Liberia bans media from Ebola centres; Tanzania burns 7 'witches'

500 "witches" are killed every year in Tanzania. Some are targeted simply because they have red eyes.

LIBERIA said Friday it was banning journalists from Ebola clinics, defying media rights campaigners who have warned panicked African governments against “muzzling” reporters in response to the crisis.

Government spokesman Isaac Jackson made the announcement as he was questioned on a radio phone-in show about reporters being barred from covering a strike at a Monrovia Ebola treatment unit (ETU).

“Journalists are no longer allowed to enter ETUs. These journalists enter the ETUs and cross red lines,” Jackson, the deputy information minister, told listeners to commercial station Sky FM.

“They violate people’s privacy, take pictures that they will sell to international institutions. We are putting an end to that.”

Journalists had earlier been denied access to the Island Clinic in Monrovia to cover a nationwide “go slow” day of action by healthcare workers demanding risk bonuses for treating Ebola.

“There is no protest, everything is fine with the healthcare workers and patients are well taken care of,” he said of the clinic.

Earlier, a caller identifying himself as a nurse at the centre told the station that patients had been dying because they were not receiving adequate care.

“We, the nurses, cannot work because the hygienists have stopped working. The patients are dying. Something needs to be done. The go-slow action is killing our people,” he said.

Liberia is ranked 89th out of 180 countries in the 2014 press freedom index produced by Reporters Without Borders. Sierra Leone is 72nd while Guinea is ranked 102nd.

Tanzania lynchings

In Tanzania, meanwhile, they was burning, not banning. Seven people accused of witchcraft have been burned alive in Tanzania, police said Friday, adding they have arrested 23 people in connection with the crimes.

“They were attacked and burnt to death by a mob of villagers who accused them of engaging in witchcraft,” the police chief for the western Kigoma region which borders Burundi, Jafari Mohamed, told AFP.

Among those arrested on suspicion of carrying out the killings was the local traditional healer, or witch doctor.

Relatives of those killed described horrific scenes, with the bodies of family members hacked with machetes or burned almost beyond recognition.

“When I returned home in the evening, I found the body of my mother lying 10 metres away from our house, while the body of my father was burnt inside the house,” said Josephat John, according to Tanzania’s Mwananchi newspaper.

The attack in the village of Murufiti took place on Monday but reports only emerged after police announced the arrest of the suspects.

“We are holding 23 people including local leaders in connection with the attack,” Mohamed said.

Belief in witches and black magic remains strong in many parts of Tanzania.

A local rights group, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), has estimated as many as 500 “witches” are lynched every year, based on reports that counted some 3,000 people killed between 2005 and 2011.

Many of those killed were elderly women, the centre said.

The rights group said some are targeted because they have red eyes –- seen as a feared sign of witchcraft, even if they in fact that is the result from the use of dung as cooking fuel in impoverished communities.

The centre said that many local people believe that witchcraft is behind every misfortune—from infertility and poverty to failure in business.

Past attacks have included a series of bloody assaults against albinos, as well as against young children.

In Tanzania, albinos are killed and dismembered because of a widespread belief that charms made from their body parts bring good fortune and prosperity.

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