Police in Takeo province’s Bati district on Wednesday said that they were still looking for 11 men identified as the main suspects in the killing of 36-year-old Pov Sovann, who was beaten and stoned to death on Sunday by about 600 people who accused him of sorcery.
“The 11 suspects, whom we identified, ran away on Sunday night, at around 8 p.m., after killing the victim,” district penal police chief Khut Lo said Wednesday, adding that they would be charged with premeditated murder.
Police witnessed the mob killing of Pov Sovann, a traditional healer, which started with a crowd of about 200 villagers surrounding his father’s house on Sunday at around 2 p.m. As the crowd slowly grew to about 600, police said they were unable to step in. After several attacks with clubs and stones by the angry mob, Pov Sovann died at around 8 p.m.
The suspects, Mr. Lo said, were relatives of seven people who passed away within the last two years without showing any symptoms of disease.
“The 11 suspects had riled other villagers and told them that Pov Sovann was a sorcerer who caused the death of other family members by black magic,” Mr. Lo said.
Jan Ovesen, an anthropologist who has researched the role of traditional medicine in Cambodia, said that it is often perceived as a double-edged sword, a craft that can heal but also cause harm.
“[A] healer is often treading a fine line between healing and sorcery,” he said in an email.
“But it should be taken into consideration that the villagers are probably poor and poorly educated, have poor access to proper medical care, and/or cannot afford it, so it is understandable if despair and desperation set in if their trusted healer is perceived to have let them down,” Mr. Ovesen said.
Killings of sorcerers were already common 400 years ago, but in the past they were executed directly by the government, according to Sotheara Vong, a historian at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. By law, people accused of sorcery had their hands tied and were put in a sack before being thrown into a body of water.
“If those tied suspects sunk in the water, that meant they didn’t know the black magic theory. However, if the suspects floated, that meant they [knew] black magic [and] must be executed,” Mr. Vong said.