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Superstitious Mob Attacks BBC Journalists in Malawi

FILE - A BBC logo is seen at the company's main offices, in west London. Three journalists for British Broadcasting Corporation were attacked in Malawi under suspicion of being vampires.

Police in Malawi are hunting for vigilantes who assaulted a BBC film crew this past weekend after accusing the reporters of being vampires.

The attack happened around 8 p.m. Friday, when Dariud Gregory Barzagan, Ahmed Hussein Divela and Prince Anus Asamoah — journalists for British Broadcasting Corporation — were filming a documentary on traditional magic and the violence associated with it in the northern Karonga district.

Local journalist Henry Mhango accompanied the trio, and said they were attacked in the remote area of Malema.

"We found that some people were terrified because we were in two vehicles and they started mobilizing themselves," Mhango told VOA. "When they came to us, they started confronting us saying they thought maybe we were blood suckers. In the first place, the discussions with locals were going on very well, but the more people were coming, the situation was becoming worse."

He says a crowd armed with stones and other sharp objects assaulted the crew, confiscated some of their equipment and damaged one of their two vehicles.

Mhango, who suffered minor injuries, says they were rescued by police officers and other community leaders who took them to Karonga District Hospital for medical attention.

The attack is the latest incident resulting from a belief in superstition among Malawians.

Earlier in February, a mob in the southern district of Thyolo assaulted workers of the international nongovernmental organization Jhpiego, on suspicion they were blood-sucking vampires.

Two weeks ago, vigilantes burned eight houses and assaulted people suspected of stopping the rains in the Phalombe district.

"It is extremely … worrisome," government spokesperson Nicholas Dausi told VOA on Monday. "In [the] 21st century, we cannot be doing this. Because these beliefs are really costing a lot of lives, and we do not want a [reoccurrence] of this. It is primitive and so retrogressive."

Sangwani Tembo, an anthropologist at the Catholic University of Malawi, says government efforts to debunk superstitions are not making much headway because of the high illiteracy rate among locals.

"And if we look at those particular districts, issues of illiteracy are high compared to other districts," Tembo said. "In most cases when there are problems which they cannot handle, for instance issues of drought, in most cases it is like a scapegoat, so they try to try blame someone."

A local media advocacy group, Nyika Media Club, has condemned the attack and called for the police to bring the culprits to account. Police say no arrests have been made.