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Kenya to Charge Cult Leader With Murder and Terrorism

Self-proclaimed pastor Paul Nthenge Mackenzie (C), who set up the Good News International Church in 2003 and is accused of inciting cult followers to starve to death “to meet Jesus”, appears in the dock with other co-accused at the court in Malindi on May 2, 2023. – A Kenyan pastor appearing in court on May 2, 2023 will face terrorism charges, prosecutors said in connection with the deaths of over 100 people found buried in what has been dubbed the “Shakahola forest massacre”. The deeply religious Christian-majority country has been stunned by the discovery of mass graves last month in a forest near the Indian Ocean coastal town of Malindi. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP)

Following a court’s warning that it could have to free a suspected cult leader, Kenyan prosecutors announced on Tuesday that they plan to prosecute him—along with dozens of other suspects—with murder and terrorism in connection with the deaths of over 400 of his followers.

In a case that stunned the world, self-described preacher Paul Nthenge Mackenzie is accused of encouraging his followers to starve to death in order to “meet Jesus.”

Following the discovery of victims in a forest close to the Indian Ocean shore in April of last year, Mackenzie was taken into custody.

His pre-trial confinement has been prolonged multiple times as the investigations progress.

“Upon thorough analysis of the evidence, the director of public prosecutions is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute 95 suspects,” the DPP’s office said.

Security personnel carry a rescued young person from the forest in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi, on April 23, 2023. – Twenty-one bodies have been exhumed in Kenya while investigating a cult whose followers are believed to have starved themselves to death, police sources said on April 22, 2023, warning the toll could rise. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

The move comes a week after a court gave authorities 14 days to prosecute the former taxi driver or release him.

Mackenzie and his co-accused will face 10 charges including murder, manslaughter and terrorism.

They will also be charged with “subjecting a child to torture”, the prosecutors said.

It was not immediately clear when the 95 suspects would appear in court but prosecutors said they undertook “to prosecute the matters expeditiously”.

‘Heinous activities’

Autopsies have revealed the majority of the victims died of hunger. But others, including children, appear to have been strangled, beaten or suffocated.

To date, 429 bodies have been located.

The government announced that there was a need for more stringent oversight of fringe denominations as a result of the disturbing findings in what has been called the “Shakahola forest massacre”.

Self-declared pastors and movements are not new in Kenya.

According to an October report by a Senate commission of investigation, Mackenzie was charged in 2017 for his extremist preaching.

“(But) the criminal justice system failed to deter the heinous activities of Paul Mackenzie in Shakahola,” it said.

Dug holes are seen after exhuming bodies at the mass-grave site in Shakahola, outside the coastal town of Malindi, on April 25, 2023. (Photo by Yasuyoshi CHIBA / AFP)

In 2017, he was cleared of radicalization allegations related to his unlawful teaching practice in schools. He disapproved of the formal education system, saying it was inconsistent with biblical teachings.

He was also charged in 2019 with having ties to the deaths of two kids who were allegedly starved, strangled, and buried in a shallow grave in the Shakahola forest. While awaiting trial, he was freed on bond.

Kenya, a country with a substantial Christian population, has had trouble controlling dishonest churches and cults that engage in criminal activity.

Based on official data, there are nearly 4,000 churches officially recognized in the 53 million-person East African nation.

Written by PH

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