Alex Constantine - April 25, 2008
By Joe Bavier
Wed Apr 23, 2008
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Police in Congo have arres ted 13 suspected sorcerers accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men' s penises after a wave of panic and attempted lynchings triggered by the alleged witchcraft.
Reports of so-called penis snatching are not uncommon in West Africa, where belief in traditiona l religions and witchcraft remains widespread, and where ritual killings to obtain blood or body parts still occur.
Rumor s of penis theft began circulating last week in Kinshasa, Democ atic Republic of Congo's sprawling capital of some 8 million inhabitants. They quickly dominated radio call-in shows, with listeners advised to beware of
fellow passengers in communal taxis wearing gold rings.
Purported victims, 14 of whom were also detai ned by police, claimed that sorcerers simply touched them to make their genitals shrink or disappear, in what some residents said was an attempt to extort cash with the promise of a cure.
"You just have to be accused of that, and people come after you. We' ve had a number of attempted lynch ings. ...
You see them covered in marks after being beaten," Kinshasa' s police chief, Jean-Dieud onne Oleko, told Reuters on Tuesday.
Police arrested the accused sorcerers and their victims in an effort to avoid the sort of blood shed seen in Ghana a decad e ago, when 12 suspected penis snatchers were beaten to death by angry mobs. The 27 men have since been released.
"I'm tempted to say it's one huge joke, " Oleko said.
"But when you try to tell the victims that their penis es are still there, they tell you that it's becom e tiny or that they've become impotent. To that I tell them, 'How do you know if you haven't gone home and tried it'," he said.
Some Kinshasa residents accuse a separatist sect from nearby Bas-Congo province of being behind the witchcraft in revenge for a recent government crackdown on its members.
"It's real. Just yesterday here, there was a man who was a victim. We saw. What was left was tiny, " said 29-year-old Alain Kalala, who sells phone credits near a Kinsh asa police station.