Women convicted of witchcraft 300 years ago 'could be legally pardoned'

Nicola Sturgeon apologised to those convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft 1563 Act earlier this year.

MSP launches consultation on bill to pardon thousands convicted of witchcraft in Scotland iStock
Witches: Thousands convicted of witchcraft could be pardoned.

An MSP has launched a bill that could see thousands of women convicted of witchcraft around 300 years ago legally pardoned.

Natalie Don says she hopes the member’s bill will “right the historic wrong of witchcraft convictions”.

The SNP MSP for Renfrewshire North and West also said the bill is “about influencing the gendered and patriarchal attitudes” that still exist today.

On International Women’s Day on March 8 First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologised to those convicted, vilified or executed under the Witchcraft 1563 Act.

Around 2,500 people were convicted of witchcraft in the near 200 years the law was in force, with just under 90% of those being women.

In total around 4,000 Scots were accused of the crime, which was in law until 1736.

If the bill is passed, everyone convicted during that time will be pardoned, something campaigners have been trying to secure for around 200 years.

While the convictions occurred centuries ago, it is hoped the pardons would send a message to other countries who still criminalise those accused of witchcraft that the punishment is “deplorable”.

Don said: “The recent formal apology from the First Minister on International Women’s Day was welcomed by campaigners in Scotland and recognised around the world as a statement of intent.

“It was a powerful and incredibly important first step in righting the historic wrong of ‘witchcraft’ accusations, arrests and executions.

“My Member’s Bill will hopefully be the next step towards that and, if passed, it will make clear that the people convicted of witchcraft all those years ago should never have faced the injustice of being labelled as criminals.

“By issuing official pardons for all those convicted of witchcraft, we will be sending a strong message to the wide world – some parts of which, women still face prosecution for being accused of witchcraft – that Scotland recognises what happened to these people as a deplorable miscarriage of justice.

“It is also about influencing the gendered and patriarchal attitudes which, unfortunately, still exists in our society today – and making it clear that Scotland does not tolerate discrimination in any way.”

The Witches of Scotland campaign group said: “We are absolutely delighted to see Natalie Don’s Bill reach this stage and are hopeful that this will bring about some posthumous justice to the thousands of people who were executed by the state during the witch hunts.

“This will also signal to other countries around the world where accusations of witchcraft are a very real and current issue that this is not acceptable in the modern day.”

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