A “satanic” sect has killed seven people and police have freed 14 others following a ritual in a jungle community.
Indigenous residents were rounded up by lay preachers before being tortured, beaten, burned and hacked with machetes to make them “repent their sins”, authorities said.
Police said they had freed 14 members of the Ngabe Bugle indigenous group, including two pregnant women and children, who had been tied up and beaten with wooden cudgels and Bibles.
Authorities were alerted to the violence by three villagers from the Caribbean coast community who escaped and made their way to a local hospital.
Investigators found an improvised “church” at a ranch where the New Light of God religious sect was operating.
“They were performing a ritual inside the structure. In that ritual there were people being held against their will, being mistreated,” prosecutor Rafael Baloyes said.
“These rites were aimed at killing them if they did not repent their sins,” he said.
There was a naked person, a woman, inside the building, where investigators found machetes, knives and a ritually sacrificed goat, he added.
The rites began on Saturday when one of the church members had a vision. “One of them said God had given them a message,” Mr Baloyes said.
About a mile from the church building authorities found a grave with the corpses of six children and one adult.
The dead included five children as young as a year old, their pregnant mother and a 17-year-old female neighbour. Ngabe Bugle zone leader Ricardo Miranda called the sect “satanic” and said it went against the region’s Christian beliefs.
The sect had been operating locally for about three months and its beliefs and affiliations were not known. Ten people have been arrested on suspicion of murder.
The Ngabe Bugle are Panama’s largest indigenous group and suffer from high rates of poverty and illiteracy.