Nimba Traditional Leaders Want Punishment for Witchcraft-Related Crimes

SANNIQUELLIE, Nimba – Traditional leaders in Nimba are responding to increased reports of witchcraft-related crimes by calling on the government to start taking actions against those who have confessed to harming others through witchcraft.

Chief Peter Barlon, the head of the Chiefs and Elders Council of Nimba, said people who confess to crimes via witchcraft should be held accountable for their actions. The story was first reported by the Daily Observer.

Barlon said people should face justice if they confess, without torture, to killing or harming others using witchcraft. The Nimba chief added that during open confessions he has witnessed, the alleged perpetrators have even provided details on the specific chants and other methods they use to harm their victims.

“The person can even take the horn and show it on a raw tree and the tree will die on the spot,” the chief said.

The latest witchcraft practice in Nimba is being referred to as “nine months.” When applied to women, it supposedly prevents them from extramarital affairs. Men who engage in sexual activities with these women are rumored to die within nine months.

News of this practice first surfaced in July and Barlon said he received reports of two persons who have died as a result.

“When the second person died, that is how this girl started to suspect it,” he said, noting that many of the initiators of the spell are young men.

But Barlon says he is disappointed that the government is not taking these cases more seriously.

“The government says they don’t know about witch[craft],” he said. “So, when we grab those people, [there’s] nowhere to carry them.”

He asked that the legislature enact laws to send such perpetrators to jail, as it would prevent the loss of lives of innocent citizens.

The is not the chief’s first time calling for such laws. In February 2016, the Liberia News Agency reported that Barlon asked Nimba lawmakers to submit a bill that would allow the prosecution of individuals who confessed to harming others through witchcraft.

However, human rights activists have always opposed such a call. At around the same time Barlon made his request, former Deputy Information Minister Isaac Jackson came under criticism from prominent human rights lawyer, Tiawan Saye Gongloe, as a result of statements Jackson made supporting the prosecution of individuals who admitted to witchcraft.

“We will not spare any effort in bringing that person to book,” Jackson had said. “Every life is valuable and anybody who engages in witchcraft activities and made self-confession that he or she was responsible for the death of somebody, as was being narrated in the town hall meeting, the government will not tolerate.”

Gongloe responded that he was disappointed that such a pronouncement came from Jackson, who holds a law degree.

“You know, it cannot happen. There is no legal backing for that,” Gongloe said. “He’s just saying that, but what he is saying cannot be done. These are the kind of things that can undermine the public’s trust in government. Because when you say something, and it doesn’t happen, then people cannot trust you anymore.”

Gongloe said prosecuting someone for witchcraft would be outside the law because there would be no legal basis as it is not possible to prove whether or not a person is involved in witchcraft.

“This is a country of law,” he said. “Before you prosecute anybody, it’s got to be on the basis of the violation of the law. I don’t know whether he knows witches, because for you to say somebody is a witch, yourself, probably you have to be a witch to understand.”

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Arrington Ballah

A resident of Ganta, Nimba County, Arrington has a background working with credit unions and other organizations dedicated to rural finance.

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