Sorcery and the Law

Though the Penal Code provides for punishment, proving intent is often difficult.

Believe it or not, witchcraft or sorcery does exist, and the full impact of its practice on innocent lives is enormous. While different people opt for various solutions to the problem like seeking protection from witch doctors or spiritualists, and deliverance from men and women of God, the State has provided legal safeguards against the ravage of witchcraft.

According to Barrister Ngwang Shey of Ndi Law Chambers, Bamenda, the applicable portion of the Penal Code is Section 251, which states that “Whoever commits any act of witchcraft, magic or divination liable to disturb public order or tranquility or to harm another in his person, property or substance, whether by the taking of a reward or otherwise, shall be punished with imprisonment for from two to 10 years, and with fine from FCFA 5,000 to 100,000.”

The onus of proof lies with the prosecution, that is, the State Counsel, who ensures criminal prosecution before the courts, Barrister Ngwang explained. As is the case with criminal offences, “proof of commission of all the ingredients of the offence is beyond reasonable doubt, that is, to establish both the ‘mens rea’ and ‘actus reus’. ‘Men’s rea’ being within the meaning and intent of Section 74 (2) of the Penal Code,” he explained. However, there are challenges with applying the criminalization of witchcraft practices in the country.

Barrister Ngwang said suspects suffer long periods of detention awaiting the consent of Directors of Public Prosecutions or ‘Procureur General’ in the regions before prosecution can go ahead. Moreover, testimonies hardly meet required standards. For example, the act of killing must be proven by some physical marks such as wounds, which are always absent in sorcery-related deaths. On the other hand, in the absence of confessional statements, no intention of witchcraft can be proved, he added.

In spite of difficulties in prosecuting cases, judges in English-speaking Cameroon are beginning to secure an increasing number of convictions in sorcery trials. Meanwhile, in the French-speaking regions, people have for long sought legal redress against witchcraft.

Source : Cameroon Tribune

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