’s slaying prompted outrage as it followed other unsolved killings of indigenous leaders and activists who faced repeated death threats related to their efforts to keep illegal loggers and oil palm growers off native lands.

Policing is scant over much of the Peruvian Andes and Amazon, and villagers in far-flung provinces often punish suspected criminals according to local customs.

Woodroffe moved to Ucayali after raising money to help him learn more about plant medicine in Peru in order to become an addictions counsellor, according to the crowdfunding website, in which he had listed his plan to spend US$6,800 at a Shipibo healing centre.

Ayahuasca, long used by Amazonian tribes for spiritual and medicinal reasons, has sparked a surge in tourism to the Amazon in the past decade as its reputation for helping users overcome addiction and gain spiritual insights has grown abroad.

Visitors interested in using ayahuasca often stay in pricey jungle retreats promising access to powerful indigenous shamans.