A African sorcerer performs a dance in front of a sacred fire
An African sorcerer performs a dance in front of a sacred fire Reuters

A local witch doctor was arrested on suspicion of carrying out the killings of seven people accused of witchcraft in Tanzania.

"They were attacked and burnt to death by a mob of villagers who accused them of engaging in witchcraft," Jafari Mohamed, the police chief for the western Kigoma region which borders Burundi, told AFP.

"Five of those killed were aged over 60, while the other two were aged over 40," he added.

Horrific scenes of bodies hacked with machetes and people being burned to death were recounted by relatives of those killed.

"When I returned home in the evening, I found the body of my mother lying 10 meters away from our house, while the body of my father was burnt inside the house," said Josephat John, according to Tanzania's Mwananchi newspaper.

The attack in the village of Murufiti took place on Monday 13 October, but reports have only just surfaced after police announced the arrest of the suspects.

"We are holding 23 people including local leaders in connection with the attack," Mohamed said. "They will appear in court to face murder charges."

Hamisi Richard, the leader of Murufiti village, told the BBC: "Men and women have run away from the village. Even children are not there… Everyone was scared of that event, and others feared police search."

A local rights group, the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), has estimated as many as 500 "witches" are lynched every year, with reports stating that between 2005 and 2011 around 3,000 people were killed, many of them elderly women.

The LHRC reported that many local people believe that witchcraft is behind many hardships, including infertility and poverty.

Past attacks have included a series of vicious assaults against albinos, as well as against young children.

In Tanzania, albinos are killed and dismembered because of a widespread belief that charms made from their body parts bring good fortune and prosperity.

A documentary by Harry Freeland called In the Shadow of the Sun, highlights the plight of albinos in Tanzania. Referred to as 'White Ghosts' and 'Devils' within their communities, the superstition surrounding them has grown so strong that albinos now fear for their lives.