Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Dark days for 'sorcerer'

Dark days for 'sorcerer'

Dark days for 'sorcerer'

More than 200 villagers warned a man accused of sorcery and 30 of his relatives yesterday that they could be killed unless they left their village in Ratanakkiri province immediately.

Rocham Char, a 52-year-old ethnic Jarai villager, and members of his extended family have been threatened by residents of Somkul village, in Som Thom commune, O’Yadav district, after numerous members of the community fell sick with fever in early April.

The threats prompted the district police chief, district governor and military police to hold a public meeting yesterday to talk with villagers.

Rocham Char said that about 200 villagers shouted at him during the assembly, stating that they were “afraid they could not restrain their anger [to the point where] they could murder”.

The suspected sorcerer’s family has previously told The Post that he was also accused of witchcraft in 1982, after which he proved his innocence during a Jarai ceremony.

Molten lead was poured onto his hand, leaving his palm unscathed – proving that he was not a sorcerer.

“But the villagers still want to expel my family from the village,” he said.

Plean Puon, a Somkul villager, said yesterday: “The villagers believe 100 percent that Rocham Char knows black magic and he cannot live in the village anymore.

“If he is still stubborn [and won’t leave], the villagers cannot guarantee his family’s lives.”

Rocham Char said his family would be forced to move to Bakeo district to seek safety if authorities could not assure their safety.  

Sok Lorn, 46, the suspected sorcerer’s brother-in-law, claimed yesterday that the allegations were supported by the Somkul village chief.

On Friday night, he claimed, the chief and more than 100 villagers held a secret meeting and thumb-printed a petition to have the family ousted from the village.

“I don’t know anything about sorcery, but villagers are also supporting [moves] that my family be dismissed from the village along with Rocham Char’s family,” he said.

Village Chief Sal Bien yesterday refuted the allegations that he masterminded a petition but said he believed that Rocham Char was a sorcerer – as sick villagers were unable to recover unless they gave traditional Jarai offerings to Rocham Char’s spirit.

“Anytime a family in the village is ill, [they do not recover] unless they buy a pig’s head and wine to offer to Rocham Char’s spirit according to tradition,” he said.

“Strangely, if they called another spirit’s name the illness was not cured.”

Officials have warned villagers not to use violence as they have no legal basis for their claims.

Ma Vichet, O’Yadav district police chief, who participated in the public forum, said yesterday that he would work closely with a provincial court prosecutor to educate villagers on the law.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that the accusations could have been incited by a villager with a personal grievance with the family.  

Chhay Thy reiterated the seriousness of sorcery allegations when he told The Post last month that in 2002, residents of the Sreankrorng village in Ratanakkiri’s Kon Mom district burned a family of suspected sorcerers alive with the assistance of commune and village chiefs.

The officials were subsequently sent to prison.

From 2009 to 2011, Adhoc said they received six complaints about sorcery cases, in which two families decided to relocate from their homes for safety reasons.

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