Murder of indigenous Maya healer spurs calls for justice in Guatemala

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - The killing of an indigenous Maya healer, who was set ablaze by a mob in rural Guatemala after he was accused of being a witch, was strongly condemned on Monday by the country’s president and human rights organizations.

Domingo Choc, a 56-year-old practitioner of traditional Maya medicine, died on Saturday after several members of his own Q’eqchi’ community accused him of using witchcraft to kill a man who had died in a local hospital several days earlier, according to a statement from the national police.

President Alejandro Giammattei, a medical doctor, wrote on his Twitter page that he was asking Guatemalan prosecutors to bring those responsible for Choc’s “murder” to justice.

A 28-second video clip shared online shows Choc running in a field as flames engulf his entire body, a plume of black smoke above him. Some onlookers, including families with children, can be seen recording the grisly scene on their phones.

While acts of violence against Guatemala’s Maya communities are not common, many community members complain about persistent racism and discrimination directed toward them.

Choc was a member of the Releb’aal Saq’e’ spiritual association which is made up of Maya healers and has worked with researchers in Guatemala as well as the University of Zurich and University College London.

Jose Che, a leader with Releb’aal Saq’e’, said in a phone interview that the association works to revive traditional Maya spirituality, which he said has nothing to do with witchcraft.

“We want justice to be done,” said Che. “This is not normal. It’s an inhumane act.”

He said that members of one family may be responsible for the crime, and called for an end to the persecution of indigenous healers for simply practicing their traditional beliefs.

In a brief statement, Guatemalan human rights organization UDEFEGUA demanded the “prompt arrest of those responsible ... for this crime of hate and fanaticism.”

Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa