In this improvised temple members of the sect »La Nueva Luz de Dios« killed seven people on January 17, 2020 as part of an »exorcism« ritual
Photo: Arnulfo Franco / AP
Nine members of a sect in Panama have been sentenced to prison terms of up to 50 years.
A court in the city of Changuinola in the north-west of the country found the defendants guilty of killing six minors and a pregnant woman in an "exorcism" last year, the public prosecutor announced on Friday.
The court imposed the maximum sentence of 50 years in seven cases, and two other defendants were sentenced to 47 years in prison.
In January 2020, investigators found a large grave on the grounds of the sect "La Nueva Luz de Dios" (The New Light of God) in the indigenous region of Ngöbe-Buglé, which is difficult to access.
It contained the remains of the pregnant woman and six other victims aged between one and 17 years.
The seven bodies showed traces of blows and burns.
According to the court, the victims were killed by members of the sect with sticks, Bibles and machetes.
The woman, who was four to six months pregnant, was killed in front of her five children and one other minor, who were then also killed in front of the cult members.
Several other people were injured but managed to flee. They alerted the police, who then released 15 hostages in the sect's church. The cult members tried to brainwash the hostages, which showed signs of being beaten and burned. According to survivors' reports, the cult leader claimed to be carrying out God's command by "delivering people from the devil" through a brutal rite.
In recent years, cult members in Panama have been linked with the murder or kidnapping of people on several occasions, particularly in remote indigenous communities where state authorities are barely present.
In August 2020, police arrested three members of a sect in the Ngöbe-Buglé region who were accused of kidnapping and raping six children.
Another large grave was discovered there a month later.
The leader of the sect was then also arrested.
dak / AFP