Prosecutors in Kenya have announced plans to press charges against a suspected cult leader and numerous other individuals for murder and terrorism related to the deaths of over 400 of his followers. This decision came after a court cautioned that they may be forced to release the suspect.
Paul Nthenge Mackenzie, who calls himself a pastor, has been accused of encouraging his followers to die of starvation in order to “meet Jesus.” This shocking case has gained global attention.
In April of last year, Mackenzie was taken into custody following the discovery of bodies in a forest located near the coast of the Indian Ocean. As the investigations continue, his pre-trial detention has been prolonged multiple times.
“After examining the evidence thoroughly, the director of public prosecutions has determined that there is enough evidence to bring charges against 95 individuals,” stated the DPP’s office.
The decision was made one week following a court order to either press charges against the ex-taxi driver within 14 days or release him. Mackenzie and his fellow accused will be charged with 10 offenses, including murder, manslaughter, and terrorism. The prosecution also stated that they will be charged with “subjecting a child to torture.”
The exact date of the court appearance for the 95 suspects is not known at this time, but prosecutors have stated their commitment to promptly handle the cases.
After conducting autopsies, it was determined that most of the victims passed away due to starvation. However, there were some, including children, who showed signs of being strangled, beaten, or suffocated. So far, 429 bodies have been found. These disturbing findings, known as the “Shakahola forest massacre”, have led the government to consider implementing stricter regulations for fringe religious groups.
In Kenya, there have been numerous instances of individuals proclaiming themselves as pastors and leading movements. According to a senate commission’s report in October, Mackenzie had previously been charged in 2017 for his radical preaching. However, the criminal justice system was unable to prevent Paul Mackenzie’s harmful actions in Shakahola.
In 2017, he was cleared of accusations of promoting radical beliefs by illegally teaching in a school. He refused to comply with the traditional education system, which he believed did not align with his religious beliefs. In 2019, he was additionally charged with involvement in the deaths of two children who were allegedly starved, suffocated, and buried in a shallow grave in Shakahola forest. He was released on bail while waiting for his trial.
Kenya, a predominantly Christian country, has faced challenges in controlling deceitful religious organizations and sects that engage in illegal activities. As per government statistics, there are over 4,000 registered churches in the East African nation with a population of 53 million.