Peruvian prosecutors are investigating the kidnapping and assault of seven women held for two weeks and flogged on accusations of "sorcery" after members of their rural village fell ill, officials said Tuesday.
The women were captured on June 29 by so-called "peasant patrols" who act as law-and-order enforcers in parts of rural Peru – and freed Tuesday at the government's insistence.
The official intervention came after a video surfaced on social media of a woman hanging by one of her feet while being flogged into confessing to being a witch, while another, naked, was being interrogated nearby.
The women were aged between 43 and 70, according to local media. A man was captured with them, but there was no evidence that he was also beaten.
"They were detained for witchcraft" after several people in their remote Andean village of Chillia fell ill or died, Peruvian human rights ombudsman Eliana Revollar, whose office is also investigating the matter, told AFP.
They were freed after calls from the government, but not before being made to sign documents in which they agreed not to denounce their captors and "not to exercise sorcery," she added.
José Luis Agüero, head of the ombudsman's office in the region of La Libertad, told RPP radio the women's captors "stripped them, put nettles on their bodies" and whipped them.
The prosecuting authority, for its part, said the victims were taken by "peasant patrols of the district of Chillia."
Peru's peasant patrols were created more than four decades ago, initially to prevent the theft of livestock.
But during Peru's armed conflict between 1980 and 2000, they also fought off incursions by the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas.
Their ranks once included the country's current president, Pedro Castillo.
This is the second case against the patrols in a week, after a television reporting team claimed to have been detained and threatened while inquiring about Castillo's family in the Cajamarca region.