Seven people killed in Panama religious ritual in which victims were tortured, burned and hacked to death

Seven people were killed in a bizarre religious ritual in a jungle community in Panama, in which indigenous residents were rounded up by about 10 lay preachers and tortured, beaten, burned and hacked with machetes to make them “repent their sins”.

Police freed 14 members of the Ngabe Bugle indigenous group who had been tied up and beaten with wooden cudgels and Bibles. The dead, found in a mass grave, include a pregnant woman and five of her children. Investigators found machetes, knives and a ritually sacrificed goat. Ten people, including a minor, have been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Rafael Baloyes, a local prosecutor, described a chilling scene found by investigators when they made their way through the jungle to the remote Ngabe Bugle indigenous community near the Caribbean coast, about 250km (155 miles) from Panama City.

Alerted by three villagers who escaped and made their way to a local hospital for treatment, police were prepared, Mr Baloyes said, but were still surprised by what they discovered at an improvised “church” at a ranch where a little-known religious sect known as ‘The New Light of God’ was operating.

“They were performing a ritual inside the structure,” Mr Baloyes said. “In that ritual, there were people being held against their will, being mistreated.