Scotland in formal apology over killing of thousands of women for 'witchcraft'

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By AFP  with Euronews
A visitor in a witch's hat during Halloween in Leipzig, eastern Germany.
A visitor in a witch's hat during Halloween in Leipzig, eastern Germany.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Jens Meyer, File

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has formally apologised for women who were convicted and killed for "witchcraft" in the 16th and 18th centuries.

Sturgeon told Scotland's parliament on Tuesday that it was "important" to acknowledge the thousands of women who had been executed "simply because they were women".

Between the 16th and 18th centuries in Scotland, around 4,000 people were accused of witchcraft. 84% were women.

In total, more than 2,500 people were executed, mostly strangled and then burned, after confessions were extracted under torture. The law against witchcraft had remained in force until 1736.

On International Women's Day, Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament to "recognise this gross historical injustice".

"At a time when women were not even allowed to give evidence in court, they were accused and killed, because they were poor, different, vulnerable or, in many cases, simply because they were women," she said.

"[We must] make a formal posthumous apology to all those accused, convicted, maligned or executed under the 1563 Witchcraft Act," she added.

A charity, Witches of Scotland, has been campaigning for two years for an official apology as well as a pardon for all those people who were convicted of witchcraft. Campaigners have also petitioned for a national monument to remember those who were executed.

Sturgeon has said that the Scottish Parliament could pass legislation to allow for the pardon in the near future.

"There are parts of the world where, even today, women and girls face persecution and sometimes death because they have been accused of witchcraft," she told MPs.

"While in Scotland the witchcraft law may have been consigned to the past long ago, the deep misogyny that motivated it was not [and] we still live with that."

Earlier this year, Catalonia's parliament formally pardoned more than 700 women who were also executed for "witchcraft" between the 15th and 18th centuries.

The Spanish region was also one of the first areas in Europe where anti-witchcraft killings were carried out in 1471.