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Program Information
 Unreported World 
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Unreported World visits the Central African Republic where witchcraft is used to explain every misfortune and nearly half the prison populations are convicted witches.
(Audio rip from video)
Series 2010 | Episode 17 | Witches on Trial

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The Central African Republic is a country obsessed with black magic, where nearly half the prison population are convicted witches.

In villages and the capital witchcraft is used to explain every misfortune and it is such a powerful weapon that it is a feature of almost every family quarrel or village dispute. And, as Unreported World reveals, it's often the most vulnerable who are singled out.

Reporter Seyi Rhodes and director Julie Noon's journey begins at a ceremony performed by a traditional healer. She claims to have the power to expose black magic by looking into a fire and seeing the names and images of witches. During the ceremony she pulls a small boy from the crowd and announcing that he turns into a horse at night and eats people.

Healers like Marceline wield huge influence across the country and their authority is rarely questioned. She tells Rhodes her most recent case involved exposing a local man as a witch and that he was subsequently arrested and imprisoned.

Since independence from France in 1960 it's been illegal to use charlatanism and sorcery to harm others. Those found guilty can be jailed for up to ten years or even sentenced to death. Rhodes and Noon travel to Mbaiki prison. The Governor says he chains up all new suspected witches for the first seven days, but despite this one prisoner managed to escape; the governor claims he turned into a rat or snake and tunneled out.

Rhodes finds one prisoner, Francois, awaiting trial. He claims that although he was labeled a witch by his neighbours he is innocent. Francois says he was tied up, beaten by fellow villagers and dragged to the police station where he confessed.

Even though it is against the law there is no explanation in the penal code to what actually constitutes witchcraft. Rhodes speaks to the police to find out how they go about tackling a phenomenon that isn't even defined. A senior police captain says eyewitness testimony is enough for him to prosecute.

The team attends Francois's trial. His case, like others, seems to be based on rumour, hearsay and forced confessions. In court there's a big turnout. The judge begins by reading the charges and Francois's lawyer submits his plea of not guilty. A traditional healer is brought in and testifies he saw Francois turn into a dog and bite a man. Much to everyone's astonishment Francois pleads guilty. After the trial he tells Rhodes he was too scared to deny it.

Travelling north to Sibut, the team visits the local prison where more than half the prisoners are accused or convicted of witchcraft. The inmates protest their innocence and most of them seem to be a victim of quarrels with relatives or neighbours, which had all resulted in accusations of witchcraft being made. They all appear to be vulnerable, from the elderly to people who were living on their own.

Back in the capital, one of the country's most senior prosecuting judges - Arnaud Djoubaye - admits there is a problem with the law. He says there is no legal definition of the concept of witchcraft, which can be confusing and vague. However he's convinced witchcraft is a real and present threat to the population and believes the laws should remain to allow the judiciary to take action.

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00:23:56 English 2010-11-28
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