A medical expert from University College London was burned alive by an angry gang after being charged with witchcraft.
Domingo Choc Che, an expert in natural medicine, had worked with the university on a project when the traumatic event happened.
The disturbing incident occurred on June 6 in the village of Chimay where the victim lived, near the municipality of San Luis in the northern Guatemalan department of Peten.
Choc Che was a member of a pharmaceutical research team with other researchers from University College London and the universities of Zurich (Switzerland) and Valle (Guatemala).
The team reportedly sought traditional herbal remedies and worked with Mayan guides, with Choc Che himself being both an expert in traditional medicine and a Mayan spiritual guide.
An angry mob is said to have harassed the investigator for saying that he practiced witchcraft and blamed him for causing the death of a community member after giving him some medicine.
In the shocking video, the victim is seen running through a field full of flames and spectators watching and chasing him. Che died in the incident.
Some spectators can be heard screaming, and Peten Governor Luis Burgos told local media that villagers had blocked police officers from going to the scene to help Che.
Burgos said the locals also caused some problems for the authorities who went to check the victim’s body after his death.
Monica Berger, the head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Valle in Guatemala, told local media that the victim, known as ‘Abuelo Domingo’ (Grandfather Domingo), was restoring natural ancestral Mayan medicine.
She said, “We were conducting an inventory of medicinal species to document and protect Q’eqchi’s medical knowledge so that all native knowledge can be known.”
British ambassador to Guatemala, Nick Whittingham, wrote on social media: “I recognize Domingo Choc’s legacy as a spiritual guide and send my condolences to his family.[…] We trust that the state will launch an investigation soon. ‘
The Oxlajuj Ajpop National Conference, which brings together Mayan specialists, condemned the murder and asked the authorities to identify the culprits of the crime.
The group called for the victim’s family to be protected from future attacks, along with other spiritual Mayan guides in the village.
Guatemala’s Ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, condemned the crime and said he was “committed to preserving and sharing ancestral knowledge.”
Rodas wrote on social media that lynch parties like these are “attacks on people’s right to life and integrity, as well as the right to suspect innocence and the guarantees of a good trial”.
He added that Choc Che was “recognized and loved by the scientific community as an expert in natural medicine.”
According to the investigation by the humanitarian organization Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (Group of Mutual Support), which was founded in Guatemala 36 years ago, lynches caused at least 348 deaths in the country between 2008 and 2018.
The investigation is ongoing and no arrests have been made to date.